Should I Ban My Teen From Seeing “Bad” Friends?

DEAR TEEN PARENTING COACH

Q: Should I Ban My Teen From Seeing “Bad” Friends?

Banning friends and forbidding your ADHD teen from seeing people that you don’t like won’t work. Having a focused, collaborative conversation about your teen’s thoughts on friendship will.

BY CAROLINE MAGUIRE, PCC, M.ED.

Q: “My teenager is having a rocky time with friendships. Lately, she is choosing questionable friends. These ‘friends’ are not treating her well, and, because of their influence, she seems to be heading in a troubling direction. I don’t like these kids, and I am worried. Do I ban the friendships?”

A: You have hit on one of the most heartbreaking experiences as a parent raising a kid with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Watching your child make bad choices, and feeling that she is not being treated well, is painful. It’s not easy at this age. Right now your daughter’s peer group is the biggest factor influencing her choices and behavior.

You asked if you should interfere. I’d take a less direct approach. Help your teenager think about who treats her well and discuss the joys of friendship. Banning a friendship usually backfires and leads to a big divide in the parent-child relationship.

I worked with a young girl whose parents did not like the girlfriend she was hanging around with. After several attempts to get their daughter to end the friendship, the parents decided to forbid the relationship. The child withdrew from her parents. She’d hide out in her room for hours. There was a lack of trust and a lot of anger on both sides.

Setting boundaries can be tough, but by talking to your daughter about friendship, without judging her or imposing restrictions, you increase the chances that she will go to you when she has problems with friends.

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Get Your Child to Open Up About Friendships, including bad friends

Here are some tips for having this conversation:

1. Hold back your feelings and just listen. Your daughter will open up more if she feels heard. By holding back judgment, you create an atmosphere in which your daughter feels safe enough to talk.

2. Look at things from your child’s perspective. The hardest part of being a teen is thinking that nobody understands you. The more you step into your daughter’s shoes and listen to her, the more you can give her what she needs.

3. Reflect, clarify, and be curious. Paraphrase what your teen says and repeat it back to her. When you do this, you show empathy, and you clarify your child’s concerns. Be curious and ask questions.

[Your Free Guide to Ending Confrontations and Defiance]

4. Don’t impose your values on your daughter. Keep your agenda in mind as you talk through the importance of friendship, but do not assume you understand the reasons why your daughter chose these friends. The goal here is to keep your child talking, and to show her that you have confidence in her.

I would share with her that we all have different friends for different reasons, but the root of the best friendships is a shared interest. As you enter this discussion, here are some questions to ask:

  • What is it about these new friends that appeals to you?

  • What do you have in common with them?

  • How do you see your friends treating you?

  • What does an enjoyable friendship look like?

  • What kind of person do you want to be?

  • Can you be that person with these friends?

You daughter may be choosing the wrong friends for many reasons. The most important thing is to keep the communication flowing.

Clarify Good vs Bad Friendship

Gather information on your daughter’s friends and what is going on socially from school — coaches, teachers, and others who can observe and share information.

Involve your child in activities and opportunities with former friends or those with the same values, to help her understand the difference between the two sets of friends.

Give your teen a place to feel good about herself — an activity where her interests are high and she can pursue her passion and develop a stronger sense of self.

[The ADHD Library for Parents]

We May Have Eliminated “Last Picked” But Not “Picked On”

Gym class was 45 minutes of purgatory for me in elementary school. I could not catch a ball and I was just not athletic. Try as I might, I was last picked.

We have eliminated picking kids for teams and the torturous wait to see if anyone else could be the victim of being last picked, but here is the thing – we have not eliminated the core issue and perhaps we cannot.  

Kids are still going to be picked on at school and we should not underestimate the power of that dread. As we are well into the school year, many kids are falling victim to the class bully. Others may be suffering from being left out of the “in” crowd, silently scolded for being different simply by the fact that they are on the periphery and are not welcomed into a group.

This is a lonely place, yet there is a solution. Don’t focus on the bully. Focus on the kid who is left out and his specific challenges with appropriate social skills. We can rightly report the bully, but many times the shunning is subtle and it leaves the left out kid with no recourse.

Now I was never going to be first pick, but it was social skills and being good at something else that saved me. So let’s look at a few things that kids can change.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Try to understand what social skills the child may need to develop.  Then work on how he can develop those skills. This will take time but often kids are left out because they do not know how to present socially appealing behaviors.

2. Give him a place to be happy, to be a star in HIS comfort zone where his talents can shine through. A safe harbor or comforting atmosphere is important so the child can feel that he is talented, which will, in turn, help him feel better about himself, and help him preserve his self-esteem.

3. Create a plan for him to implement when he comes up against someone teasing or bullying him. Work on role-playing and rehearsing his response to his classmates who are picking on him. Be sure to protect the child. Make a point to visit the school so they are aware of the situation and can provide the physical safety he needs.

4. Arrange play-dates and activities with kids who have similar interests. This will provide him with another social outlet. When a child is unique they may have to seek a new pool of friends; having someone who they can connect with is crucial. 

5. Talk openly with him about what he feels and help him name his emotions. Ask him questions about what his day is like. Brainstorm ways he can navigate the social scene more effectively. Often, left out kids do not know how to join a group or know how to approach potential friends.

It’s natural to worry about your kids. But remember, a child doesn’t need to be in the “in” group or be good at sports or invited to a lot of parties. What’s important at this stage is to help the child understand what his strengths are and where he can showcase them. By helping him build a toolkit so he can identify his emotions and understand his actions and how others perceive him, is a great start to identifying those positive social behaviors. 

