Does Your Child Have "Toxic" Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd

by James Lehman, MSW
Does Your Child Have Toxic Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd

I've worked with a lot of children and teens with behavior problems over the years—and believe me, very few of their parents liked their friends. It's like the national anthem of parents: “It's not my child; it’s those kids he hangs out with!” When I hear that, I always say, “Maybe that's so, but the reason he hangs out with that group is because he's similar to them. And just like you're saying, ‘It's those other kids he hangs out with,’ those other kids’ parents are saying it's your kid who’s the problem.”

While your goal as a parent is to keep your child protected and safe, your child’s goal is to be with people who like him

The old axiom is true, birds of a feather do flock together—and that’s especially accurate in adolescence. In fact, one of the main needs of their particular developmental level is to belong to a group and be accepted. That's why teenagers are always so worried about how they look and act. And once they find a mode of dress, a type of music and a group of kids who accept them, it’s very hard for parents to break through.

The first thing you have to realize is that you can't pick your child’s friends. In fact, if you criticize their friends, you will see them react very strongly. That’s because they're developmentally bound to defend their chosen peer group. When kids enter adolescence, they employ a way of looking at the world in which their friends are more important than anybody else. You'll often hear them say, “You just don't understand.” And another part of that mindset is, “Nobody understands me but my friends.” So if you criticize or attack their friends, you're really just making the relationship stronger. And no matter how you feel about your child’s friends, I don’t believe this direct kind of attack is effective. In fact, there are kids who like the fact that their parents don't approve of their friends; it adds to the flavor of the relationship. Understand that while your goal as a parent is to keep your child protected and safe, your child’s goal is to be with people who like him.

When You Don’t Like Your Child’s Friends:

6 Ways to Deal with the “Wrong Crowd”

  • Try to Avoid Repeated Criticisms of Their Friends

    I personally don't think repeatedly criticizing your child’s friends or pointing out that they're bad is going to be a successful strategy. Again, adolescents are developmentally at a place in their life where they're defending their friends. And so it's very difficult for a parent to turn around and say, “Your friends are no good,” and expect to have a conversation. Your child’s natural urge is going to be to protect his or her friends, whether or not they know you're right. Realize that criticizing your child‘s friends is like criticizing an aspect of your child. It's going to meet with the same resistance and hostility—even if what you're saying is true. And all it will do is further alienate your child from you.

  • Make Clear Statements about Behavior

    I think if you don't like your kid's friends, the most effective thing to do is state: “I don't like the way they behave.” That's the first thing you can say. “I don't like you hanging out with kids who get in trouble, because you get in trouble with them.” Can you say this every day? No. But you can say it once in awhile. Be sure to simply state the facts. State what you don't like about their friends’ behavior. You're not judging them. As a parent, I think you want to be a little smooth about that. You could say, “Look, I'm sure your friends are great to you. But they all smoke pot and they all get into trouble. If you hang out with them, you're going to get into the same trouble.”


    Remember, when we’re having conversations like this with our kids we want to keep our observations on a level we can see. By that I mean talk about things that are recognizable: “I don't like that Jackie got arrested for shoplifting. I don't want you to get arrested for it, too. I don't like that your buddies all use drugs because I don't want you using drugs. I don't think it's good for you.” Make those observations and keep it simple and direct.

  • Use Structure

    I think that structure can be very helpful when dealing with your child's friends. In other words, if you don't like the kids he's hanging out with, then don't let him go out on school nights. Try to have more control over where he goes and what he does. If he says he's going to the football game and then you catch him down at the mall with those friends, that's his choice. He chose to go some place which you didn’t know about and there should be consequences.

    Set Limits
    If you know your child’s friends are engaging in behavior that isn’t in line with your values, then I think you should set limits on how much time they spend with those kids—or whether or not your child can see them at all. If his friends are breaking the law or doing things that are unhealthy, you can say, “Maybe they're your friends, but I'm not going to let you hang out with them.” With a lot of adolescents, defiance becomes a big problem. Many of the kids I dealt with would climb out their windows when told they couldn’t go out. But again, you set the standard as the parent; you set the expectation. If your child doesn't meet it, at least he knew there were standards and expectations to begin with, and now he will have to face the consequences and be held accountable for his actions.

  • Going Out on Friday Night is Not a “Right”

    All of a sudden, kids hit a certain age when they think they have the right to go out. Well, I don't think so. I think kids have to behave responsibly in order to earn the right to go out. And you can say, “I'll let you go out if you show me that you're trustworthy.” Behaving responsibly does not include hanging out with kids who use drugs and drink—that’s all there is to it. I also think going out on Friday or Saturday night is not a right; it has to be something that is discussed every week. My son used to come to me and say, “Listen, Saturday night we're all going up to the lake. Is it okay if I go?” Saturday night was not his automatic night out. Instead, that was negotiated each week, and the answer wasn’t always “Sure.” As a parent, I think you should be saying, “What are your plans this weekend?” Your child should know that they have to have their plans Okayed by you first, and that they have to behave responsibly in order to earn the privilege of going out.

  • Talk to Them about Mean Friends

    What if your child is hanging out with kids who treat him badly? Know that he's hanging out with them for a reason. He's probably afraid of them so he’s trying to become one of them. When kids are afraid of bullies and other kids, one of the options they have is to join the group and become a bully. Because even though these kids are mean to him, there is a sense of safety there. The deal they make is, “I'll let you be mean to me and tease me, but you won't abuse me or beat me up or take my lunch money any more.”

    But I think if your kid's friends are mean to him, the kind of questions you want to ask are, “What are you trying to accomplish by letting people treat you this way? What are you getting out of that?”

    Try to have an adult conversation with your child. You can say, “Listen, you have choices; you don't have to hang out with these kids. You don't have to be a victim. I can get you help with this.”

