Dear Dr. Marnee,

I hope you can offer me guidance because I’m feeling torn and don’t know what to do. I have a wonderful, smart, and caring kid, and I couldn’t be prouder of the person they’re becoming. However, I’m having a really tough time with some of their friends and their choices.

Lately, my child has been spending a lot of time with a friend and friend group who seem to engage in behaviors I strongly disapprove of. I’m worried that my child might be influenced by these friends, and it’s causing me a lot of anxiety.

I’ve tried to talk to my child about it, but they turn away, or become defensive, or defend their friend and deny the problematic behaviors, or say it is no big deal, or say that I am making a big deal over nothing, and claim that I don’t understand. I’m caught between wanting to give my child space to make their own choices and feeling like I need to protect them from potentially harmful situations.

Dr. Marnee, what can I do? Any advice or insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated.


Worried Parent

Dear Worried Parent,

First, I want you to know that I hear you and that you are not alone. Your concerns are entirely valid. It’s not uncommon for parents to worry about their children’s friends and the choices they make. Let’s be real, parents worry about their kids. However, it’s a balancing act between wanting to protect your child through your wider lens of life and their desire to have independence. Here are some things you can do to navigate this situation a bit easier:

Talk, Text, Email- Communicate: Despite the initial defensiveness from your child, continue to foster open and non-judgmental communication. Make it clear that you’re coming from a place of love and concern rather than criticism. Try to understand their perspective and what they value in these friendships.

Set Boundaries: It’s essential to establish some ground rules regarding your child’s behavior and the company they keep. Remember you are the company you keep! Discuss the values and expectations your family holds. Try to come from a place of understanding no matter if your child is 6, 16, or 26. If possible seek a compromise that respects your child’s growing independence while ensuring their safety.

Lead by Example: Be a role model for the behavior and values you’d like your child to embrace. Demonstrate empathy, respect, and healthy decision-making in your own relationships and daily life. This is because we learn what we live.

Encourage Critical Thinking (Executive Functioning): Teach your child to think critically about their friendships and choices. Ask questions that prompt them to consider the consequences of their actions. Help them evaluate whether their friends are having a positive or negative influence on their lives.

Remember, your child’s friends play a significant role in their life, but your influence as a parent remains essential. Try to continue to express your love and support, and keep the lines of communication open. I hope that with patience, understanding, and the right balance between guidance and autonomy, you can help your child navigate these challenging friendships while growing into a responsible, independent human.

You’ve got this,

Dr. Marnee