Q. My 16-year-old son was dumped by his "in crowd" friends when he and his girlfriend broke up. Now he's hanging out with guys who smoke pot and drink. He says he doesn't participate. How can I keep these people from bringing my son down?
A. I want you to take a step back and see his position. He's feeling lonely and rejected. His girlfriend is gone from his life, and his friends chose her over him. Your son wants a group to hang out with. Anybody would in his place. So remind him of your expectations regarding his behavior, then tell him that he has the right to spend time with whomever he wants but that if he runs into difficulties (here's where you should define what trouble looks like to you), he must talk to you or to another adult you both trust. I haven't even addressed the assumption you made about his former crowd not drinking or doing drugs. Suffice it to say I'd ask your son about that first before being so certain about which kids are a bad influence. You may find that the original group stepped outside the lines just as much as the current one does, but just hid it from their parents better.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.