November 27, 2012

Teen Talk: Get to know teenager's friends before judging them

DEAR KELLY: I have the strictest parents in the world. They trust no one and think everyone is bad or going to "corrupt me" by encouraging me to drink or smoke.

DEAR KELLY: I have the strictest parents in the world. They trust no one and think everyone is bad or going to "corrupt me" by encouraging me to drink or smoke. I went to a small private school until eighth grade, then to a public school for high school because they have a great music program.

My parents have hated everyone I have brought to the house because they seem "weird" or "unfriendly," according to my parents. Kelly, these kids are like the most normal good kids out there (all music students and all with average-or-above grades). My parents are the rude and unfriendly ones.

I never want to bring anyone home now but if I want to go to the movies or to a concert, my parents have to meet everyone I'm going with before we can go. So usually I have them over to pick me up, then they come in and it's like 30 minutes of pure pain as my parents grill them with stupid questions.

Then, later when I get home, they tell me why they didn't like any of the people and why I need to search for a different group of friends or they threaten to pull me out and put me back into a small, private school where kids are more "sheltered and well-behaved." It's a joke because a lot of the kids I went to private school with are smoking and drinking, so it's no different.

What can I say or do to make my parents change? I'm the oldest of three so this is their first time with a teenager and I think they're failing miserably at parenting. I even suggested family counseling but they said no because they know best. Advice? Suggestions? Anything?

– Struggling With Parents

DEAR STRUGGLING: You can't make your parents change. You have no control over the choices they make. You can control the way you handle yourself, how you do academically and the friends you choose to hang with at school. You can control how you do in the music program, the decision to drink or smoke when you are out with friends, how you handle boundaries like curfews, and what you tell your friends about your parents and their pre go-out question-and-answer session.

There are a lot of things you can control, but changing your parents' minds is not one of them.

Who do your parents respect as other parents? Is there anyone who can talk with them that they will listen to? Grandparents? Church pastor? Older friends with adult children? Is there anyone you can think of who would have your back and be willing to talk to your parents about how normal you are and how to change their attitude regarding your friends?

If there is no one, consider handing this column to your parents. Let me take a shot at addressing them:

DEAR PARENTS: Your teenager is reaching out the only way he or she knows. Please read your teen's letter and see what I have to say.

You are pushing your teen away by never liking any of his or her friends.

What are your expectations for these friends? What are you looking for that you have not seen? Let's remember they are teenagers now. Your child is growing up, like it or not. High school students are high school students and you aren't guaranteed different results from sending your student to a smaller, private school.

Your child loves the music program. That should be great news to you. And your teen is picking friends who share the same interest and all get decent grades. You need to start embracing your child.

All parents are afraid. We fear for our teenagers and the choices they make. We fear they will go down the wrong path and make poor decisions. We fear the people they hang out with will influence them in a negative way.

But we can not allow these fears to alienate our children from us. We have to learn to trust teens until they break our trust. And if they do that, we pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild the trust all over again.

Invite your teen's friends over for dinner and be more an observer than a griller. Too many questions make teens nervous and embarrass your child. Watch how your teen laughs around friends, or the jokes they share or the things they talk about. Get to know the friends before you judge them.

Build bridges with your child, not barriers. Show love, support, trust and respect and odds are, you will get that back in return.

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