Advice to My Daughter on Navigating Teen Friendships
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.”