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As your child becomes a teen, he probably will start spending more time with friends and less time with family. This is a normal part of growing up and an important step toward becoming an independent adult. However, it also means he is likely to be shaped by the many ideas and actions of everyone with whom he spends time. For this reason, it is crucial to know who your child's friends are, and what these individuals are like.

Talk with your teen.

How can you find out about your teen's friends? Start by directly asking him about the people he spends time with. Try to listen without judging him. Be understanding and supportive. Chances are he will talk honestly with you about his friends. Some questions you might ask include: How does he feel about them and the decisions they make? What do they do together? Do his friends drink or smoke, and if so, what does he think about that? Does she feel pressured to join them?

Meet your teen's friends.

Be sure to meet your teen's friends in person and get to know them. When friends stop by to pick up your teen, greet them at the door and spend a few moments talking with them. Make your home a place where your teen's friends will feel comfortable spending time, even if it means spending extra money on food or movie rentals.

Always stay in the loop.

When your teen is going out, know where he is headed and who will be going along. If your teen is going to a party, get a phone number and call beforehand to make sure a responsible adult will be present. Ask this adult if alcohol and drugs will be allowed at the party, what time the party will start and end, and who will be attending. If you don't feel comfortable, don't let your child go. He may be angry and embarrassed, but more importantly, he will be safe! Offer alternatives that appeal to your teen, such as having a friend over or going to a movie.

Have a safety net in place.

If your teen is anywhere (for example, at a party) and anything happens that makes him feel uncomfortable (for example, drugs or alcohol are being used), let him know that he can always call you and arrange to leave the party, NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Remember that his safety is your first concern.

What if you don't like your child's friends?

First, figure out why you are concerned about these particular friends. It is best never to exclude someone from your teen's circle of friends because of his race, religion or sexual preference. Likewise, do not judge your teen's friends by their hair, clothing or taste in music. You have taught your teen not to "judge a book by its cover," and you should be proud of his efforts to put that into practice.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to disapprove of friends who do things that may place your teen in harm's way (for example, smoking, drinking or using drugs). Studies show that teen-agers who use these substances are more likely to have friends that do the same things. These are dangerous habits that can lead to trouble with health, school and the law.

Ultimately, your teen will have to decide whether to leave an "unhealthy" group of friends. Forbidding your teen to see certain friends usually doesn't work in the long run and likely may encourage him to lie or sneak around you. Instead, talk with your teen and try to understand better why he likes spending time with these friends. Explain your concerns and ask nonjudgmental questions that make your teen think critically. Above all, make sure your teen knows that you are always there for him, that you are trying to help him not make mistakes and stay out of harm’s way, and that you want only the best for him.

If you are concerned about your teen-ager's group of friends and aren't sure how to handle the situation, get help from an expert. Ask your pediatrician or a psychologist or counselor who works with teens for advice. Sometimes conflicts between parents and teens are more easily settled with help from a neutral third party, outside of the immediate family.

Remember that good friends are valuable.

In the end, it's important to remember that friends are very important to teens and may be (and usually are) a good influence on each other. In addition to support and understanding, friends can provide "good" peer pressure to do well in school, sports or other important activities. Finally, recognize that your teen can have the same positive effect on his friends, too!

Last Annual Review Date: 2011-06-05 Copyright: Harvard Health Publication

Reference: Mental Health and Behavior section on Better Medicine


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In 2011, 2.7% of 8th graders reported having used over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to get high. For 10th and 12th graders, the number was higher – more than 5%.