When Your Child Hangs Out with Kids Who Use Drugs
As we’ve said, there are several reasons why people gravitate toward different groups. If you have a kid with behavior problems, you will often find that they are attracted to friends who also have behavior problems. If you have a child who doesn't do his homework and fails in school and is resistant and mouthy, he's going to gravitate toward friends who won't hold him accountable for that kind of behavior. Instead, his chosen peer group will reward and reinforce what he’s doing. In order to belong, he just has to do what the other kids are doing. That might be any number of things, including shoplifting, defacing property, using drugs or drinking.

It’s a simple fact that kids who use drugs hang out with other kids who use drugs. These kids are not likely to ask, “Did you get an A in science?” If these are your child’s friends, realize that he is almost certainly engaging in the same type of risky behavior—even if he says he’s not. Let me be clear: there is no other reason for your child to pal around with kids who do drugs. If he says, “Well, they do it, but they don't do it around me,” that's a lot of nonsense. It’s just something kids tell you to throw you off track; and sadly, it’s often a far cry from the truth.
Some parents say things to their kids like, “Well, you shouldn't smoke pot, but everybody experiments with it.” Don’t give your child that cop-out line.

Make it very clear: “No matter what you see your friends or other kids doing, there is no using drugs. That's our expectation of you.”

We were really clear on that with our son. I personally feel parents cop out when they say, “You shouldn’t do it, but everybody else does it.” Your kid is not equipped to make decisions about drugs. Drugs get you high, drugs take away stress, drugs take away feelings of panic or crisis, and that means something. Once kids start using drugs, it's easy for teens to become dependent on them because adolescents always feel stress. Drugs can become a dangerous way for them to get relief from all their fears and anxieties. Make no bones about it, drug rehabs today are filled with teenagers whose parents said, “They’re only experimenting” when their kids first started using.

There are important problem-solving tasks adolescents have to work through in order to prepare for adult living. Also, there is knowledge about the world that teenagers have to learn in order to make healthy choices and keep themselves safe. The use of drugs and alcohol in adolescence inhibits the possibility of these milestones being reached. So I don’t think parents should turn a blind eye or make excuses. Many times, parents are afraid to feel powerless, so they'll make those kinds of statements instead of just telling their child “no.” But you need to hold your child accountable and tell them right from wrong; that's simply the way it has to be. You have to be very clear and take a stand: “No drinking. No drugs.”

When Your Child’s Behavior Changes
If your child starts changing as a result of the kids he hangs out with, use a structured parenting routine: set limits and manage their time. I also think you should expect that they're going to change during adolescence. They're going to find a group with whom they're going to identify. When you see an adolescent, believe me, he's probably rebelling against adult authority in a lot of little ways. And while your child may go to school and be fairly responsible, you’ll find that through music, through clothes, through a myriad of different things, it's a rebellious time in his life.

I think it’s important for parents to understand that rebelliousness has a developmental function. Teenagers are individuating from their parents; what I mean by that is they're becoming individuals and separating from their parents. This feels as natural to adolescents as water feels to a duck. Saying that, it's often a very hard thing for parents to accept and manage.

Here’s the bottom line: kids are going to make mistakes and they're going to make bad choices. The best we can do is guide them, set limits, project our view of what's right and wrong in the world and hold them accountable


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


do you think as a parent of an 18 and 20 year old young adults male this strategy works? do rules still apply to this age group?

Comment By : Dee

O' how I wish Jame Lehman would come live in my house for a while!

Comment By : NC Mom

A lot of thruth and sense in this article re peers. I'm just not sure how you deal with an adolescent who totally thumbs her nose at any consequences. What do you do with a child who just walks out and does her own thing anyway even though you tell her she can't 'go there' or 'do that'? You can't physically stop them from walking out and doing it anyway. Apart from food and shelter we have nothing left to take away from her.

Comment By : Jan

I agree with Jan -- Lehman's thoughts are wonderful, but implementation with some kids is almost impossible, unless you physically restrain them. Do I disable her car so she can't go out? How can you ground an 18 yr old with a job and car?

Comment By : Diane B

* Dear Diane and Jan, I don't have a sense of what is going on behaviorally in each of your situations, but you are both correct that it isn't reasonable to try and force your children to stay in the home. We don’t recommend that you get into a physical power struggle with your child, either. It just isn’t effective. James Lehman says that it's not the parent's job to prevent their child's inappropriate behavior, but rather it is their responsibility to deal with it effectively. Being effective as a limit setter, problem solver, and coach doesn't guarantee that your child will change or succeed. It's still very important to hold them accountable for their behavior and have ongoing discussions about what needs to change and what their plan is for improvement. Consistently giving consequences sends them the clear message that "We have standards on how we behave and when you choose not to comply with the rules, the outcome is that you lose access to you car, phone, etc." Try to ignore the “I don’t care” and focus instead on holding your child accountable. If the privilege they are losing is important to them, they probably do care more than they are letting on. After a while, the consequences become so uncomfortable that they outweigh any benefit your child may be getting out of disregarding your rules. Remember that children need the opportunity to earn things back and need a specific goal to work towards. For example, you can say, "when you're following your curfew and you can show me that you can be home on time for 2 nights in a row, then you can have access to your phone." Check out our articles on consequences for more ideas on how to set these up. If you are backed into a corner and have nothing left to take away then you might need to look at how you can change the way you are approaching consequences. Good luck! Let us know how it is going.

Comment By : Tina Wakefield, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Dee: This is a good question and one we hear a lot on the Support Line. House rules still apply to any kids who are still living at home, regardless of their age. Many teens, 18 years or older, will tell you that they are old enough to do whatever they want to do, but until they live in their own house, they are still expected to respect the system you have established in your home. James Lehman wrote a great article about discussing these behavior boundaries with older children: Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III: Is It Ever Too Late to Set up a Living Agreement? Remember you can always call the trained specialists on the Support Line for more ideas on how to apply the program techniques in your situation. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I agree with Mr. Leman. But I also want to comment on the fact that you do not want to accuse you child of engaging in these behaviors such as using drugs or drinking if you have no solid proof. Doing so will only cause you child to feel as if you don't trust or believe in them. Explain to them that you do not approve of their friends behavior in any way. Tell them that you except them not to engage in this behavior themselves and be firm. But as I said do not accuse them. This only makes things worse.They may in their mind think to themselves, " well if they think I am doing it and don't trust me when I say I am not doing it, then what the heck I might as well do it!" You are setting them up to fulfill your belief. If you have any reason to actually believe and have evidence of they are engaging in this behavior then you have to do what is absolutely whatever is necessary to stop it. That just my 2 cents worth. Some may agree and some may not.

