You know you can’t keep up with your teenagers’ IMs, Facebook updates and texts. So how do you figure out if they’re doing OK? One way to get a sense is to tune in to their friends. Here are some questions to consider.
DO YOUR KIDS’ FRIENDS FOLLOW THE HOUSE RULES?
First hurdle: getting the kids to hang out at your place. “Make your house a home that kids will feel good about coming to,” says Ron Taffel, PhD, author of Breaking Through to Teens. “They want a pool table to lean against and ample, unhealthy food with some healthy options.” Also important are commonsense rules that aren’t overly rigid. “Take your shoes off, close the refrigerator, put dishes in the sink, no smoking or drinking,” says Taffel. If you’re setting appropriate boundaries, fair-minded kids will comply; flouters could be signaling disrespect for authority. Pay attention if your kid isn’t willing to call a rule breaker to task; that’s worth a later, private discussion.
ARE YOU TREATED LIKE THE ENEMY—OR AS AN ALLY?
It’s a sign of maturity when kids can talk openly to grownups; if your kids’ friends can speak candidly with you, they’re probably not encouraging your kids to do end runs around you. As much as you can, “be open totheir stories and don’t react immediately and judgmentally,” says Taffel, “because the guaranteed reaction from your teens is to defend their friends.”
HOW DO THEY TALK TO ONE ANOTHER?
“Appoint yourself snack refresher,” says Taffel. Then, as you wander in and out, listen to what they’re saying. Are they caring or bullying? Does your kid call out a friend who’s mean?
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THEIR FACEBOOK FRIENDS AND FRENEMIES?
“Get on Facebook yourself, then figure out how to keep some presence there without being intrusive,” says Taffel. “Over time, more of their FB lives will become part of the relationship and ongoing life between you.” In a casual, unimposing way, ask to see photos and tags. Of course, if you see evidence that your child is being drawn into bullying or is excluding others, you should intervene.
Once you learn to look beyond the kids’ window-dressing—pink hair? nose piercings? ripped clothes?—you may be surprised. “Though it is scary to us,” says Taffel, “our kids are teaching us to become more tolerant and open-minded through their multiculturalism and different attitudes.”