Understand the magnetic pull of unhealthy relationships to help kids make better choices.

By Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, Contributor
Courtesy of US News

Friends play an important role in a teen’s life.

While not being socially connected can leave a teen more prone to isolation and depression, having good friends can boost self-esteem and improve communication skills; and some of those friendships can last a lifetime. On the flip side, having bad friends can lead to risky decision-making, bad behaviors and poor academic performance. So, basically, having no friends sucks and having bad friends can screw things up, but having good friends rocks.

However, finding good friends can be hard for teens who struggle socially, and falling into the wrong crowd is easy. Trying to pull a teen away from these potentially destructive relationships can be like trying to separate two powerful magnets. Once teens find peer acceptance, they don’t want to let it go. They will do whatever it takes to fit in, even if it means going against their parents’ wishes.

In some cases, teens seem to have nothing in common with their new friends, but desire something different. These teens will often abandon their good friends in search of new and exciting relationships. Adolescence and the tyranny of extremes can truly leave parents in a quandary about what to do next. Long gone are the childhood days of arranging play dates and orchestrating friendships. Teens, as opposed to young children, like to be in the driver’s seat. But if the teen is a reckless driver, parents may be left frantically searching for ways to keep the teen on the straight and narrow path.

So what’s a parent to do? First, it’s important to identify if there is reason to be concerned about who your child is associating with. These are some signs your child may be hanging with the wrong crowd:

  • Suspicious behavior. Teens who are up to no good usually sneak behind their parents’ backs and behave suspiciously.
  • Tanking grades. Teens who get involved with the wrong crowd often begin to neglect academic responsibilities. Their homework assignments don’t get completed, projects don’t get turned in and they may arrive to class late or even skip classes.
  • Snarky attitude. It’s certainly not out of character for many teens to roll their eyes, sigh loudly or do other things to show when they’re annoyed. But add a group of snarky teens to the mix, and the result can be a back-talking disrespectful tirade.
  • Avoiding interests and hobbies. When teens hang out with peers who are a poor influence, they tend to withdraw from what they once enjoyed doing. They become more interested in impressing their new friends and doing the things their friends like instead.
  • Dissing old friends. Teens who find a new peer group tend to neglect old friends in favor of the new and may jeopardize positive relationships.

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