Comment By : Devinalee

I am having this problem with my step daughter right now. Fighting, friends smoking pot etc. AND SHE IS AN 8th grader! Since I am the step mom, I am obviously stupid to her. This is my directive to her. "Your mother trusts me to care for you in the way I see fit. You will NOT hang out with these kids. Obviously, you are not capable of making good decisions yet, and you have a whole lot of growing up to do. Therefore, I will be telling you where you will be and when you will be there and who you will be there with. Let me catch you sneaking around my back just once, and I WILL inform the authorities of your "friends" behavior. Let me find you participating in this behavior, and I WILL call the cops on you! Save your sob stories for someone who DOESNT care about you." I will NOT cosign her misbehavior. Period. (The child just got ME a $350 fine because she got in a fight.)

Comment By : elskede

My son is 14 and has been hanging around with a 19 year old girl in the neighborhood. He lied to me for about 3 months by telling me she was only 16. I told him then she was too old. Turns out, she even has a 2 year old son. I have and continue to state my expectations for him and he continues to do what he wants. I choose not to fly off the handle about the situation becasue I am searching for something that will be a sucessful intervention. He has been advised of all potential legal reprucutions, as well as how this could effect the girl and her future. WHAT CAN I DO that will be sucessful

Comment By : mybell

* Dear ‘mybell’: Your best bet to handle these types of situations is not to focus on the other kid(s) your child is spending time with, but to focus on your child’s behavior. As James Lehman states in this article, it will back fire if you criticize the friends your child chooses. However, you do have a responsibility to control how your child spends his time. You mention that you continue to state your expectations for him but he continues to do what he wants. What you might consider is being very specific about your rules and expectations. Sometimes parents state what they want from their kids in guarded, gentle language that ends up sounding more like a suggestion than an expectation for specific behavior. For example, if he is expected to be home after school on week days, then clearly state that as the house rules. If he can go out for a few hours after completing homework and chores, tell him those conditions and what hours he is expected to be home. Your house rules should also reflect your values—such as, he is not allowed to use substances or participate in inappropriate sexual behavior. If he is expected to not ‘date’ until he’s 16, then that’s a house rule. Your ‘intervention’ then is monitoring his behavior. If he is showing you that he’s not making good choices when he’s not at home, set more limits on the time he is allowed to be away from home. These situations can be very upsetting for parents and we invite you to call the Support Line. We will be very glad to talk to you about what might be useful in your particular situation. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a Question. My Daughter is 7y/o. Diagnosed w/ ADHD in Oct '07. She is on Adderall XR 15 mg in the morning and 5 mg Ritalin @ 12p. She has a child in her class (they have been classmates for 3 years and they have become Friends) that has a list of factors (ADHD, OCD, etc and her Mom uses these as a Crutch to everything. This Child is on several Meds)anyway, it seems like my Daughter is a magnet (or possessed) to some of this Child's behaviors (such as not listening, not wanting to do her morning work at school). The child will hit and kick her Mom (I can say we do not have this problem) and during the last week of school right before the Christmas Holidays some stuff happened at the Child's home and the Mom put the child in the Mental Hospital, so for the last week of school before the Holidays and the first week and a half when this Child wasn't at school I seemed to have better control of my Child and school and home. It was like my Child walked out and a New Better improved Child walked in. I did nothing different. Now this Child has returned to school and the behavior stuff has started back. The New and Better Child has left and the old Child came back. I want to say that my child is looking for some kind of acceptance from her, sort of the "I know what you feel" routine. Any ideas as to what is happening here and how to handle it?

Comment By : SymJ

* Dear SymJ: You might ask your daughter: "I noticed that for a couple of weeks, you followed directions in your classroom, you waited your turn, and you completed all of your work. Now, though, you aren't doing any of these things. What is different now?" Given that she was able to follow the rules previously, we know she can do it now. Let her know you expect her to follow the rules no matter what anyone else does, then work with her to come up with ways she can help herself follow the rules when she is tempted to break them. That might include language she can use to help her say no to her friend. It's important to stay focused on your child's behaviors, and not on why the other child might act the way she does. Good luck and let us know how it's going.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

Two weeks ago, my 17 year old son came home very drunk -- passing out, vomitting, loss of muscle control --- it was touch and go whether he needed to go to the ER, but in the end, he improved through the night. He was at a friend's house "hanging out". His friend drove him home that evening (the friend had also been drinking.) He finally told us that the parents weren't home and several kids were there drinking whatever they found at the house. Several consequences have resulted which included loss of cell phone after 9:00pm; not allowed over that person's house anymore; no more "hanging out" -- must be a specific accountable activity with others; limits on driving. This was not the first time he has been drinking, but it was definitely undeniable and extreme. My question is what is effective in teaching him to make smart choices, to motivate him to make better choices for friends, to choose not to drink alcohol or do drugs? How does he turn around from this path he's on?

Comment By : Ceci

* Dear Ceci: We’re sorry to hear your family has experienced this. It can be very frightening to watch a child go through what your son experienced. The best way to handle drug use and alcohol use is to talk to your child about it and work with the experts. There is a web resource that will give you information and encouragement on how to proceed and how to talk to your child if you think your child is using and how to talk to your child when you know they’re using. That web site is The overall message of the site is to ‘TAKE ACTION’ to help your child move in the direction of living a healthier, safer life. To find treatment programs in your area, call your family doctor, local hospital, county mental health society, or school counselor for a referral. You can also call 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357) or do a search on the “Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator” at:

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My daughter is 17 years old and this past year her behavior has changed. I recently found out that a past boyfriend beat her and now she is hanging out with kids who drink, do drugs and shoplift. Recently she was caught shoplifting herself and luckily she was released to my care. I took away her phone and grounded her but, now that she is off grounding, she is doing the same things again. I dont like her friends and through text messaging, i have found out the new boyfriend is mentally abusing her. I am at a loss and dont know what else to do. Should i get her counceling or some sort of treatment???

