Living with children: Son’s new friends worry mom

Q: Our 14-year-old (he’s going into the ninth grade at a public high school) has taken up with a bunch of kids that we don’t exactly approve of. They have reputations as troublemakers and at least one has already been arrested for shoplifting and had to do some community service. The irony is, they all come from families that are highly regarded in the community. We haven’t seen any dramatic change in our son’s behavior, but he has become more secretive and has told us he doesn’t want to play sports anymore. In the opinion of lots of parents, the kids in question are under-supervised. Naturally, we’re concerned about the potential bad influence. I want to tell him to find new friends; my husband wants to take a wait-and-see. What do you think we should do?

A: I don’t mind taking sides in this; to wit, I agree with your husband.

To begin with, it’s completely normal for kids your son’s age to be flexing their independence – it’s all part of preparing for emancipation. In the process of establishing emotional distance from parents and family, a certain amount of “secretiveness” is to be expected, no matter the nature of the child’s peer group. In and of itself, that’s neither a bad nor a good thing; it’s just the way it is.

Boys are naturally inclined toward risk-taking. If they aren’t provided sufficient opportunities to take risks in relatively safe contexts – wilderness camping experiences, for example – they are more likely to gravitate toward peers and activities that are inappropriate or truly dangerous. I witnessed that as a teen and saw the potential for it in my son when he entered adolescence.

The young teen boy (and not boys only, by the way) is in danger of making supremely impulsive decisions; his parents, on the other hand, are in danger of reacting such that he becomes more secretive and perhaps even rebellious. Your husband understands that, I’m sure, which is why he doesn’t want to make matters worse by “clamping down” without a good, concrete reason. In that regard, I need to point out that something as subjective as “We have a bad feeling about those kids” just doesn’t qualify.

I strongly encourage you to trust your husband’s judgement. I feel confident in saying that he will intuitively know the when and how of intervention if intervention becomes warranted.

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