The teenage years are a time when adolescents begin to emotionally separate from their parents and gravitate toward peers as their primary source of influence. While this is completely normal, it can cause parents a certain degree of stress when their teen seems to be picking friends that seem edgy or just different from their usual crowd. Parents have been accustomed to calling the shots, but once their kids hit the teen years they discover they do not have as much control over their teen's choices as they did during childhood.
Teens each have their own unique personality, and the more adventurous and independent types will want to explore friendships with a diverse range of peers, which can include at-risk kids. Teens who themselves have some behavioral or emotional issues may drift towards others who they feel can relate to him or her. This can be worrisome to parents, who will rightly fret about their child being introduced to drugs and alcohol, gangs, truancy, or illegal activities.
Out of fear and a desire to protect their adolescent, parents may overreact and see trouble where there isn't any. It could be that the new friends have an edgy style—and appearances can be deceiving. But ignoring a teen's bad choices in friends can become a source of deep regret when it turns out that the parents worst fears have become a reality, so vigilance is called for.
So what should parents be on the lookout for when it comes to the new friends their teen is hanging out with? Below are 10 signs that the teen might be mingling with the wrong crowd:
- A decline in academic performance. One of the first signs that a teen might be veering off-course is a sudden drop in their grades. The teen may be influenced by the new friends who might not value education or have aspirations to go to college.
- Dropping out of clubs or extracurricular sports. The teen may suddenly lose interest in activities or hobbies they usually enjoy. This may be because the new crowd looks down on involvement in school activities, or the teen may prefer to spend spare time with the new crowd instead.
- Ignoring curfews, family rules, parental authority. The teen might become defiant or rebellious, blowing off house rules, coming home late at night, and shirking their responsibilities.
- Isolating behaviors. The teen may retreat to their room rather than mingle with the family. They may immerse themselves in video games or social media to avoid conversations with family.
- Ignoring old friends. The teen may turn his or her back on long established friendships in favor of hanging out with the new crowd.
- Truancy. The teen may ditch school, get in trouble at school, such as being caught with drugs or alcohol.
- Making significant changes in personal appearance or ignoring hygiene. The teen may change their look, opting to fit in with the edgier crowd, or they may begin to neglect their personal appearance or hygiene.
- Mood swings, irritability, hostility. The teen may begin to emulate the attitudes of the new crowd, displaying rude or hostile behavior. This may also be a sign of substance abuse.
- Secretive behaviors, sneaking out to meet with these friends. The teen may go to great lengths to spend time with these friends. If a parent prohibits them from seeing the friends, the teen might defy the parents and sneak around.
- They hang out anywhere but your house. You notice that the teen never brings the new friends to the house, possibly to avoid scrutiny.
What Can Parents Do When Their Teen Hangs With a Bad Crowd?
Parents walk a tightrope when they discover their child is hanging out with a dicey group of kids. While the knee jerk tendency is to forbid the teen from seeing these new friends, that action can actually work against the parent's goals. Sometimes taking a wait-and-see attitude for a few weeks will amount to a fleeting situation that flames out in short order. There are, however, some ways to address the situation head on, including:
- Talk (calmly) to the teen about the new crowd. Ask him or her what it is that attracts them to these kids.
- Ask to meet the new friends' parents, which allows you to get a feel for the home life, parental supervision, and values.
- If the teen is acting out, it is important to establish firm family expectations and be consistent in enforcing the rules.
- Try not to insult the new friends. This will only make the teen defensive and want to hang with the crowd even more.
- Be on the lookout for signs of substance abuse. Be aware of their eyes (dilated or constricted pupils), the odor of marijuana or alcohol, and atypical behaviors.
- Check out the parties that the teen is attending. Contact the parents of these new friends to ensure that they will be supervising the party and that there will be no drugs or alcohol present.
- Be observant. Do not put your head in the sand hoping that this too shall pass.
If the Teen Becomes Involved in Substance Abuse
Unfortunately, sometimes kids from a more edgy crowd will be engaging in drug or alcohol abuse. Teens desiring to fit in and be accepted may find it irresistible to join the new friends in experimenting with drugs or alcohol. If your teen has been involved in substance use it is wise to intervene as early as possible.
There are teen support programs that are designed for kids who may be in the early stages of substance abuse. Finding these groups is possible through the high school psychological support resource center or through a physician referral. Combine a support group with family therapy, or have the teen meet with a mentor or youth ministry leader.
If the teen has developed a substance use disorder they will need a rehab program for teens. These programs, which help the teen overcome addictive behaviors, are available in both outpatient and residential settings.
About the Author
Marissa Katrin Maldonado has been working in the behavioral healthcare industry for over 12 years. She is the founder of The Treatment Specialist, a national online resource and helpline for those seeking treatment for addiction and mental health conditions. Dedicated to guiding individuals to the help they seek, Marissa believes that with the right support and guidance, those struggling will have the opportunity to turn their lives around and enjoy a healthy and happy life. She is a proud mother and wife and enjoys long distance running, traveling, and music.