Comment By : CLB1117

* Dear ‘CLB1117’: We’re sorry to hear that you’re having these difficulties with your daughter. What is encouraging in your remarks is that you were able to ‘ground’ your daughter. That indicates that she accepts your authority and complies with the consequences you set. She may want your help to reign in her behavior. Continue to set limits on her activities because she not making safe choices. Even though she is 17, set an earlier curfew, shop with her, invite her friends to your house so you can supervise. Require her to have structured time even in the summer. Some kids just don’t do well with a lot of free time to kill. You might enjoy reading, Restless and Bored: How to Use Structure to Keep Your Child from Getting into Trouble This Summer, by Erin Schlicher, Parental Support Line Advisor. Because your daughter is participating in a lot of risky behavior and has become involved in abusive relationships, family counseling could be very important for her. Remember that you can call in to the Support Line for encouragement and help. Let us hear from you.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

This is going to help me with a start as it applies to my daughter. Shes just started hanging out with this new group of friends. and has been really rebellious toward me. she is going to be 16 this month. I am a single mom and sometimes feel like i have no control. This is hard for me. This past weekend she didnt come home all weekend. I thought I knew where she was staying, and found that shes been lien about alot. If anyone has any advice for me please help!

Comment By : mpowell

* Dear mpowell, I’m glad that you found the Empowering Parents community. You are not alone. It can be really tough for parents when their kids start to rebel. While you don’t have control over your daughter’s choices, you do have control over your response to your daughter. James wrote another article that I think will be helpful to you called ‘Setting Limits With Difficult Kids: How To Get Them To Listen.’ Sit down and talk with your daughter about her recent behavior and be clear with her about your expectations. Remember that you don’t want to make the focus of your conversation about her new friends. Instead you can focus on the choices your daughter is making. Although it is very normal for kids her age to push limits and demand more independence, you can send her a clear message that the only way to earn more freedom is by showing you that she can follow your limits, even if she doesn’t agree with them. Good luck to you and please let us know how it is going!

Comment By : Rebecca Staples, Parental Support Line Advisor

my daughter is 16 and is dating a boy who is well known with the police department and has not shown me one oz of respect. He has blocked me from his facebook page so I could not see his comments. I have told my daughter she will not be dating him. He is not good for her. He has given her friend pot and she has admitted to doing it once, although not supplied by her boyfriend, so she tells me. she tells me they love each other and i cant control who she dates. I dont want her sneaking out at night but I dont see this going well and cant condone it. What else can I do?

Comment By : hospicemom

* Dear ‘hospicemom’: We’re sorry to hear you’re experiencing this. This can be a challenging problem solve. Consider telling your daughter that because she is making unsafe decisions, you conclude that she is too young to go on dates by herself. Let her know that you encourage her to socialize, but it has to be in a group with a parent present. It’s always the best tactic to focus on your daughter’s behavior choices and not her friends. Regardless of the influence of her friends, she is accountable for her own behavior choices. She will very likely argue with you that all 16 year olds are allowed to date—but this is not the case. Let her know that you will consider giving her more privileges in the future if she demonstrates that she is able to follow house rules and behave responsibly. We would recommend calling the police to help locate her if she sneaks out of your house at night because it is unsafe for her to be out without your knowledge or supervision. We hope this was helpful and invite your family to keep in touch with us.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My son is getting in alot of trouble at the moment and whilst I do feel that his friends are not suitable I realise that he is responsible for his actions. He has been suspended from school for putting a lighter to another boy who had had aerosol sprayed on his back and the fumes caught fire and then burned out but the consequences could have been horrendous. this is the final straw in a long line of bad behavioiur, he is now grounded and we have found that after 3 days of being kept in he comes around and the bad attitude stops and he seems to be back to his old self so he is still in there somewhere!! we have talked endlessly to him we dont stop him from hanging around with his friends (because he would just do it behind our backs) and we feel that we are as fair as we can be when he is behaving in this way. we are just at the crossroads with him now and we are sure that if he doesnt stop this bad behaviour now that he is going to ruin his schooling and have nothing when he leaves school we just dont know what to do any advice would be really appreciated Emma

Comment By : estevens

* Dear "estevens": Kids have a lot of faulty thinking, like feeling they’re invulnerable, and do foolish things at times. Across the country, kids have been involved in using aerosols to make explosives, flame throwers, or to set each other or themselves on fire. Be aware that there are over 200 videos on YouTube showing teenage boys using Axe deodorant for these activities. Besides talking to your child about the burn risks involved, make sure he does not have access to any lighters or aerosols. If your son has a history of setting fires, work with a professional counselor in your area. The author of the Total Transformation Program, James Lehman, teaches how to have an effective problem solving conversation with our kids (Lesson 6). He finds it’s not effective to "talk endlessly" to kids, because they cannot see things as an adult does and will lose interest in long lectures. Also, instead of simply grounding your son, James recommends requiring your child to do something related to correcting his behavior--and to not simply "do time." For example, you could have your son write down a few ways to say ‘no’ to his friends. For more information on giving effective consequences, read How to Give Kids Consequences That Work Please call us here on the Support Line for more information on how to use the techniques from the Total Transformation Program. We’re here to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor

my 13 year son has been on self destruct for sometime and this week it has come to a real crisis. he has been stealing alcohol and money from my purse. lying about everything you can imagine and showing complete disrespect to me and our home. Di spite encouraging in any activity he wants to do, as soon as i show interest he does not want to do it any more. I am a single parent and have to go to work, leaving him at home. the trust in our relationship has been driven to a really bad point and I sitting here wondering if we will ever get that back. Last night he took off saying he will be staying at his friends. I haven't gone round to pick him up nor have I given him any money. This has left me feeling like I am the worse person.

