This Post: 6 Signs Your Teen Might Be Hanging with the Wrong Crowd
Written by: Marybeth Bock
There’s a quote that has always resonated with me as a mom…
“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”
It shouldn’t be news to any parent of teens that their kid’s friends play a huge role in their kid’s life. In fact, for a lot of teens, their friends aren’t just friends, they’re more like family.
But as much as we all want our kids to develop strong friendships, we also have to recognize that our teens’ “family of friends” holds the power to influence them – either positively or negatively – in a big way. And, considering teenagers are at a vulnerable juncture in their lives when fitting in and being accepted into the crowd means everything to them, it’s more important than ever for us to keep a watchful eye on who our kids are hanging with to keep them from going astray.
So, what do you do when you start to get that nagging feeling that your teen is hanging with friends who aren’t a good influence or, worse, that their new friends could be leading your teen down a path of poor decision-making or risky behavior?
The honest answer is, it can be difficult to know what do to because the signs aren’t always cut and dry. Before you react (or begin to worry too much), it’s important to first identify if there truly is a reason for concern. Here are six signs your teen might be hanging with the wrong crowd.
Dissing Their Old Friend Group
It’s completely normal (and to be expected) for your teen’s friendships to go through transitions. Some friends will be left behind, while others will enter the scene. What could be a red flag, though, is if your teen suddenly cuts off all their friends to hang out with an entirely new friend group. If your teen is being encouraged to drop all their existing friendships just to hang with (and be accepted by) a new crowd, it could be an indication that the new group could pressure your teen into worse behavior.
Have you noticed that your typically well-behaved and agreeable teen is being more argumentative, defiant, rude, or disrespectful? Are they pulling away from the family and showing far more interest in spending all their time with their new friends? Are they breaking curfew or disregarding your family rules?
Teenagers are notorious for pulling away from family and showing some signs of boundary-pushing and defiance (it’s all fairly normal). But when the change is sudden, extreme, and happens about the time they start hanging with a new crowd, it could be reason for concern. Chances are they’re mirroring their new friends’ behavior (perhaps without even realizing it).
Keeping Plans or Whereabouts Vague or Secret
If your teen who typically willfully offers up details about where they’re going, who they’re hanging with and what their plans are suddenly shuts you out completely, it might be time to dive a little deeper. More often than not, when a teen becomes highly secretive, vague, starts lying, or becomes defensive when a parent asks questions, it’s because they have something to hide (i.e. they’re doing something they know their parents wouldn’t approve of).
Getting in Trouble at School
Is your teen, who’s always been a relatively good student, suddenly skipping classes, skipping school or blowing off homework assignments, or studying? While there could be more than one reason for their sudden change in behavior, if their new cavalier attitude about school and grades aligns with the timing of their new friend group, it’s’ possible their new friends have little regard for school and authority and it’s brushing off on your teen.
Changes in Appearance, Mood, Weight, or Personal Hygiene
One of the more concerning signs that could be an indication that your teen is being negatively influenced by peers is if you notice a change in their appearance, mood, weight, or personal hygiene.
Although it could be difficult to pinpoint since teens often go through various stages when their taste in clothes shifts, their weight might increase or decrease or they may pick up on a trend that’s not characteristic, (and, every teen has shifting moods), but keep in mind that drugs, alcohol use, smoking (and/or vaping), and disordered eating are also concerning possibilities of their drastic change which is why is so important to stay attuned to your teen.
Spends Far More Time on Social Media
If your teen’s screen time suddenly increases dramatically and they’re highly secretive about what they’re looking at or who they’re engaging with, they may have befriended people online and/or in real life who are influencing them in destructive ways. The internet can be a very dangerous place for young people looking to be accepted, appreciated, or loved. And, there are plenty of people online looking to take advantage of young, naive tweens and teens.
What’s Your Next Step if You’re Worried About Who Your Teen is Hanging With?
If any of these signs confirm that your teenager is falling prey to negative peer pressure and risky behavior, it’s time to take parental action.
The reality is that your teen may already feel a bit unsure about their new friends who may be leading them down the wrong path and they’re looking for an excuse to pull back or create an exit strategy before things go seriously wrong.
Here are a few tips to help you get the conversation rolling and encourage your teen to open up:
Establish a Good Time and Place to Talk
The conversation won’t be very fruitful if you try to have a heart-to-heart conversation when you or your teen are stressed or short on time. Instead, schedule a time when you’re both calm and relaxed.
Ask them to take a drive (a great way to get your teen talking), take them to their favorite restaurant, or go on a long walk together where you won’t be interrupted. Gently talk to them about your observations and concerns and give them plenty of time to answer without being judgemental or dictatorial.
Choose Connection Over Criticism
When we come directly at our teens with admonishments and threats of punishment, it can shut down the conversation before they even have a chance to speak. A warm and loving tone that expresses concern for your teen’s welfare and future is the best way to start. If possible, begin with reminders of things your teen has done that have made you proud. Help them feel connection with you, not criticism. LISTEN. The calmer you are, the calmer your teen will be.
Focus on the Behavior Rather Than Their Friends
It’s all too tempting to put your foot down and toss out a blanket statement, “I don’t want you hanging with those kids anymore. They’re a bad influence!” But be careful how you approach the situation. The minute you start tossing out orders, there’s a good chance you’ll put your teen on the defensive. Teens need and want to feel in control of their own lives and when you begin to dictate whom they can spend their free time with, there’s a good chance they’ll go in exactly the opposite direction than you want them to.
Instead, emphasize your concern about their negative behavior that stems from the relationship, not their friends. And, if possible get to know their new friends, invite them over, talk with them and get to know their parents. Your greatest power with your teen is your ability to INFLUENCE them, not CONTROL them.
Set Clear Expectations Moving Forward
If you haven’t already established clear behavior boundaries with your teen, now is the time to talk about expectations and consequences so they know what will happen if those rules are broken in the future. For example, if your teen breaks their agreed-upon curfew, they’ll know that they’ll have to come home earlier the next time or forgo the next get-together with friends altogether.
If you do find yourself worrying that your teen might be hanging with the wrong crowd, take heart – research has shown that parental relationships remain the greatest influence in teenagers’ lives. Keep talking and supporting your teen with patience, grace, and love.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
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