Teenagers Need Awful Friends to Survive

Aimee TeegardenOne of the hardest parts of parenting is having to stomach some of the absolute monsters our kids befriend. Am I right? These little @sshats come in all shapes: the kid whose attitude with her mom makes you cringe, the kid who treats YOUR kid like their servant, the kid who's going nowhere fast and probably taking your promising little prodigy with them. By the time they reach the teen years, it's awfully tempting to jump into the fray and start pushing those kids out of their lives, lest they ruin your almost-adult's chances at a normal life.

But in a week that's given us the dad who jumped in to beat up his son's teenage rival and the moron mom who actually punched her kid's principal, it's hard to tell who's worse: the kids that scares us or us, the parents. In the face of what we see as our kid being wronged, we don't have the best track record for holding ourselves back.

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I know what you're saying. "Not me! I don't hit my kid, why would I hit someone else's??

Hey, sane, normal parents? We're the problem too.

It's a realization that came to me -- in the midst of this crazy week -- from the most unlikeliest of places. An advanced screener of the Disney movie PROM landed in my mailbox this week, so I figured I'd watch it with my daughter (for the record: my girl Jacque hated it, my 15-year-old babysitter and 6-year-old daughter loved it). It was sweet. A little heavy on the unlikely (I don't remember a single prom proposal that came close to even one of the over-the-top "will you go with me??" proposals that these teen boys came up with). But that's not the point. Main character girl's dad was totally the overprotective type. And as with most of these teeny-bopper movies, main character girl (Friday Night Lights' Aimee Teegarden) was attracted to a bad dude. Needless to say bad dude wasn't so much bad as misunderstood, and dad hates him with a capital H. So he tells him to leave his daughter alone. Nicely. But firmly.

It being a movie, it all gets straightened out later. Boy realizes he doesn't have to listen to girl's dad. Girl realizes her dad doesn't control her. Dad sees the error of his ways. See? I said it was sweet. Now if only life worked out that way.

I'm not going to go punch some jerk for my daughter. But I could see myself in main character girl's dad's shoes. Totally and completely.

I want to say "her life, her choice." But let's be real. I gave birth to this child. I threw up for seven months for this child. I have been fighting for her since the moment she came out of me. Letting her pick her own friends is one thing. Having to put up with her crappy choices is another.

You think raging teen hormones are bad? Try being a parent getting conflicting messages. They tell us we need to protect our kids from bullies. We have to keep them from falling into the wrong crowd.

But we also have to give our kids the ability to fight their own battles, to learn to pick better friends, and to occasionally trust them that the absolute screw-up we see is really the diamond in the rough that THEY see. If we don't, they'll make the same mistakes as adults -- or worse.

Like caring movie moms and dads, I'm learning with each year of school that it's hard for us normal, sane, hold back our punches parents. I want to call my kid's teacher and tell her which girls she needs to watch out for because they're the ones who take my kid's self-esteem, hold it over their knees, and go "craaaaack."

But unless I want to be the parent who is listening to her 30-year-old complain about getting pushed around at work, by her husband, and by her best friend, I need to let things ride. Kids need to get through the "awful friends" phase. They need to learn to avoid them. And they need to learn that some kids aren't as "bad" as they seem, to value the rest of humanity. It's the key to survival.

Do you step in and try to control who your kids are friends with? Do you fear the "bad boy" influence (or bad girl)?

 

Image via Disney

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