Comment By : jansen

My daughter is 17 yrs old and she hasn't been home for 1 week. She had got into trouble and we had grounded her. She decided that we were being unreasonable so she doesn't want to come home. She continues to go to school. She is living at her friends place. We have decided to talk her car back and cancell her phone but I'm scared that I'll never see her again.What do I do ....I want her home!:(

Comment By : Scared mom

* Dear Scared Mom, I can see why you would feel so scared and anxious about this. It’s good to hear that she is attending school and that she is at a friend’s home. This indicates that she is safe, and therefore the next step from here is looking into some local support to see about how you might go about getting her to come home. You can search for support in your local area by visiting the United Way Website. One important note: if you do have any reason to feel that your daughter may not be safe, you should contact the police instead. Also, you might want to refer to this article James wrote about kids who run away: Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them. We wish you luck as you move forward from here.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My son is 16 and he is a good kid, has a good relationship with us and his younger brother and is extremely smart, although has never been very "academically inclined". The thing is he has always seemed to gravitate towards kids that have troubled family situations (completely opposite to ours) and get in trouble regularly. A week ago he got in trouble with the police because of a friend of his (the police told us it wasn't our son's fault), but I worry about the fact that he chooses somewhat "troubled" kids over kids that are in more "normal" situations. He says he doesn't judge people by their family situations and that they are good people. Should I trust his instincts? Is this saying something about the way we are raising him?

Comment By : Jamie

* Dear Jamie: It can be so hard when your child’s negative behavior seems to be linked to the influence of his friends. When you say your son is not ‘academically inclined,’ this leads me to believe that he is simply drawn toward other kids who share that same trait. After all, these kids won’t push him to do better or reject him if he doesn’t excel as much as they do in school. They probably do have other common traits and interests as well, and just because the family seems ‘troubled’ doesn’t mean the child will make poor choices or be ‘troubled’ himself. It seems, though, that at least one of your son’s friends has made poor choices but let’s face it: all kids make mistakes. It’s important to emphasize your son’s responsibility to make good choices in that situation and discuss what he could have done differently to either steer his friend away from this situation or get out of it himself. As long as you maintain a set of standards and values in your home and hold your son accountable for his behavior, you are doing well.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Help, help help! My 14 yr old Daughter has recently got in with the 'wrong crowd' I have tried to explain that they are no good for her & come from totally different backgrounds to what she is used to. She just tells me I can't choose her friends & speaks disrespectfully to me, I then ground her which makes her really angry & then she hates me! We had a phone call from her Geography teacher today to say she is a really good kid & clever but at the moment she is wasting her future, she is very loud, rude & disruptive in the class. My heart sank! She tells me that he wouldn't let her go to the toilet during the lesson & she asked him why...that's all! I know by the way she speaks to me sometimes that she will have been cocky to him; this has completely thrown me because she has always been brought up with respect & has always used it & NEVER answered any adult back! When I told her this is the way her 'friends' behave & not her & I want her to stay away from them, she just starts shouting at me & tells me NO! What do I do; I'm desperate as I've never had to deal with anything like this before, & I can't ask any of my friends as they haven't come across this situation either??? I don't want her to start doing things behind my back. Please help a very desperate parent! P.s some of the crowd are known to the police but not for drink & drugs thank god!

Comment By : Desperate Mum!

* Hi Desperate Mum: It can be very frustrating and scary to watch as your daughter starts to behave in ways that are not in line with your beliefs. As you’ve noted here, telling her that they are no good and she should stay away from them is not very effective for you. What you can do is set some limits around the time that she spends with them; perhaps she is not allowed to go out with her friends on school nights and needs to talk about her weekend plans with you before going out. You can also mention what it is about their behavior that you don’t like. For example, you might say “I don’t like that you’re hanging out with these kids because they get in trouble with the police, and I don’t want you to get in trouble too.” Holding your daughter accountable for her actions is important too, as this sends the message that she is responsible for her actions no matter who her friends are. If she is being verbally disrespectful to you, you can give her a consequence for that. Thank you for your question, and we wish you the best of luck!

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I am concerned for my 14 yr old son. He is dating a 16 yr old girl whose parents are very nonrestrictive. He is continually fighting back about where he wants to hang out with her... taking public transportation is fine with us locally but he wants to take it into the city (we live just outside Boston)to hang out walking around popular squares. This is the second older girl he has been around, the first was 18. We are especially concerned because he has gone through some deep emotional/psychological troubles over this past year. My concern is one, that he is choosing older girlfriends and is asking us for freedoms that we would allow at 16 but feel 14 (and specifically his situation) too young. He is consistently and very respectfully explaining that his peers are able to do what he is asking. We are worried that in being protective because of his situation we are being over protective. Though I find it hard to believe that most parents would allow a 14 year old to travel to the city to hang out for the afternoon.

Comment By : overly concerned?

My daughter claims to have a boyfriend and once each week stays out all night, breaking her curfew. She has a part-time job and now buys what she wants herself, and this boyfriend supposedly gave her her own cell phone, so she feels she doesn't have to follow any family or house rules. I am quite sure she is sleeping with boys, and have talked to her about it, experessing my concern, stating that I feel it's not appropriate as she's still too young. She is on the pill, so is not necessarily going to get pregnant, although I've reminded her it could happen. I don't know what to do about her staying out all night? when she does, I can't sleep. I've tried setting a basic curfew of midnight and telling her that it she stays out past midnight, then she cannot get any rides to or from work the next day. That has had no effect on her. So I'm changing that now to one week of no rides to or from work. Because she really wants to keep her job, and is chronically late etc, she wants the rides. It's the only thing I have partial control over. But, unfortunately, my spouse caves in and gives her rides. So I'm trying to get him to understand that the one week rule is a requirement for both of us to follow. But maybe there are other better solutions for dealing with her repeated breaking of the curfew and staying out all night? (What's worse is she won't say where she's staying because in the past, when she didn't, I sent police out looking for her. They found her and brought her home, but told me that they can't regularly do that. Where we live, they say that they do not like to go after kids who repeatedly run away unless they believe there is evidence of harm or danger etc.) HEEEEELP! I feel like I can't function with her all-nighters. (Which I think are partially related to her desire to drink and possibly smoke pot, so by staying out all night, she can do it for one night, then when she comes home the next day, there is no evidence of her having drank etc.)

