When Do You Separate Your Teen From A Friend Who’s A Bad Influence?

A portrait of a grumpy teen boy in a burgundy shirt

When my son first started high school, he was drawn to a group of boys who got in trouble quite a bit. This was a lot different from the friends he had in elementary and middle school. He went from wanting to play all the sports with his friends and going to the movies to getting in fights, smoking pot in front of the school at 7:00 in the morning, and being really mouthy to me.

While he didn’t hang out with a lot of these kids outside of school– they were too young to drive and apparently I was way too strict and embarrassing for any of them to come over– he had one friend who he did do stuff with.

At first their friendship seemed healthy and good. They’d go skiing together and my son was fine with having him come over here, which made me feel like he wasn’t going to try anything sneaky; my son knows I call that shit out and I don’t care who you are, you follow rules and are respectful when you are in my house.

But things took a turn really fast when they got caught smoking pot in my basement. Then over at his house. Then at school.

My son went from doing well in school to not doing well. He was getting in more fights and lost all motivation to do things like ride his bike and ski, things he used to love to do.

The two of them got caught videotaping a teacher and putting it on Snapchat — and his freshman year, he was suspended twice in a matter of months.

However, I didn’t tell him to write off his friend. One, I knew I didn’t have complete control over the situation because they still saw each other at school. And I also knew my son wasn’t innocent. Even if his behavior had changed drastically, he was still a 14-year-old who’s in charge of his actions.

I could sit here and say this boy was at fault, just as his parents could say my son was at fault. I’m not here to cry that my kids are innocent angels, because that’s not true.

I needed to guide my son. He was going to have encounters with so-called ‘bad influences’ his whole life. I wanted to give him the skills to navigate that.

We had a lot of talks about being friends with someone and making his own choices despite what they’re doing. I wanted him to know he didn’t have to be an asshole to be liked by anyone — and if he was doing something that felt uncomfortable to him, that was reason enough to stop doing it.

I could tell he was unhappy and certainly didn’t love being suspended and having phone and friend privileges taken away. And my heart went out to his friend as well, who was obviously struggling in life.

But then, things got worse. My son became anxious, destructive, and depressed, a huge difference in his attitude. This boy was the only person he wanted to hang out with, but every time they got together, it was bad news.

After stalking his friend’s Instagram and seeing photos of him smoking pot and talking about how much he hated his life, then learning he’d dropped out of school, I had to call it.

I had a phone conversation with his mom on Saturday afternoon after she reached out to me wondering if my son could come over. She said she’d drop them off at their favorite ski resort and let them ski.

It was a really tough decision for me, but I was honest with her and said I didn’t think the two of them were good for each other — at least not for the time being. My son was facing expulsion if he got another suspension that year, and I could tell he needed help.

After that, they still had communication but they didn’t hang out together. With his friend not going to school, my son’s teachers noticed a huge change. He stopped fighting and then, thank the Lord, he made it through the rest of the year without another incident.

My daughter recently went through something kind of similar. She has a friend who brought pot over to her dad’s house and they got caught smoking it. Then, I learned my daughter was cutting herself as a way to deal with her anxiety.

After talking to her friend’s mom, I learned she too had been cutting herself and I wondered if they were doing it together.

Again, I was faced with having my daughter take some time away from this girl. Not because I blame her —I don’t —but because the two of them aren’t good for each other right now, and her mental health is the most important thing to me.

Yes, she’s mad at me. But as a parent, we know when to make the call.

I’ve told my kids this is in no way a punishment. It’s me having their back. I want them to see how it feels when someone who might not be good for them is removed from their life, so that in the future, they can hopefully do it themselves.

I don’t want to control my kids’ friends. They are going to have all kinds of relationships in their lives that I may not love, and I’ll have to deal with that. But that’s much different than sitting back and watching them go down a dark path with someone when they are still young enough for you to do something about it.

When they are young, and living under our roof, and we are able to see what’s going on, it’s not only our right but our job to step in and remove them from a situation that’s not healthy. Whether they agree with us or not.