What parents need to know
By Dana Tiller, LPC
Adolescence - a time of change, self-exploration, and our first meaningful friendships. Friends are the primary focus for adolescents and can become more important than anyone else in their life. During this developmental stage, there is a strong need to belong to a group and feel accepted. This is why teenagers are always so concerned about how they look and act. The relationships developed in adolescence can grow and develop into lifelong friendships or they can be short, intense relationships that burn out quickly. Lately, much has been made about toxic friendships or frenemies. Let’s take a look at how to spot a toxic friendship, how those friendships can impact your child and what you as a parent can do to protect your teen.
How to Spot a Toxic Friendship
Toxic friendships will appear normal at first, but over time your teen will display certain behaviors to indicate things have made a turn for the worse. Watching for changing behaviors is key to indentifying a toxic relationship. Here are a few questions to help you determine if there might be a problem:
- Is your teen giving up things that were important in order to please this friend? Maybe they give up guitar lessons, dance class or other important hobbies to spend more time with the friend or because the friend has deemed their hobby “boring” or “stupid.”
- Is your teen only hanging out with one person after having several friends? You might notice that your teen now only has time to spend with the toxic friend and all other invitations are ignored.
- Is the relationship on again/off again? Are they friends one week and not the next?
- Does your adolescent make excuses for the friend’s seemingly bad behaviors?
How Toxic Friendships Impact a Teen
As a result of a toxic friendship, your teen may develop low self-esteem. They might feel they are not worthy of other friends and rely on the toxic friend to feel valued. The domino effect of low self-esteem might lead to unhealthy expectations and boundaries in their family, friend and dating relationships. Additionally, toxic friendships will likely contribute to other consequences such as trust issues, behavior changes, and risk-taking.
What Parents Can Do To Protect Their Teen
First and foremost, try to avoid repeated criticisms of their friend. Understand that conversations about a toxic relationship will be difficult because adolescents are at a place in their life where they will fiercely defend their friend. Because teens look for a place to belong and fit in, criticizing their friend(s) is like criticizing an aspect of your child. Try to focus on the behaviors.
For example, instead of saying “I don’t like your friend” try saying “I don’t like the way your friend behaves.” Avoid saying things like this daily, but you can put it out there once in awhile.
If you notice that your teen’s behavior is changing, establish structure and set limits. Structure can be very helpful when dealing with your teen’s friends and will allow you to have more control over where they go and what they do. Set limits on how much time they spend with their toxic friend. This can often increase defiance, but as a parent it is important for you to set expectations even if your child doesn’t meet them.
Finally, talk about the toxic friend. Remember, they are hanging out with this friend for a reason. Have a mature conversation with your teen about what they are getting out of the relationship. Be sure to tell them they don’t have to hang out with people who are mean to them. Most importantly, let them know you are willing to help if they need you.