Toxic Friendship: When it’s Time for Parents to Step in

My teenage son has always been a pretty good child– not perfect by any means, but he was always someone who followed the rules and seemed afraid of what might happen if he broke them. He’s never been a risk taker and so when the subject of drugs and alcohol came up a few years ago, I could tell by his reaction he wasn’t interested– not then anyway. We all know it’s a constant conversation we need to have and lookout for the signs – situations and feelings can change –  we were all teens once, too.

When parents need to stop a friendship

As a teen, I was a rule-follower and I owe a lot of that to having a really good group of friends who weren’t into drinking, drugs, or getting in trouble at school. They were respectful, and like me, so afraid of the consequences it wasn’t worth it. But we are all aware how tempting going along with the crowd can be– wrong choices can be diluted when others are engaging in risky behavior and they seem fine, or like they are having fun.

But last year, my son started hanging out with another boy and I had a really strange feeling about him the first time I met him. One month into their friendship, him and my son got caught smoking pot–something that used to scare him and he said he had no interest in just a few months before.

A few months later, the two of them brought drugs into a high school dance – someone has sold them edibles  – and after reading their texts to each other. I confronted them. They both denied it of course, but his friend wouldn’t look at me, was very disrespectful and rude. I had no choice but to tell his mom, I would want a fellow mom to do the same for me.

This was his best friend, someone he really enjoyed being around, but my son’s behavior changed drastically as soon as their friendship was formed and I began to realize it wasn’t a coincidence. It wasn’t only when they were together, either. When my son wasn’t with him, he seemed full of rage, he was constantly sneaking around, back talking, and not wanting to engage in any family activities.

While I know some of this is normal teen speak, it was a drastic change that happened very quickly. My son has other friends and this never happened – only with this one boy. I told him his friend was no longer welcome in our home and he wasn’t allowed to spend time with him anymore: no more spending the night at his house, hanging out together on the weekends at the skate park, or driving to school functions together.

And then after his school conference this fall, I realized I needed to do more. His teachers told me the two of them together were causing major disruption in the classroom. But they did let me know something that made a huge difference: His science teacher said,” Your son is fine when his friend is not in school. In fact, he’s a different kid.”

Two days later they both got suspended for using profanity to a teacher and recording it on their phone. I decided I had to do something and beat myself up a bit I had waited so long.

I didn’t want to tell him who he could and couldn’t be friends with or control too much of his life, but there are times when you need to make choices for your kids. As parents, we know our children; we know when they are being influenced or triggered. And while I know my son is responsible for his actions, and I do not fault his friend or put the blame entirely on him, they were a dangerous combination.

I knew if I didn’t change his schedule and remove him from every class he shared with this boy, it was going to be a long year for the teachers, for me, and for the two of them. I was lucky the teachers agreed. They put the time and effort in and worked with the principal to make that change. My son wasn’t happy with me when we changed his schedule but I explained he gave up that right with all the bad decisions he’d made.

The two do not have classes together any longer, or see each other, and I have my son back. Even his teachers have said he is a much better student now. He happily engages, and doesn’t seem as moody.

I know there is always going to be someone in our kids’ lives who is going to tempt them to make bad choices. But I also believe it’s our job as parents to intervene when we need to. Sometimes it is our only choice when they are deeply affecting others in a harmful way.

We aren’t supposed to be their friends, we are supposed to guide them in the right direction, and sometimes that means putting your foot down and keeping them away from certain people and situations. And one day, they will thank us.


Why Average American Teens are Exhausted and Burnt Out

You Can Be A Good Parent And Have A Troubled Kid

Here are the 13 Most Popular Gift Ideas for Teens and College Kids



About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Grown and Flown

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.