• Other Friendship Advice

The Bad Friend: What’s a mom to do?

Published: December 5, 2009 | Last Updated: May 27, 2013 By | 8 Replies Continue Reading

Picture this. Your 14-year-old daughter, Mindy, excitedly tells you she’s bringing a new friend home for dinner.

“She’s so pretty and talented, and goes to church regularly,” she says. “I can’t wait for you to meet her.” When the new BFF walks in the door, the first thing you notice is that she has a nose ring, is exceptionally shapely for her age, and has a body tattoo like Miley Cyrus strategically below her left breast (Well, you actually don’t notice the tattoo until she takes off her jacket and you see her bare midriff in winter.) You swallow and tell yourself that it’s unfair to judge someone on first impressions alone.

Things go from bad to worse. The new friend calls you by your first name, opens your refrigerator to see what’s in it, and is texting incessantly even when you’re all seated at the dinner table. In fact, she seems sullen and shows no interest in making conversation with your daughter or anyone else in your family. You ask yourself: Why would Mindy choose her as a friend?

Whether it’s the Bully, the Tease, the Goth, the Shoplifter, the User, or the Faux-Friend who gossips behind your child’s back, most moms have had the unsettling experience of their tween or teen coming home with a “bad friend.” Here are 5 basic tips for moms facing this dilemma:

1) Your response depends on the age of your child. When kids are young, you’re able to pick and choose their friends. By the time your child is a tween or teen, they should have the opportunity to choose their own friends.

2) Resist the urge to jump in. Don’t embarrass your teen or make him/her feel babied in front of a peer. Don’t attempt to parent the “bad friend” – that’s not your job. Wait until after the friend has left to have “the talk” and to discuss your feelings and impressions with your child.

3) Coach, don’t tell. Start by finding out what your teen or tween likes about her friend. It will encourage her to talk and the answers may surprise you. If you remain unconvinced that the friendship is a healthy one, express your concerns openly but don’t tell your teen what to do. If you attempt to micromanage their friendships, they’ll only resent your interference and get defensive. Believe it or not, they do hear what you say, which will lead them to question their own decisions when they’re ready.

4) Focus on raising strong, confident teens. Helping teens to discover their own strengths and to feel good about themselves enables them to make better choices. Encourage them to be exposed to different types of friends through a variety of experiences in school and through sports, hobbies, and other activities in your community.

5) Share your own friendship stories. Don’t make the mistake of perpetuating the myths of popular culture: that friendships are perfect, that you only need one best friend, and that all friendships will or should last forever. Share anecdotes from your own experiences that point out the potential pitfalls of friendship-as well as the virtues.

Of course, if a “bad friend” is making illegal, immoral or destructive choices, parents need to keep a very close eye on the friendship. But more often than not, parental misgivings (particularly those based on appearances alone) turn out to be misplaced. The “bad friend” who we knew would one day be a felon matures into a Fulbright scholar. During the tween and teen years, young people are struggling to figure out who they are and who they want to be. It is to be expected that they will make some mistakes in choosing friends and, hopefully, they’ll learn important life lessons about friendship along the way if parents are there to guide them.

Have you had the experience of being a parent and welcoming a “bad friend” into your home?

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Category: Helping children deal with friendship problems, OTHER ADVICE

Comments (8)

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  1. T says:

    I know this was from about 11 years ago, but I’d like to share my thoughts.
    To Leah…I understand why you did that, but maybe you could have nicely asked them not to text at the table instead of taking the phone.

    On the subject of “bad” friends…I find it odd that the author states that a girl with a shapely figure is somehow a bad influence.
    We have to be mindful about making judgments based on things that people can’t control. A girl can’t help it if she develops earlier, and it does not say anything about her character.

    Now when it comes to actual behavior, it wouldn’t bother me if the friend looks a certain way as long as they are kind, respectful, and don’t influence my child to do bad things.
    To me “bad” means…lying, stealing, bullying, doing drugs, vandalism, skipping school, being racist, anything that harms other people.
    I focus more on behavior than what the child looks like. You also have to keep in mind that some kids come from homes that are abusive or neglectful. So they are not being taught healthy values, which means that compassion is needed.
    We can see the actions/attitude as bad rather than assuming the child has no redeeming qualities at all.

    If the friend calls you by your first name, you can nicely (but firmly) state: “we’re not on a first name basis. It’s Mrs. Franklin”.
    If they open your refrigerator without asking, you can say “are you hungry?” and offer them something to eat or drink. The child might lack boundaries but it can also be a sign that they are neglected at home. If the child is texting at the dinner table, you can say “Rachel, we prefer to put our phones away while we eat”.
    I like the idea about putting the phones in a special basket while having dinner.

  2. Kit Lawson says:

    Wow. This blog saddened me. While I agree parents need to be aware of potentially damaging friendships their teens might have, and take steps to keep them safe (by talking (not lecturing), listening (not judging), and laying the groundwork (by example and through good communication) during childhood for having a confident teen… Your exaample of the “bad” friend was so superficial and judgmental! My own daughter, 15, has a nose piercing, dyes her hair all sorts of colors, sports a dog collar(!) around her neck, and wears a lot of black. she is also bright, funny, creative and an extremely loyal and caring friend. She volunteers at an animal shelter in her spare time, has written an (unpublished) novel, dances, and is a skilled climber. I take offense at your description which puts kids into little boxes. I will add, too, that some of my daughter’s experimentation with dress and darker themed music, was a direct reaction to being ostrasized by her friends (at the direction of their parents) for not being “christian” enough. These were not superficial friends, either, but longstanding friendships from childhood. Once the kids hit their teen years, her friends parents seemed to feel my daughter was a threat, as we are not regular church goers, and she was afforded more freedoms than their kids (e.g., allowed to go on sleepovers; was not expected to “obey without question.”) My daughter was deeply hurt by the actions of these parents, and their kids–who, no doubt, look like “perfect” friends, and would never have a piercing.

  3. I found this blog to be quiet interesting and informative. Best wishes.

  4. Jen Singer says:

    Leah beat me to it: I was going to say it’s reasonable to enforce house rules, such as no texting during dinner. Some people even have a basket where kids are expected to deposit their phones upon entering their house. I don’t think that would go over with adults, though.

  5. Irene says:

    Hi Jen:
    Agree with you completely about house rules and their importance. However, when it comes to teens I think a parent needs to start enforcement with their own child first, as I mentioned in response to Leah’s post.
    Thanks so much for weighing in and reading my blog!

  6. Irene says:

    Hi Leah:

    You make an important point about “house rules” — I do agree and I neglected to say that parents have a right to establish boundaries in their own home. For example, if you are uncomfortable with your kids’ friends foraging through your refrigerator or kitchen cabinets uninvited, you need to say something to your child about it, probably at the moment.

    Complex problems (and parenting, in particular) are never as simple as my short blog posts. Comments like yours help flesh out the realities.

    Thanks for posting!


  7. Leah Ingram says:

    Interestingly, while I would not consider any of my daughters’ friends to be “bad,” there have been a number of times when they have been over for dinner–and started texting at the dinner table–and I took away their phone. In front of everyone. And explained that in our house, you do not text at the dinner table. While shocked at first, none protested. Maybe those “bad” kids just need some boundaries!

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