No, this is not an announcement for the new high school edition of the classic sit-com, “Friends,” with Joey as the class clown, Monica as the class slut, Chandler as the class nerd, etc. Nor, is “The Movie” being made. This is about the impact teen friends have on our teens. Let’s face it, that impact can be more powerful than whatever dads or moms have to say. The teen years are so wildly transitional and mercurial that it is essential for parents to understand what influences their teenagers.
For so many teens, their friends define their lives, who they are, and so many of their choices. Understanding the significance of these friends is paramount to being their best parent. It is not a disparagement of dad and/or mom that their concern and care for their friends is greater than that towards their family. It’s just a fact of life, of growing up, of developing independence, and reality. Deny it at your own peril; embrace it if you’re wise.
Recently, my older son went through a traumatic emotional experience. He reached out to me, thankfully, but it was his friends that supported him at all hours of the day and night. Their texts, calls, Facebook posts and more were his lifeline. Yes, we spent a lot of time together. But, when a friend reached out, I’d usually hear an “excuse me” and he’d go somewhere to speak in privacy. I was never hurt. I was grateful, frankly, that his friends were there for him.
When this episode had passed, he and I were talking about his younger brother, who is a junior in high school. My older son asked how his brother was doing in school. He’d always been a great student, almost anal-compulsive about his studies, and I told him that his brother had relaxed a bit with his academics. My older son’s immediate response was to express how his social life was now taking precedence. The assurance with which he expressed this was sobering to me.
I then reflected and realized how right he was. My younger son’s life completely revolves around his friends and drama – real drama ‘cause he’s in the Drama Department and totally committed to “his craft.” Recently, during his visit to colleges in New York, he saw six plays in five days. He “rushed” a couple and stood in the rain for hours to get tickets to one of his favorites. I love that commitment!
When I was a tween – though we didn’t have that term in those days – I had one friend that my mom really didn’t like. His name was Frank. He was so intriguing to me because he was so “out there” compared to everyone else I knew. He was the kid who somehow got illegal fireworks, the kid who smoked cigarettes, and the kid who cut school. And, to my mom, he was a real bad influence. It didn’t help that his mom was divorced! That was a serious stigma “back in the day.”
My mom eventually forbade me from seeing Frank. I was really mad, but I complied since we actually did what our parents asked in my youth. She was right, of course, and eventually I made more “appropriate” friends. Do parents pay as close attention to their kid’s friends today as my mom did then? Do parents even know most of their kid’s friends?
When I became a dad, the solution I embraced for the “friends” problem was to try and make our home the place for everyone to hang out. When the boys were young that was pretty easy since the only thing you really had to do was provide a lot of food. As they matured and their interests “matures,” it became a greater challenge because I had to choose how strict I would be. Of course I didn’t want to allow any serious misbehavior in the house, but if my teen son had a buddy that smoked cigarettes, was that the battle I wanted to fight or did I simply ask them to smoke outside? That was my decision.
Another challenge we parents face is judging our kid’s friends based on their appearance. My older son had friends who looked as if they belonged on Most Wanted lists – at least in my eyes. But, some were the sweetest kids I’d ever met. So they had piercings all over their face, tattoos everywhere, and pink hair (the guys). So what? I judged them by their words, their actions, and their character.
Finally, recognize the importance of friends in your children’s lives. Don’t feel you are less in their eyes. Their friends will come and go. Over time, your children will know that you’re there for good. Whether they consciously get this or not is irrelevant. They will know it. So your job is to be the best dad or mom you can be. Period.