When Your Teenager's "Best Friend" is a Negative Influence

"I am reading and reading your eBook, and I like it so far - makes a lot of sense - but the biggest problem for me with my teens especially the 16 year old girl is who her friends are. She has one best friend, and doesn't seem to hang around or call too many others - only one or two on the phone. But this girl is NOT one that is a positive influence in my daughter's life. While she is basically a sweet girl, she has had problems with drugs (in rehab type program) smokes (and now so does my daughter) has run away from home over night she is depressed and says she takes meds for her mood swings as well, and her parents that aren't as stable as would be preferred - and most sad is often accused by other kids of her "cheating" with my daughter's boyfriend, which kills my daughter but she always ends up believing her or at least saying so.

My daughter is often depressed and she says things like "I can't take any more" and she says I will kill myself when I tell her I think the other girl is a bad influence. She says she doesn't mean it but it scared me so now she sees a therapist. She had a different friend of exactly the same type but she "left" her for this girl. While she was friends with the other one, she "tried" drinking wine coolers and experimented a lot with sex. I have let her continue to hang out with her supervised at my house - but - I let her go to the movies with her the other night - telling her I decided to trust her - and specifically asked her to "do the right thing" - and stated that meant she was not to leave the movie theatre for any reason and I specifically said don't leave the building to go and smoke. She came home - I asked to smell her breath - and sure enough she smoked outside in front of the theatre - or so she says.

I can't figure out whether I am to allow her to hang out with this girl - I want her so badly to be friends with people who are on the HAPPIER side of life. I understand teenage angst, but these girls are really dark and down. How do I find advice about this? I am so desperate about this."


The need for acceptance, approval, and belonging is vital during the teen years. Teens who feel isolated or rejected by their peers — or in their family — are more likely to engage in risky behaviors in order to fit in with a group. In such situations, peer pressure can impair good judgment and fuel risk-taking behavior, drawing a teen away from the family and positive influences and luring into dangerous activities.

For example, teens with ADHD, ODD, learning differences or disabilities, depression, etc., are often rejected due to their behavior, and thus are more likely to associate with other rejected and/or delinquent peers. Some experts believe that teenage girls frequently enter into sexual relationships when what they are seeking is acceptance, approval, and love.

A powerful negative peer influence can motivate a teen to make choices and engage in behavior that his or her values might otherwise reject. Some teens will risk being grounded, losing their parents' trust, or even facing jail time, just to try and fit in or feel like they have a group of friends they can identify with and who accept them. Sometimes, teens will change the way they dress, their friends, give up their values or create new ones, depending on the people they hang around with.

Some teens harbor secret lives governed by the influence of their peers. Some — including those who appear to be well-behaved, high-achieving teens — engage in negative, even dangerous behavior when with their peers. Once influenced, teens may continue the slide into problems with the law, substance abuse, school problems, authority defiance, gang involvement, etc. If your daughter associates with peers who are using drugs or displaying self-destructive behaviors, then she is probably doing the same.

It is important to encourage friendships among teens. We all want our children to be with peers who will have a positive influence, and stay away from those who will encourage or engage in harmful, destructive, immoral, or illegal activities. Parents can support positive peer relationships by giving their teenagers their love, time, boundaries, and encouragement to think for themselves.

Specifically, parents can show support by:
  • Be genuinely interested in your teen's activities. This allows parents to know their teen's friends and to monitor behavior, which is crucial in keeping teens out of trouble. When misbehavior does occur, parents who have involved their children in setting family rules and consequences can expect less flack from their children as they calmly enforce the rules. Parents who, together with their teens, set firm boundaries and high expectations may find that their teens' abilities to live up to those expectations grow.
  • Encourage independent thought and expression. In this way, teens can develop a healthy sense of self and an enhanced ability to resist peer pressure.
  • Have a positive relationship with your teen. When parent-teen interactions are characterized by warmth, kindness, consistency, respect, and love, the relationship will flourish, as will the teen's self-esteem, mental health, spirituality, and social skills.

You may not be comfortable about your daughter's choice of friends or peer group. This may be because of their image, negative attitudes, or serious behaviors (e.g., alcohol use, drug use, truancy, violence, sexual behaviors, etc.).

Here are some suggestions:
  • Check whether your concerns about your daughter's friends are real and important.
  • Do not attack your her friends. Remember that criticizing your teen's choice of friends is like a personal attack.
  • Encourage reflective thinking by helping your teen think about her actions in advance and discussing immediate and long-term consequences of risky behavior.
  • Encourage your teen's independence by supporting decision-making based on principles and not other people.
  • Get to know the friends of your teen. Learn their names, invite them into your home so you can talk and listen to them, and introduce yourself to their parents.
  • Help your teen understand the difference between image (expressions of youth culture) and identity (who he or she is).
  • If you believe your concerns are serious, talk to your daughter about her behavior and choices -- not the friends.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and find out why these friends are important to your daughter.
  • Let your teen know of your concerns and feelings.
  • Remember that we all learn valuable lessons from mistakes.

No matter what kind of peer influence your daughter faces, she must learn how to balance the value of going along with the crowd (connection) against the importance of making principle-based decisions (independence).

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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