I am not happy with my 17-year old daughter's crowd. Over the past year she has made new friends, and her grades have gone down. She is missing her sport's practices. The more I complain about her friends, the more she wants to be with them. I feel she is easily influenced by peers and has broken curfews, and I've caught her with alcohol and cigarettes. I don't know what to do. Should I forbid all contact with them? Ground her every weekend?
Dear Concerned Mom,
You answered your own question when you said, "The more I complain about her friends, the more she wants to be with them." When the relationship we have with our teens is filled with tension, drama or power struggles, they often do more of the very things we complain about to punish us or prove their independence. If you try to force your daughter to stop spending time with her friends, she'll simply become sneakier about getting together with them.
Instead, recognize your daughter's behavior as a signal that she has lost her way a bit (which is not uncommon for teens as they navigate the challenges of adolescence), and needs your support and guidance. Work on strengthening your connection; once she knows that you're capable of hearing what's going on in her life without judgment or criticism, you'll be in a better position to influence her decisions. But, restoring a loving, healthy bond with a teen is not something that can be accomplished overnight. Here are three ways to start.
1. Invite your daughter for lunch, letting her know you'd like to have some time together. If you deliver the invitation in a friendly way (or get creative and leave a handmade invitation under her bedroom door), she may surprise you with "Sure." Reassure her that you just want to hang out and that you promise not to lecture or interrogate her.
2. Let your daughter know that you want to hear about what's happening in her life with friends, school, and sports just because you're interested, and not to tell her what she's doing wrong. Prove that she can trust you to listen without jumping in with unwanted advice. If you start criticizing her, you will have effectively ended the conversation.
3. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. As tempting as it may be to discuss her choice of friends while you have her undivided attention, focus on the bigger picture: showing her that she can trust you with her feelings so she can lean on you to help her untangle life challenges. Focus on restoring a loving, safe connection so she becomes more receptive to your guidance.
When kids associate with friends who bring them down, it's important to address the cause -- whether it's low self-esteem, peer pressure, academic stress or substance experimentation. To influence a teen, parents must be supportive. Rather than punishing or controlling your daughter, let her know you're there for her so she can benefit from your experience.
Yours in parenting support,
Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.