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What Friendship Means to Your Teen

Parents and Their Teens' Friends

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I have observed over the years with our children's friends' parents a variety of approaches to interacting with their teens' friends. Some mothers I have observed try to be their teens' best friends-dressing like them, acting like them and spending time with them. That can be a dangerous approach. After all, teens will have a variety of friends, but only one mother (or one father). The parent's role should include:

Knowing your children's friends and their parents whenever possible. While teens are working on independence, that maturation is a process, not an event. One of the things that helps that process is your acquaintance with their friends. Try to meet their friends, and their friends' parents. Find opportunities, even if just for a few minutes, to chat with them, individually or in the group. Putting names to faces helps with future conversations with your teen.

Making your home a welcome place for teens to hang out. We have always tried to have our home be a place where our teens and their friends can be together safely and with a little supervision. For our sons that has meant having good food and some games (foosball, table tennis, etc.) For our daughters it has meant a television with a few "chick flick" videos or DVD's and craft supplies. Making your home an inviting forum and welcoming your teen's friends is a positive in their lives.

Drawing the line if your teen is in a dangerous friendship that puts him or her at risk. Be aware of how your teen reacts to his or her friends. Watch for abusive behavior or evidences of any kind of abuse (mental, physical, emotional or sexual). If you feel your teen is at risk, don't hesitate to jump in and help them find solutions that maintain their self-respect.

Involving friends in family activities. Occasionally invite your teen's friend(s) along for a family activity. Taking friends hiking, fishing, on a picnic or to a show can help strengthen relationships and help you feel comfortable with their friends.

Setting reasonable restrictions on time spent with friends. Many teens will push the envelope on time spent with friends. Discuss curfews with your teens and stick to them. If they are late, there needs to be a consequence. One natural consequence of a curfew violation is a short grounding.

Enforcing family rules. Each family has its own rules and responsibilities. For example, teens should not be out with friends if chores aren't done. And if there are younger children, they are watching how you deal with a teen's lack of responsibility and will expect the same treatment. Be consistent and firm.

Keeping lines of communication open. Our About Teen Parenting Guide Denise Witmer talks often about "door openers and door slammers" in parent-teen communication. Make sure you are opening doors by using open ended questions and active listening. Avoid rushing to conclusion or treating your teen disrespectfully. As you engage in conversation about their friends and relationships, be friendly and casual when possible.

Sharing your values about sex and relationships. Parents have a duty to share their values with their children, including teens. While teens don't marry everyone they date, they will likely marry or have an intimate relationship with someone they date. So talk about your values and why they are important to you. Remind them about the dangers of early sexual relationships, both physical and emotional.

All in all, the teenage years can be fun and productive for fathers. Your involvement in your teen's life will to a large extent determine their future success. And understanding teen friendships and knowing what to expect as your teens become more independent and interdependent with their friends is an important part of the parenting process.

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