Comment By : Bridget

* To Bridget: It can be so frustrating and scary when your child refuses to follow your rules and come home for the night. It sounds like you are on the right track in terms of getting on the same page with your spouse about the consequences for not coming home by curfew. We also frequently recommend that parents look into how the police might be able to assist you when your child refuses to come home or tell you where she is. If you believe that your daughter is staying out all night so she can drink or smoke pot, we would recommend talking with police on their non-emergency number to see if this might change their response to you. We advise doing some problem solving with your daughter about what is going on for her when she decides not to come home for the night, and then talk about how she is going to meet curfew at the next opportunity. Consequences alone don’t change behavior, so it’s important to discuss how she will solve the problem of getting home on time safely before she goes out again. I’m including some links to articles about running away that you might find helpful: Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them & Running Away Part II: "Mom, I Want to Come Home." When Your Child is on the Streets Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

My daughter started misbehaving in middle school, and hanging with the wrong crowd. I did use some of the illustrations before where I would say I don't like how such and such lies, and I hope you never will do that." However, and I know this isn't an excuse, but my husband was active duty Army, and when my husband was deployed it was as if she used this as an excuse to hang with the wrong crowds in school. My husband retired in 2008, and one of the reasons other than getting blown up three times by an IED and surviving is so he could be home to help me with our daughter. She is very disrespectful to us, and her friends encourage that disrespect. Her boyfriend, well she says fiance (God forbid, and they say they are waiting til they get done with college to tie the knot), is a recovering drug addict (RX drugs, but I don't say recovering because the only reason I believe he went to re-hab is because he was arrested on a DUI charge, drugs, not alcohol, and he was only in there for 2 weeks, yeah, 2 weeks of bliss on our part). This boy has been a thorn in our side for a year and a half. He is very controlling of our daughter, and his mother influences it. His dad seems to have the only brains in their family and doesn't believe they will get married just as we do, but that mother of his just raises my dandruff up. She actually had the gaul to call me and wake me up one night when our daughter was still in high school at 17 years of age and ask me if MY DAUGHTER could move in with them because they had an extra room. I think it was more of her, not the dad on this. Nonetheless, I hung up on her. I was and still sort of am going through alot of stress at the time. My mother, who lives with us, has stage IV lung cancer, and at that time my hubby had taken an overseas job because he couldn't find any work here. Now, he is back home, and the first day he was going to his new job he caught our daughter's boyfriend crawling out of her bedroom window at 5 a.m. in the morning. If at that time I wanted to shoot someone it was then, but my husband very calmly looked at him and told him to leave. Then, he bolted down our daughter's window and put a new screen on it. Our daughter is now 18 and she has left on several occasions not coming home for several weeks. Her, myself, and my husband have gotten into some huge arguments. It was usually about money and us not giving her any. I would tell her to go get a job. My husband had saught legal advice and was going to have her evicted, but she left on her own and didn't come home for 2 months. She was staying at a "so called" friend's house whose mother smokes pot for her lupus condition (she says it helps her lupus, yeah, ok, whatever!). Yes, my daughter when she was on probation tested positive for marijuana use, and I know for a fact when she goes there it is used. She has also done poupurri, but luckily, where we live that has now been outlawed, so haven't noticed any new makeshift bongs made out of coke bottles in her room, but of course according to the law where we live we can't go through her room at 18. So, her room looks like something from the show hording. We have talked to Psychologist who said as long as rats or roaches aren't coming out of the room let her live in it. And to some degree that worked because she has cleaned it because she was tired of seeing it that way. Believe me, we are a military family, I did not raise her to be like this. At one point she was a straight A student and used to come to me with an inventory list she made up herself for me to inspect her room after she cleaned it spotless. I never would tell her to do this either, she just did it. Then, something happened and this all stopped and we are afraid she is ruining her life. We don't say anything when she leaves for days at a time, but she has gotten to where she does tell us where she is going because she will call and let us know she won't be home and where she is. We lock all our doors and our alarm is set regardless, we also bolt the storm doors and she has to knock for entry, therefore, denying her access with her house key. We are trying to teach her to respect the fact we are in control of our home and she does not have the right to gain access when we are already in bed, or we are not at home. Especially, with that boyfriend of hers who had pawned his own mother's jewelery off for drug money. Yeah, and his mother wouldn't press charges telling the cops "anyone could have stole my jewelery." oh? even if your son's name is on the pawn slip? duh!!! Anyways, we are hoping this relationship of theirs fizzles out, or rather praying it does. He is a loser.

Comment By : wuz

Would love your comments my situation. My boyfriend and his 12 year old son live with me in my home with me and my 17 year old daughter. Recently, the son has been hanging out with the 13 yr old neighbor boy that smokes. We have talked to the son and my boyfriend has also talked to the neighbor boy about not smoking around his son. My boyfriend comments that he knows the other kid is a bad influence (foul languange, attitude, etc), yet he continues to let his son hang around with this boy. I have allergies to smoking and can't be around it without soon getting sick so I do not let the smoker boy come over our house as he always reeks of smoke. My boyfriend says I can't choose his sons friends. I am not trying to choose his friends but I feel like I do have the right to choose who I will and will not allow in my home. It is my home and my health. Am I wrong for not allowing this smoker boy in my home?

