What To Do When Your Teen Is Making Friends You Don't Approve Of

Banning your teen's friends won't work — collaborate and discuss friendship qualities, instead.

three teenage girls looking at a smartphone Byswat/Shuttershock

Your child's teenage friendships can be complicated. Maybe they can’t seem to make friends — or, at least, friends you actually like or approve of.

More than likely, you already know that banning your teenager from anything rarely works. When you push, they pull. And this goes for your teen’s friendships, too.

So, what do you do when your teen can't make friends or are making friends who are questionable?


The answer is collaboration.

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When it comes to teenage friendship, peers are the biggest influencing factor.

Your teen either can't make friends or is changing their behavior and making poor choices in order to fit into a certain friend group.


There are many types of friends, but no one can doubt that the friend who has your back is, by far, a greater asset than the one who's, well, just questionable.

What can be more troubling than watching from the sidelines as your teen engages with peers who don’t treat them well?

Yes, this is a rhetorical question because this is on the top of the list of parental heartbreaks.

Should you ban the friendship? There's no doubt that you'd jump in front of a train to protect your kids, so why is subtle stuff more difficult?

Well, because it takes reasoning, patience, and a look toward the horizon. Banning will not help your teen consider what a good friendship is, nor will it bring joy.


Plus, it will more than likely lead to a big divide in the parent-child relationship. But, you can increase your chances of being heard by your teen.

Creating a non-judgment dialogue should be at the top of the list.

Remember what Maya Angelou said: "I’ve learned that people will forget wha you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

By talking to your teen about friendship, without judging or imposing restrictions, you increase the chances that she will go to you when she has problems.

So, if your teen has a hard time making friends you approve of, here are 5 ways to build trust and conversations around teenage friendship.

1. Listen. Listen. Repeat.

This is harder than this sounds, but do your best to hold back judgment, your thoughts, and the urge to jump in.


Your teen will open up more if they feel heard. By holding back judgment, you create an atmosphere in which your teen feels safe enough to talk.

2. Ask open questions.

Truly understanding your teen and enabling them to understand their own reasoning is one of the best gifts you can give them — and yourself.

As you enter the discussion, you can ask questions like:

"What is it about these new friends that appeal 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?"

3. Understand your teen’s perspective.

Your teen thinks no one understands them — not you, not your spouse, not their siblings, and not their teachers.


The only one who "understands" them is their friends.

The more you step into your teen's shoes and listen, the more you can work together to meet their needs.

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4. Reflect, clarify, and be curious.

Paraphrase what your teen says and repeat it back to them.

When you do this, you're showing empathy so both of you can clarify your teen's concerns.

So, be curious and ask non-confrontational, non-judgmental questions.

5. Don’t impose your values.

Don’t assume you understand the reasons why your teen chose these friends, in particular.


Keep your agenda in mind as you talk through the importance of friendship. The goal is to keep your teen talking and to show them that you have confidence in them.

And be sure to keep the communication open.

Without "creeping around," research your teen's friends by asking coaches, teachers, peers, etc. You may be misinterpreting their character, based on your own personal biases.

If there were friends from the past that both you and your teen consider good friends, try creating venues for them to interact again.

Give them a place to feel good about themselves — include an activity they're interested in as an opportunity to pursue their passion and develop a stronger sense of self.


Your teen may be choosing the wrong friends for many reasons, but the most important thing is to keep the communication flowing.

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Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. For more information, visit her website. For scripts, tools, advice, and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?