By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.

Our daughter has a friend in her circle of friends who we think is bad news. We have heard from other parents that she makes poor decisions (of course this is secondary information and is not completely confirmed), and it seems she also causes drama. Would it do more harm than good to “ban” her as a friend for my daughter? I know there is nothing we can do when she goes to school – she might be very friendly with her at school. But on weekends, is it a bad idea or a good idea to ban her from hanging out with this girl? Will this backfire somehow? ~ Concerned mom of a teenage daughter

Dear Concerned Mom:

You may not yet have thought of your situation this way, but you’re in the middle of a wonderful opportunity to help your daughter learn to make wise decisions about relationships. Of course, if this friendship ever turns to a place where it poses a clear danger for your daughter to stay close with this friend, you can use your authority as parents to set limits on their time together.

However, since this situation now seems a lot more ambiguous, try and make the most of this opportunity to help guide your daughter in making her own choices about how to navigate this friendship. Giving her the chance to make decisions about this friendship—with your loving guidance along the way—can help your daughter develop social decision-making skills that can benefit her for years to come.

Here are some tips for getting started on turning this dilemma into a learning experience:

First, plan to find a time (or a series of times) to have an in-depth, non-rushed conversation about this topic with your daughter. Of course, many parents struggle talking with their teens in general, so check out our previous blog post for some general parent-teen communication tips. As you start the conversation, reassure your daughter that she’s not being punished. (Some teens worry they’re in trouble any time their parents sit them down for a serious conversation!) Tell her that you want to help her think through this situation, and that you see this as an opportunity for her to show she’s trustworthy and can make wise choices.

Next, let your daughter know what you’ve heard about her friend, and ask her to share what she thinks about that information, as well as what she knows about how this friend acts. Do try and give the friend the benefit of the doubt, as it’s possible that the other parents may be basing their judgments on one bad experience, or even possibly on experiences that happened a long time ago.

From there, you can talk with your daughter about how sometimes people who act out and make poor choices have things going on in their lives that influence their behaviors. To help your daughter learn to show compassion for others, you might ask if she knows if her friend has any problems in her family life or other areas of life where she may need help. If that turns out to be the case, then you can help your daughter think through ways she can help her friend, but also take good care of herself in the process.

Another important topic to discuss with your daughter is the importance of a person’s reputation, and relatedly how others’ perceptions of her will likely be influenced by who is in her closest circle of friends. Ask your daughter what qualities are important to her in a friend, and encourage her to think through the extent to which this girl embodies those qualities.

Once you’ve helped your daughter consider the quality of her friendship with this girl, you can talk with her about boundaries, as in how close or distant she wants to keep this friend and how much influence she wants to let this girl have on her. Let her know it’s okay to keep someone as a friend but to set limits on how much interaction they’ll have, especially if this girl does make questionable decisions. For example, you might teach your daughter to say, “I want to stay friends with you, but I won’t feel comfortable talking with you if you’re gossiping about our other friends or pulling me into risky situations.”

If your daughter chooses to stay friends with this girl, then let her know you’d like to continue to support her as she navigates that friendship. Talk through some potential “red flags” or warning signs that the friendship is turning really negative, such as if she shows disrespectful behavior, gossips, spreads rumors, or asks your daughter to do something that goes against her values. Develop an escape plan for how you can support your daughter if she finds herself in a bad situation with this friend, such as that you would come pick her up and bring her home if she needs to get away from the friend. It’s also a good idea to let your daughter know what consequences she would face if you were to find out that she’s breaking your family rules as a result of this friendship, such as losing her phone privileges if you were to learn that she had been engaging in cyber-bullying of another friend. This can help your daughter understand the potential consequences of taking the risk of keeping this friend in her life.

As much as possible, give your daughter the space to make choices about how to handle this situation. Even if she makes a choice that you aren’t sure is the best for her, unless it’s an unsafe decision, give her the opportunity to see how the decision plays out. By setting a positive, encouraging tone with your daughter, you can keep an open line of communication so she’ll feel comfortable talking further with you about this later. And, at a later point in time, look for an opportunity to nail down the life lessons she can learn through this experience. You can ask, “What did you learn by navigating this friendship?”, but also be sure to affirm your daughter for making any wise choices that she made in the process.

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