Comment By : Fed up

* To 'Fed up': It is hard when you and your partner disagree over parenting. Your boyfriend is correct that you cannot choose with whom his son spends time. You do, however, have the right to limit your exposure to smoke. As noted in the article, we do recommend setting some structure around time spent with friends. What might be helpful for you is discussing with your boyfriend how you both can provide that structure and supervision, while still acknowledging your health concerns. Some ideas may be setting aside one room for them to stay in while the neighbor is visiting, or perhaps you can go out of the house and do something for yourself while your boyfriend supervises the visits. We do recommend letting your boyfriend take the lead in providing discipline to his son, while you take a supporting role. For more information about this, please see Blended Family? The 5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting. Good luck to you and your household as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

My daughter is 17 and just in the past year has proven to make bad choices. She is a great student in school, taking honors and ap classes but it's her social life that concerns her dad and I. This past year we have caught her in a few lies, going to parties and staying at these "co ed" parties overnight when we were under the impression she was at a friends house. We grounded her, took the cell phone away, made her get a job, no going out and took her car away (this wasn't a forever restriction, it was 2 weeks). We actually made arrangements to take and pick her up from school each day because I didn't want her riding home with anyone else. I have to admit that after the several lies, I decided to start spying and reading her text messages that she is completely unaware of. Some parents I know may be againist this, but I must tell you it gave me a lot of insight on how she has changed and in areas she hasn't. My main concern now is this guy she is dating. She first dated him in November and lasted only a month. I believe I was partly to blame for that, because other parents were telling me he has a reputation of smoking pot on a daily basis. My daughter insisted that was a lie, but ultimately they broke up. I had heard she was being verbly abusive calling her names in front of others and in return she slapped him. Well in the past month, they started speaking again. She asked me if I would allow them to see each other and when I told her I do not like the choice of guy she would be dating, it turned into a HUGE arguement and the end result of me saying "no" was bringing her and this guy closer together and her very mad at me where she refused to speak with both her dad and I. I gave some thought and reconsidered and explained to her that I would give him another chance since she insisted he had only "tried pot, he doesn't smoke now", I thought to make peace I would attempt to give him another try and put what I heard in the back of my mind. I did tell my daughter that in order for him to see her he and be welcome in our home, he would have to come over and speak with her dad and I and discuss everything. I made the mistake and told her I would wipe the slate clean and we start fresh and I would make my on judgements once I got to know him. She was immediately happy with that decision. I would soon find out...I WOULDN'T BE! First I must explain that I am and have continued to read my daughter's text so I knew going in this guy still smoked pot and what my daughter was telling me was a complete lie to protect him. He in fact didn't just experiment with it, but does do it almost on a daily basis. I also knew he was coming over with a busted lip and black eye that he got in a fight on Super Bowl Sunday, but he was going to say to us that he ran into a swinging bat. With that said...I must say I was surprised that he even came to our home and we did speak openly around the kitchen table. I told him that he needs to be honest because if he lied about anything, conversation would be over and that would be the end of it. I asked him if he knew why we wanted to speak to him and he just replied "about dating your daughter". I told him that would be part of the discussion, but more importantly things I've heard. I expressed to him, this was not really about him, but about my daughter and trying to lead her into making the right choices. We asked about smoking pot and he openly admitted that he does. I had/wanted to clairfy so my daughter heard clearly (I know by reading her text messages, when they broke up the first time, she was not happy that he smoke pot, but soon realized how much she missed him and told him it didn't matter if he smoked). I re-phrased my question and asked if he "did" or "does" smoke pot. He said he "does". My husband asked if he did any other drugs and he said no, we asked about drinking and he said not too much, but if he had to be honest he prefers smoking pot over drinking. I went to explain that pot is illegal and if he was of legal age drinking is not againist the law but POT IS (he is only 18, but I was trying to prove a point. He didn't seem to care. We asked if he had ever done this around my daughter and he admitted that they were at the same house, but she wasn't near him (I know what your thinking...I'm not stupid. Of course she was right there). {I have to say, I don't believe my daughter does this, because she does intern at a hospital and has to do random drug test and I don't think she would dare jeapordize that. She dreams of going to college and becoming a nurse.} My husband and I ended the conversation being very stern that what he does in his own time is his business. I wasn't there to parent him, but he is to NEVER do it around my daughter and I looked at my daughter and told her she is to never be around him under the same circumstances. Conversation ended, he was very nice and said he understood why we had the conversation, we did tell him we appreciate his honesty, but still not happy with what he said. They went into the living room and watched movies and then he went home. My husband and I knew we still have to speak with our daughter regarding what was discussed, but did not do it that night because it was late and we didn't want to seem as though we were now jumping down her throat. The next day, she asked to hang out at his house and my husband works 24 hour shifts so he wasn't home. I explained to her, that he needs to come to our home for a long time for us to get to know him before I allow her to go to his house. So he came over to our house again. They are telling each other already how much they love each other, that they will do anything for each other, nothing will ever come between them...these are the conversations between the 2 of them in text. (I know I'm still reading them, but I feel I have to). When he leaves, without my husband present I thought it was time to have a heart to heart. When I told her I wanted to speak with her, she immediately became on the defensive. I asked her if this was the guy she is proud to bring home to her dad and I. I also asked her how she thinks I feel by allowing her to see this guy knowing he does smoke pot. I went on to ask her if she felt this was a good example to her younger brother (he's 15) and how would she feel if he was dating someone who admitted to smoking pot. Her reponse was she wouldn't be happy about her little brother, but I need to leave it all alone. She continued to say because I told her I was going to wipe the slate clean, she felt I was backing out on what we had previously discussed before he came over for the talk. I explained to her that this is about her, not about him. I told her I will be nice when he comes over, but I am not happy with the fact this is who she chooses to date. She continues to throw in my face about what am I going to do when she goes to college...she said she will never bring guys home because she feels I will always find a reasons not to like them. I explained to her that if she makes bad choices of guys in college who do drugs and do things to disrespect there own body and mind...I don't want her to bring them home. My tone about this was not to yell, however she was very defensive, loud and yelling. The conversation ended by her telling me she will date who she wants, she is not changing her mind and she hopes she doesn't have to go through this discussion everytime her boyfriend comes over. I told her I won't discuss this everytime, but very disappointed in her choices. I did let her know that her dad had concern and he may be talking to her also. I told my husband that since I had a discussion with her, he should have one without me. I am typically the parent that is confronting about grades or any other issues. He tends to avoid conflict and just backs me up. I told him how important it is he speaks with her because I feel she may not want to disappoint him and may take it different from him. I feel that since I am always the one doing the confronting, she may take it as this was just another thing I have an issue with and I will get over it soon enough. My dilemma: I'm sorry for the long intro, but I felt it was necessary to ask my question. At this point, I just don't know what to do. I lay in bed and wonder why would I allow her to date someone who smokes pot. Then I think if I don't do it she will be angry and withdrawn from her family and potentially bringing her closer to him. I am so disappointed in her choices and am hoping someone can give me direction on how I should handle this. I am so depressed on this situation, I feel like I have lost control as a parent and feel like I am the one making bad choices in allowing her to continue to date him.

