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Advice to My Daughter on Navigating Teen Friendships

Jul16

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As my 14-year-old daughter’s circle of friends expands, I occasionally catch myself thinking, “I wish it were socially acceptable to push other people’s children in the face.” I am surprised by my lack of empathy each time I dislike one of Cal’s friends because I used to be that kid other parents singled out as a bad influence.

It’s rare that I understand one situation from multiple viewpoints, but I’ve navigated most of the possible paths when it comes to teen friendships. I’ve been the outcast friend, and I’ve also been the daughter who fought for a friendship after my mother deemed a particular person “inappropriate.” Now, I’m on the mother side. It feels strange to dislike a kid and something in me says that I should be better than that because, I mean, kids aren’t even real people yet so I should cut them a break. But there’s a huge chasm between the way I want to think (“I need to be more open-minded”) and the way I conduct myself 99% of the time (“Man, I have no idea what my kid sees in this hellion”).

When I was sixteen, I had a boyfriend, Jae, who my mother disliked so much that he was not allowed to cross over the threshold of our house. He could come to the door to pick me up, but no further. We were also prohibited from leaving the confines of my subdivision, so our date choices were limited to walking through the neighborhood streets or monopolizing the swing set in the park. What bothered me more than my mother’s rules was that she didn’t trust me enough to pick good friends for myself.

I stayed with that boyfriend long after my interest waned out of sheer defiance. I felt constricted by what I thought were ridiculous limitations, and it made me want to become even closer to the people my mother didn’t like. I don’t know why. Teens are assholes sometimes.

I’m often torn between dictating what I think is best and trusting Cal to make good decisions. Since I’m the type of person who disregards good advice and opts instead to learn everything the hard way, I understand that firsthand experience is incomparably effective. But it can also be painful and time-consuming. I try to strike a good balance by staying connected and sharing my own experiences without using language that seems forceful or domineering. Delivered the wrong way, my advice seems like I’m criticizing certain friends just to maintain control over her.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I would like my delivery to come from a place of love and non-judgment, but that’s not what really happens. I am guilty of using terms like “devil’s spawn” to describe a girl who is thankfully no longer one of Cal’s friend. Just as my mother voiced her own concerns in an unfiltered way, I found myself doing the same after learning that Cal’s friend and lab partner (let’s call her Tia) bowed out of a joint project, leaving Cal with all of the work. When confronted with the unequal distribution of work, Cal’s friend asked her mother to talk to Cal, who then shamed my daughter for not picking up the slack since Tia was very busy with a multitude of after-school activities. I regret not keeping my composure, but no, mommy don’t play that.

It’s now easy for me to understand why my mother became so wary of Jae after she caught me handing over the money I had earned from a garage sale because my boyfriend claimed that since he had given me the idea, the money was technically his. I don’t know why. Teens are stupid sometimes.

As I spent more time with Jae, I found myself associating with his friends more than mine. My new friends regularly skipped school and stayed up late on school nights, hanging out at the local bowling alley or pool hall. I wish I had realized then that the company we keep is how we are viewed as well.

Soon, I missed the group of girlfriends I had known since middle school. When I reached out to them, several told me that they were no longer allowed to hang out with me because their mothers were nervous that I had adopted bad habits from my newfound friends. They were prohibited from coming to my house, and I was not welcome at theirs. Until we graduated high school, I maintained a “school hours only” friendship with a group that I had been so close to in the past.

I’ve told my daughter this story numerous times, and with each retelling, I color in a little more detail. We’ve talked about peer influence and how the people around us affect our lives even when we think we are immune. During our latest chat about friends, I finally admitted that my mom was justified in being wary, and that those friends from so long ago did affect my life in a deeply negative way. “Cal, don’t become friends with a girl who behaves the way I did as a teen.”

“Mommy, you are truly one of the weirdest people I know. I’ll try to remember your advice, but I don’t think people know about good until they know bad.”

Checkmate.

About the author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

http://www.flourishinprogress.com/
Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).


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5 Responses to “Advice to My Daughter on Navigating Teen Friendships”

  1. Hi, I'm Natalie. Jul 16 at 11:39 am Reply Reply

    I think we don’t give kids enough credit – they are most definitely real people, and are perfectly capable of being great people – or assholes. (I understand the basic physiology of child brain development, but that doesn’t mean kids should get a free pass.)

    I was the asshole variety of teenager with my parents, and sometimes with my peers – but I grew from that. And learned. But the changes I experienced growing up don’t make my behaviour and experience as a (stupid) teenager less real. It bugs me when people talk to my (little) kids as if they are stupid – I imagine I’ll feel the same with my teenagers.

    Aaaand… I hope that I have as open a relationship with my teens as you seem to have with yours – kids growing up terrifies me!! :)

  2. Tami Jul 16 at 3:25 pm Reply Reply

    I love your advice to your daughter. I was not a bad influence friend but I definitely made some questionable choices that did indeed wind up hurting only myself. I don’t know how I’ll use my own mistakes to hopefully teach my daughter what not to do – as the road I’ve walked is not one I would wish on anyone especially not my daughter. I love your approach – my daughter is only 3 now but already she her personality is so clear and she is a stubborn, headstrong one so at least I’ll be dealing with something familiar ;)

  3. Misty Jul 16 at 3:26 pm Reply Reply

    Once again, that kid of yours is wise beyond her years. I think trying to teach by your own examples of youthful mistakes and irresponsibility is a very good way not to be too preachy, but try to get her to understand the results of poor choices. I think no matter what though, kids are going to be dumb and do stupid things, no matter how much guidance is given. But I definitely think you are doing it the right way. Bravo, mama!

  4. Erin@MommyontheSpot Jul 16 at 3:57 pm Reply Reply

    I am bookmarking this post to read in another 4 years.  

    I hope that I can be as honest with my kids as you are with Cal.   You are an awesome mom!

  5. Caroline Jul 17 at 10:59 am Reply Reply

    More and more I admire my mother’s restraint. She was always caring and concerned, always, but really did keep an extremely light hand on the tiller re what I did and did not do and with whom. Her view was that I did well at school, she knew and liked most of my friends, there was no one who was a really ”bad seed” type of friend. She wasn’t always 100% keen on the various boyfriends, but did always concede they were basically okay human beings. And she let me get on with it. I was very clear on what caused pregnancy and how to avoid it, I knew my marks and my various school activities were important and to keep those up to a good standard, and beyond that, there was no curfew, no specific hard-and-fast rules, no grounding, nothing. I was exceptionally headstrong and stubborn and I think she got that if I was hamstrung, I’d rebel hugely. I never had to and I never, really, ever kept major secrets. She knew where I was going, who with and where to reach me, always. I knew to call and give her the respect she deserved, that if she ever – maybe once or twice in those years – said ”no”, that there would be a good reason and so very grudgingly and poutingly accepted it.
    I have no idea if I’ll be able to do the same for my kids!!

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