How to Keep the Bad Kids From Influencing Your Teen

Janelle Harris

Bad influence, friends

A few weeks ago, Skylar’s social studies teacher called me at dinnertime. I stole away from earshot, already knowing it was a conversation I wouldn’t want The Girl to know I was having. You know as a mother, strategy means not letting kids know how much you know. So I waited and listened to what Mrs. Joyner had to say.

“I overheard a conversation between Skylar and Jeena yesterday. I’m not sure how the subject came up, but Jeena said, ‘If I got pregnant, I would just drink and smoke and kill the baby.’ I talked to her mother,” she said, “but I wanted to let you know that this is the type of girl Skylar is hanging out with, and these are the things they’re talking about.” 

I was floored. Why were two 12-year-old girls talking about the possibility of pregnancy? And even worse, who was the genius who came up with that solution to the problem?

Because I didn’t want to blow Mrs. Joyner’s cover, I couldn’t confront Skylar directly about the stupidity of Jeena’s statement (and please understand that I’m not using that child’s real name, for more reasons than one). I couldn’t even bring up the subject of pregnancy — right away — because it would’ve looked too obvious.

But it did make me take immediate action to subtly downsize the time that Skylar and Jeena had been spending together, under my watch anyway. I couldn’t keep her from talking to the girl in school, but I sure as heck could eliminate their hangout time outside the walls of their beloved Catholic institution. The girl was trouble, I reasoned. If she’s waxing poetic on how she’d end an unplanned pregnancy in the 7th grade, Lord only knows what she’d be planning out and actually making good on by the end of 8th.

So I made spending time with Jeena real hard for Ms. Preteen Queen. I intercepted messages, I thwarted would-be sleepovers, I intervened hangout plans. They weren’t besties by any stretch of the imagination, but I filled in any Jeena-less voids with more positive, parent-approved friends who I felt confident weren’t vying to be part of the highlight reel on True Life.

But interestingly enough, I started to feel guilty about purposefully closing Jeena out of Skylar’s circle without so much as a shot at helping her. I heard, from teachers and a few other unimpressed parents, that she was turning into quite the fast tail and that, even before she ushers in her first official year of teen-dom, she will have added a roster of high school boys to her “yeah, I did 'em” knock-off list. Clearly, the child was not getting what she needed at home, even with both parents in her household and a legion of relatives who were always popping up at the school.

The guilt I felt was because I was basically leaving a young girl with not enough adult supervision out there in the big, bad world to make decisions all by her silly, underage, immature little self. And even though I didn’t like what she was saying and doing, it was possible that an authentic interest from a concerned, responsible adult might be the pivotal moment in her young life and turn her trajectory from bad to better. I hyped myself into an Oprah giving moment by being perky and positive.  

So I invited her over. Me. Myself. And first stop: church.

Jeena spent several more evenings and even a few weekends at our house, where I wielded my best mother figure routine to influence her in the right direction. But weeks into my mission of love, Skylar was still coming home with stories about Jeena sneaking away with boys when teachers weren’t looking, about her trying smoking in her grandmother’s basement, and pulling her skirt up to show the horny hounds in her class what color her panties were.

The final straw was hearing that she had smuggled a young man into her Nana’s basement, and probably not to play Wii, eat cookies, and watch movies. A kid bold enough to do that was beyond the assistance of my amateur tween mothering. All I could do was call her real mama, tell her what I knew, and let her handle the rest.

At what point do you decide that a kid is just a bad seed and keep them as far away from your own child as you possibly can?

Image via GIRLintheCAFE/Flickr

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