A Castle with Walls Too Thick to Penetrate

One of my clients this week told me that social life is like a castle. The walls are just too high and too thick to climb and you cannot get in unless someone lets the draw bridge down.  

So many kids feel this way. They do not know what to do – so at lunch they head for the library or to the bathroom to bide their time and hide out. Maybe you were one of these kids and you can relate to the feeling that the social world is just an insurmountable tower of terror. Kids and teenagers often share with me that they cannot figure out how to change things. They are unsure how to climb the tower walls or even cajole people to let the draw bridge down. And so they avoid social interactions all together.  

Avoidance is a sign. Not a sign that the child does not care. Or a sign that he lacks motivation, is resistant, or is just uninterested in having friends, but a sign that he does not know how to break down the barriers so he can participate, or “join in”. Without a roadmap or help with his social plan, children and teenagers often shut down.  

So I ask parents to reframe their thoughts about a child or teenager who avoids socialization. Hiding in one’s room playing video games is not always about a bad attitude. Sometimes children just do not know how to climb the walls of the castle and break in.

If you are waiting to see if things will change without help, let me share with you that they will not. The child alone does not have the skills yet to navigate this kind of change. They do not know how to enter the lunchroom and connect with their peers, and sit down and join a group. 

Good news!! When children receive guidance and are provided with specific steps on how to navigate social situations to make friends, they build new skills and often become more interested in joining in.

Birthday Parties, the Cafeteria, and Other Social Obstacles

You learned that your middle-schooler is skipping lunch to avoid the cafeteria. Should you address it head-on, giving her advice that she probably won’t listen to, or demand that she go to lunch? It is hard to know. The cafeteria is where everyone comes together to socialize and hang out. For a child with ADHD, lunch can be very challenging.

Social struggles are not restricted to school. Children have the same deficits at home, at stores, on the ball field, and in every life setting. Many kids want to improve their friendship skills, but don’t know how. That’s where you come in.

Working with your child to meet social challenges leads to behaviors that your child can use everywhere. The following strategies will help your child make friends – and move through the socially difficult years of adolescence more easily.

How do I help my son stop avoiding the school cafeteria?

Children avoid the cafeteria because they are bullied, but also because they don’t know how to interact with peers, join a conversation, or even where to sit.

> Debrief your child. Without telling your child he is doing anything wrong, ask open-ended questions to find out what he thinks is happening. Ask about whom he sits with, when he feels uncomfortable, or if there are friends he would like to sit with.

> Practice skills. Nothing is tougher for kids than joining a conversation that is in progress. Suggest a little detective work. Ask your child to go to lunch, listen to what everyone talks about, and report back. You and he can role-play conversations that build on the topics the group talks about most often.

> Get outside help. Avoidance is not a plan, so if your child can’t navigate social situations, have her work with a professional social skills group.

How can I help my child when she isn’t invited to class parties?

If a child isn’t invited to birthday parties, concerts, or other peer activities, it is time to team up and find out what might be causing the problem.

> Discuss things, without blame, to help your child diagnose why she isn’t fitting in. Walk her through her day at school and ask her to recount one or two of the social interactions she had – what she said to a classmate, how that child reacted – and discuss what she thinks she could have done differently.

> Talk about different types of friendship. Many children with social challenges try to make friends with kids who do not share their interests, or they misinterpret social cues and think any friendly person wants to be friends. Help your child understand different kinds of “friendships”: There are people you say hello to, acquaintances, people you interact with, and real friends. Brainstorm with her about ways to befriend children with whom she shares interests and who treat her well.

> Find ways to meet others with similar interests – social clubs, youth groups, and other interest-based activities. These places give your child a chance to socialize by talking about things the kids like in common.

How can I make group projects less intimidating for my daughter?

Group projects are tough for her because she has to contribute, advocate for her ideas, participate in the discussion, and present a final project. The following case study shows how to make group projects less challenging for your child.

Ali is 12 years old, and she hates group projects. She and her mom write the teacher asking for advice about what she can do better in the next group project. The teacher says Ali should speak up more and identify a role she would like to take on in the project.

Ali’s mom understands the unspoken social dynamics in play – children meet in large groups, and assumptions are made about Ali and what she might be able to do on the project. Ali is left out of the decision-making because she doesn’t speak up. Ali and her mom discuss the personalities within the group, their likes and dislikes, and so on. Ali puts together a social database about her partners in the group project, so she can talk more comfortably with her peers.

Ali does better socially when she has a plan. She and her mom look at the project rubric and discuss which components seem interesting and manageable to Ali, and decide what Ali would like to take on. They rehearse possible scenarios. Role-playing, and learning how to ask open-ended questions, helps Ali build the confidence to speak up during the group’s discussions.

With all the prep at home, Ali slowly overcomes her social struggles and plays an important part in the group. And she has a plan she can use for the next group project.

My son has lots of virtual friends, but how do I encourage him to develop friends he can talk with one-on-one?

Connecting to other people, adapting to their needs, and engaging in the give-and-take of friendship are important skills all kids need to learn.

> Let him have virtual friends. Facebook friends and Twitter buddies may be your son’s only friends right now, and you don’t want him to lose them.

> Talk to him about why he needs other friends. Ask your child what he likes about the virtual world. Find another activity that he may like – a course in robotics or computer coding – in which he will interact with people.

> Work on social strategies. Whether it’s engaging in chitchat, turning an acquaintance into a friend, or arranging to see people outside of school, it is essential that your son knows how to approach people. With consistent practice, he will get what you and every child wants: good friends.

This article was originally published at ADDITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.

 

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