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Health & Parenting

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When You Don’t Like Your Kid’s Friends

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Barbara Whitaker

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo

How to Know When You Must Step In…and When You Ought to Stand Back

Last year, my 15-year-old daughter, a sophomore in high school, began dating a senior. He wasn't involved in any school activities, showed no interest in going to college, and rarely came to our house, except for a few times late at night.

But beyond the above — and the fact that he was older than my daughter (and, I feared, might pressure her for sex) — there was little to indict him. Ultimately, I didn't interfere with the relationship, though I watched for changes in my daughter's behavior and monitored her schoolwork for falling grades. I encouraged her to stay involved in theater and music, and I made sure she spent time with her girlfriends.

Although I often felt uneasy, everything eventually turned out okay. But figuring out how to proceed when you don't like your kid's friends is always hard. Here's what experts say you need to know.

What's a Bad Influence?

Just because a boy has long hair or gets so-so grades doesn't mean you should forbid your daughter from seeing him. "Don't be too quick to judge," says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist and a mother of three. "It's the kid's heart and conscience that count."

Besides, "stepping in and saying, 'You absolutely must not see this person' will only make the child want to do it more," says Anita Gurian, Ph.D., a child-development psychologist at New York University Child Study Center. "She may be attracted to someone from a totally different background, but that's the way your child is learning about the world." Take a little time, experts suggest, and see if letting the friendship run its course is the best thing to do. It may fizzle on its own.

But that doesn't mean you can't do anything in the meantime. More than ever, pay attention to where your child is going and what she's up to. "Make your house an attractive place for kids to congregate," advises Fred Frankel, Ph.D., professor of medical psychology at UCLA and director of the school's Parent Training and Children's Friendship Program. "And always talk to your child's friend when he comes over. Ask him how he's doing, how school is going, anything. Get to know the child."

Similarly, adds Borba, try to pick up your child after school or attend extracurricular activities "to scope out the social scene and get to know different parents" — including the parents of your kid's friend. "If, for example, the parents allow their son to throw unsupervised parties, or if they serve alcohol to him, those are good indicators that this kid might be a bad influence," says Frankel.

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