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.
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.
4. Upset or hurt your kid’s feelings. In this case, the definition of the wrong crowd is one that makes your child feel bad. It is telling that your kid remains friends despite being mistreated by the group. Your kid will need to develop greater self-confidence (by not putting up with those kinds of friends) and find a more supportive group of friends. This takes time and will probably require lots of conversations and effort on everyone’s part to figure out what’s going on and what your son or daughter can do about it.
5. Gossip network has branded them as trouble. Having a spy network of other parents, neighbors, teachers and some of your kid’s peers can be very useful. Make use of all the information at your disposal including the fact that you are a friend on your kid’s social networking accounts. (Right!?) This allows you to wander into the accounts of his or her friends to see what they have been up to.
6. Little or no parental supervision at their house. When an adult is not around to keep an eye on things (or doesn’t care) trouble is not far behind. You must have complete confidence in your kid before letting this happen with any frequency. Again, it’s time for another talk about (and evidence of) trust and responsibility before you will allow your kid to put themselves in that kind of risky (and tempting) situation.
7. Significantly older than your kid. What is an 18-year-old doing hanging around a bunch of 9th graders anyway? In middle school, more than one year difference can be a problem. In high school, more than ayear difference (or being out of high school even if they are closer in age) is a high-risk situation. Older kids do older kid stuff; some of it OK for older kids but not for youngsters. Besides, it will further push your kid to want to grow up too soon (and do grown up things). Another high-risk situation.
An important part of adolescence is learning to deal with peer pressure as well as the personal temptation to break rules and take risks. Friends are an important part of this. Your task is to try to rein it in before things go too far and, in some cases, to step in and shut everything down for your kid’s own protection. You may not be able to catch everything but you can keep a skeptical eye out for signs your kids’ friends may be luring them in the wrong direction.