Comment By : veryconcerned

* To ‘veryconcerned’: It’s so challenging when you think your child is making poor choices that don’t mesh with your family values. I must say, this boy’s honesty is impressive—it takes courage to sit in front of your girlfriend’s parents and admit you do things they completely disagree with. The hardest part of this entire situation is that you are losing some control because your daughter is almost an adult and your role in her life is changing. You really can’t control who your daughter chooses to have a relationship with. Trying to cut off the relationship will not be effective because they will still find ways to continue on—at school, in the community, through friends, etc.. I really like your idea of structuring her time with him—he can only visit with her at your home for a while. Setting it up so that you can get to know him better and monitor the choices they are making together is probably the most effective move you could make at this point. And remember, this is a time in your daughter’s life where she is learning a lot about relationships. She will need to make her own mistakes (i.e. date some guys that you don’t like) in order to figure out what she is ultimately willing to put up with, and what she really wants, in a relationship. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. We know it isn’t easy. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Hello, am so concerned about my 16 year old son, we were just fine until his dad got him a new car. His dad and i are divorced. My son tends to be a bit selfish everything has to go around him, he does not like his brother much. Now he left the house because I told him he cant sleep at his friend house and that when he goes out he has to come home by 11. He thinks I have an iron grip around him. I took his games away, he threathend to call the office and report and say that I hit him and thats why he ran away. Dont know how to deal with him anymore. Please help any suggestion will be good

Comment By : Kinda

* To “Kinda”: This is a difficult situation. We speak to many parents in similar situations on the Parental Support Line. I can hear your frustration at wanting to hold your son accountable for the choices he is making and not wanting to be swayed by his threats. It’s regrettable when children run away and use threats/intimidation towards their parents to avoid following the rules. In the article Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child? Assaultive Behavior, Verbal or Physical Abuse, Drugs and Crime James Lehman advises calling in a higher authority when your authority is no longer enough. If your son has run away and you’re not sure where he is, we would suggest calling the police and reporting him as a runaway. There is also a National Runaway Switchboard you could call for advice on this issue. The number is 1-800-786-2929. Here is an article you may find helpful when addressing this situation with your son when he returns home: Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them. This is a challenging situation and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I have a 16 year old daughter, she is currently drinking and involved with drugs, hanging around with the “wrong” crowd and now she is refusing to come home. I have always been afraid to get the police or social services involved in fear of her being “sent away”. I KNOW I have to do something though. Allowing her to continue would be detrimental to her. What do I do if I try talking and she refuses? She refuses to come home? She leaves straight out the front door regardless of my rules? I have one time followed her after walking out the front door and saw her trying to hitchhike down a busy street! Several times I have picked her up after “hanging out” with friends and she has been drunk and/or high. She lies straight to my face even though she can barely speak or walk and reeks of alcohol. I, like so many other parents out there going through similar situations, am at my wits end. I feel held hostage, I am missing work because my stress is making it so I can barely function. I am not sleeping and having panic attacks. My marriage to her step father is shaky. I was hoping you could give me some advice on what to do. Your article says the parents need to change and hold their children responsible for their actions. How do I do that if she won’t come home and keeps leaving when she finally does come home? My rules and expectations are a joke to her.

Comment By : heartbroken

* To “heartbroken”: Thank you for taking the time to tell us your story. You have done a great job trying to keep your daughter safe by setting limits and holding her accountable for the choices she is making. It’s probably going to be most effective to try to get some help around her running away and substance use issues before trying to have a problem-solving conversation with her or addressing some of the other behaviors. I can understand your reluctance to call the police or get the authorities involved. It can be frightening to go that next step. It might be helpful to call the non-emergency number of your local police department to find out how they may be able to help you in your situation. There is also the National Runaway Switchboard which is available 24 hours a day. This is an excellent resource for parents in your situation. They can talk with you about ways to address your daughter’s running away. The switchboard number is 1-800-786-2929. It would be a reasonable response for you to call 9-1-1 or take your daughter to the emergency room if you find her in such a state of intoxication again as this can be a serious safety issue. We would also encourage you to find out what local supports may be available in your area, for both you and your daughter. As upsetting as your daughter’s behavior is and as much as you want to help her deal with her problems, it’s also important that you take steps to care for yourself as well. There is a 2-1-1 National Helpline that can connect you with services in your area. The number for this resource is 1-800-273-6222. We wish you and your family luck while you work through this stressful situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

my daughter ran away last night due to the fact i dont like her friend! now shes staying with that friend and i dont know where! im at a loss her and i are close and dont get why this happened...

Comment By : susan

* To Susan: It is hard when your child runs away and you don’t know she is. It is pretty normal for kids to be protective of their friends. You don’t mention how old your daughter is, but if she is a minor, you can report her as a runaway to the police. You might also find it helpful to contact the National Runaway Switchboard as they may be able to provide you with support and information. You can contact them 24/7 at 1-800-786-2929. It is positive that you are close with your daughter; it can make communicating about this issue much easier if you already have a good relationship overall. I am including some additional articles you might find helpful as you work through this. Take care and we wish you the best. Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them
Running Away Part II: "Mom, I Want to Come Home." When Your Child is on the Streets

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

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