How Much Do Friends Affect Teen Behavior?
Friends can have a positive or negative affect on teens depending on the behaviors they exhibit. While parents may desire to give their teen the independence she craves, striving to find a balance between giving too much or giving too little can be challenging. If you notice her friends are less than appealing in your eyes, you may have to restrain from intervening in the friendship. The middle-school teen years are when kids are most-easily influenced by their friends. In the meantime, use consequences when rules are broken that pertain to friends and increase parental supervision as needed.
The friends your teen chooses can have a positive influence on his behavior. According to Ulene, teens who spend time with friends who were a positive influence through getting good grades, being part of the student government or other organized activities and avoiding harmful substances, such as drugs and alcohol, generally stayed out of trouble. Teens generally want to bond with their peers and impress them. For example, if your teen is part of a group that is impressed by his grades, he will likely keep up the good work to feel like he fits in with his peers.
Teens who spend time with friends who exhibit unhealthy behaviors may find the negative influence rubbing off on them. It is concerning to parents when their teen's friends smoke, drink, use illegal or legal drugs, are overly concerned about body image or have exhibited self-injurious behavior. These behaviors have the potential to spread throughout groups of friends. In fact, the brain activity of an adolescent when she was alone and when she knew her friends were watching are different, according to a Temple University study reported in The New York Times article, "Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions." The study found that having teens watch their friends without ever coercing them increased risk-taking and misbehavior.
Recognize that your teen still needs your love, even as he is pulling away from you and spending more time with his friends. The choices teens make are, at times, greatly influenced by their friends. As friends become a greater focus for your teen, look out for signs that your teen may be headed for trouble. For example, if you notice your teen is suddenly hanging out with a new group of friends coupled with a change in attitude, this may be a red flag. Other signs of negative influences from friends can be catching your teen lying to you, defying rules and boundaries or spending too much time alone. These can indicate a substance-abuse or mental health issue.
While you want to avoid criticizing your teen's choice of friend's due to clothing, piercings or rude behavior as your teen may take it as a personal insult, it is important to be aware of risky behavior your teen may become involved in. Keep a close eye on your teen if she is hanging with a crowd who does drugs or skips school, because forbidding your child from hanging out with her friends can push her to rebel further. Begin with talking to her about your concerns and seek professional assistance if necessary.
- The New York Times: Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions
- WebMD: 5 Teen Behavior Problems: A Troubleshooting Guide
- Help Guide.org: Help For Parents of Troubled Teens
- Wiley Online Library: Peers Increase Adolescent Risk Taking by Enhancing Activity in the Brain's Reward Circuitry
- Los Angeles Times: A Teen's Friends are a Powerful Influence
- Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images