My child is hanging around a bad crowd – what can I do?

It can be some of the most difficult territory you will ever have to navigate as a parent. So what can you do?

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At some point or another, many parents won’t approve of the company their kids keep. It’s a pretty common story: watching a child gravitate towards a group of people who are using drugs, rebelling against authority of various kinds or who seem self-destructive. It can be some of the most difficult territory you will ever have to navigate as a parent. So what can you do?

First and foremost: Don’t criticise their friends

It can be really difficult to watch your child start to make negative decisions, and even more of a challenge to resist the urge to tell them exactly what you think of their rude/lazy/disobedient new buddies.

It is also extremely important you don’t just speak your mind without thinking, as your child is starting to form their identity around their peer group and they can be very quick to view this as an attack on their own character. When you think about it, harsh criticism of anyone’s friends is naturally going to be met with a certain level of hostility as part of their instinct to defend them and can arouse strong emotion. Being in a rebellious phase can also mean any criticism of your teens’ friends could also push your child further away.

Think about what constitutes ‘the wrong crowd’ in your mind

What exactly is it about your child’s friends you don’t approve of? Is this based in fact or just rumours you’ve heard about them or even just fears based on aspects of their appearance or circumstances?

Think about specific examples of the behavior people from their friendship group have displayed and how your child’s behavior has changed. Just because they wouldn’t be the friends you would choose yourself, doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad crowd. What might have influenced this change? For example, do they have more spare time as they’ve dropped a sport or other after-school activity? Why do you think this is an issue and what could be some reasons your child might be acting out?

You can’t choose your kids’ friends for them

Your teen has to learn to manage their own relationships. This is a crucial part of learning and development at this stage in their life, and if you come charging in, all guns blazing, to make all their decisions for them, it’s only going to increase the appeal and prevent them from learning how to make good relationship decisions later on in life. They are bound to make mistakes and errors of judgment, it’s a natural part of growing up. Your job is to help them make informed decisions, learn from the mistakes they do make, and support them so they are able to get back on track.

If this is all starting to sound a bit limiting, remember there are still some things you can do.

Clearly set out your own expectations

You definitely can’t watch your child 24 hours a day and control who they spend time with around the clock, but you can set the boundaries on how you expect them to behave even when you aren’t around. You can set a time to be home, expectations in terms of manners andoutline the types of activities they can and can’t engage in. These expectations should change with age. As your child gets older the same rules that applied when they were 13 won’t remain the same when they are 17.

Make sure they know there are consequences for their actions – if your child doesn’t behave as they know they are expected to, then, for example, you might limit the time they are allowed to socialise the next time. Not providing transport for their social events, paying for phones/internet access or those hours of supervised driving work pretty well too. You should always follow through on the consequences you have warned of – if you are always consistent with consequences, you will have credibility and not be easily dismissed.

If you suspect your child is drinking or using drugs

If you do suspect your teen is using drugs, don’t try and catch them out by searching or surface testing their phone, bag or bedroom. Have an open, frank discussion with them and ask them in a calm and concerned way. This is an opportunity for you to reinforce your expectations and to teach them how to best deal with a challenging situation – with honesty and no judgement, as opposed to sneakiness and suspicion.

Again, this is where your clearly outlined expectations and consequences come into their own. When setting rules on drugs and alcohol, make sure you educate yourself first and have explanations ready for your decision.

Remember, rebellious behavior plays an important part in development

Adolescence is a time where children separate from their parents and learn to become individuals. This can be hard to accept as a parent, but it’s an important part of growing up. If you would like more resources on parenting or talking with young people, visit our parenting page or check out our bulletin on the research underpinning positive parent styles.

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