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Knowing If Your Teenager Is Hanging With The Wrong Crowd


They don't tell you how do you know who they're spending all their time with?

By James Wellborn, PhD. for

The wrong crowd is another way of saying that your kid is hanging around people who don’t have the values, behavior or priorities you want your kid to have. This usually means they aren’t polite enough, well-mannered enough, respectful enough, ambitious enough or from families that are as fine and upstanding as yours. Hypocrisy aside, peers exert an inordinate amount of influence on your kid’s character and behavior. There is even evidence that peers are more influential than any other person, including you. Nobody wants their kid to hang out with the wrong crowd. But, when your kid has 248 Facebook "friends," how do you even tell if friends are the wrong crowd?

You can start by looking for some of the more obvious signs.

  • Sagging pants. Seriously. When has any kid who sags his, and especially her, pants ever gone to college or been a success at anything other than gangsta rap?
  • Skateboarders. What kind of future does skateboarding prepare you for? Brain damage? Impotency? A permanent limp? No skateboarders should be allowed in your house.
  • On probation or currently on house arrest. Nuff' said.
  • Rapper, punk or screamo "musicians." Actually, any teenager in a band or wanting to form a band. They’re all idealistic, romantic and impractical. There is only one lil Wayne making 100 million dollars but there are 20 million suburban teens creating bad rhymes to "Back that sh#t up, b!#ch!" instead of doing their homework.
  • Extremely complementary, somewhat flirtatious kids who address parents using only the first letter of their last name: "Hey Ms. B! You sure look beautiful today!" "Hey Mr. C! Have you been working out?" Ever wonder who ends up being a serial killer or running a Ponzi scheme to fund their lavish lifestyle?
  • Friends whose parents are really cool. The only really cool parents are the ones who let teens do things they shouldn’t be doing!

If your teenager is hanging with any of these kids, move to the country; way out in the country.

OK, I’m not serious with the above. (If you thought I was, we should probably have another conversation). However, there are a few legitimate signs that your kid’s friends may be a bad influence on them.

1. Undesirable behavior, attitudes, priorities or grades. Lying? Cheating? Stealing? Failing grades? Anarchists? These are bad signs. Have a conversation with your child about the importance of friends and friendships that bring out the best in him (and vice versa). It’s corny but important. Not that his or her friends have to be a saint-like; just more positive than negative. If you notice differences between your family values and those of your kid’s friends, talk about it. Review the priorities and values you expect of your child. Make sure he knows you will hold him accountable for decisions and actions regardless of how his friends behave. If she has difficulty holding to her values when others don’t, then she shouldn’t be out without supervision.

2. Always around when your kid gets into trouble. All teenagers screw up or take risks that end in trouble. But if your kids get in (minor) trouble more than once with their group of friends, it is time for a talk and some limit setting. The focus of your talk should be two-fold: your kids’ values and behavior and their friends’ negative influence (or lack of sufficient positive influence). Limit time with these friends and require your kids to hang out with their friends at your house (so you can keep an eye on them). If your kids get in major trouble while with their friends, it’s time for an enforced break for a significant period of time (e.g., a month). Require your kids to show concrete evidence of better judgment and character as a condition for hanging out with those kids again. It should go without saying that it is time for one of your regular reviews of your kids’ text messages and social media account interactions to get a clearer idea about what exactly has been going on.

3. Don’t come over to the house. If your kid is hiding his friends from you, it’s a bad sign. You should be requiring your child to hang out at your house at least once every couple of times they are together. Try to make it as kid friendly as you can (food helps). If you have a particularly boring house (i.e., they can’t smoke, drink, have promiscuous sex or run wild) and their friends won’t come over, all the better. You get to have some quality time with your kid. Keep Reading...

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