Banning friends and forbidding your ADHD teen from seeing people that you don’t like won’t work. Having a focused, collaborative conversation about your teen’s thoughts on friendship will.
Q: “My teenager is having a rocky time with friendships. Lately, she is choosing questionable friends. These ‘friends’ are not treating her well, and, because of their influence, she seems to be heading in a troubling direction. I don’t like these kids, and I am worried. Do I ban the friendships?”
A: You have hit on one of the most heartbreaking experiences as a parent raising a kid with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). Watching your child make bad choices, and feeling that she is not being treated well, is painful. It’s not easy at this age. Right now your daughter’s peer group is the biggest factor influencing her choices and behavior.
You asked if you should interfere. I’d take a less direct approach. Help your teenager think about who treats her well and discuss the joys of friendship. Banning a friendship usually backfires and leads to a big divide in the parent-child relationship.
I worked with a young girl whose parents did not like the girlfriend she was hanging around with. After several attempts to get their daughter to end the friendship, the parents decided to forbid the relationship. The child withdrew from her parents. She’d hide out in her room for hours. There was a lack of trust and a lot of anger on both sides.
Setting boundaries can be tough, but by talking to your daughter about friendship, without judging her or imposing restrictions, you increase the chances that she will go to you when she has problems with friends.
Get Your Child to Open Up About Friendships
Here are some tips for having this conversation:
1. Hold back your feelings and just listen. Your daughter will open up more if she feels heard. By holding back judgment, you create an atmosphere in which your daughter feels safe enough to talk.
2. Look at things from your child’s perspective. The hardest part of being a teen is thinking that nobody understands you. The more you step into your daughter’s shoes and listen to her, the more you can give her what she needs.
3. Reflect, clarify, and be curious. Paraphrase what your teen says and repeat it back to her. When you do this, you show empathy, and you clarify your child’s concerns. Be curious and ask questions.
4. Don’t impose your values on your daughter. Keep your agenda in mind as you talk through the importance of friendship, but do not assume you understand the reasons why your daughter chose these friends. The goal here is to keep your child talking, and to show her that you have confidence in her.
I would share with her that we all have different friends for different reasons, but the root of the best friendships is a shared interest. As you enter this discussion, here are some questions to ask:
What is it about these new friends that appeals to you?
What do you have in common with them?
How do you see your friends treating you?
What does an enjoyable friendship look like?
What kind of person do you want to be?
Can you be that person with these friends?
You daughter may be choosing the wrong friends for many reasons. The most important thing is to keep the communication flowing.
Gather information on your daughter’s friends and what is going on socially from school — coaches, teachers, and others who can observe and share information.
Involve your child in activities and opportunities with former friends or those with the same values, to help her understand the difference between the two sets of friends.
Give your teen a place to feel good about herself — an activity where her interests are high and she can pursue her passion and develop a stronger sense of self.
Caroline Maguire, M.Ed., PCC, is the Director of Fundamentals of the ADHD Coaching for Families Program at the ADD Coach Academy. She is the author of Why Will No One Play with Me? (Hachette), which will be published later this year.
The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.