Our home is a frequent hangout for my 17-year-old son, Gabe, and his many friends. Along with their lively presence comes a hallway cluttered with enormous sneakers, a bedroom floor zigzagged with sleeping bags, and a kitchen with a perpetually raided refrigerator. I don't mind the chaos because I like knowing where my son is. But lately I've been uneasy. Gabe's newest buddy, Kyle, is sullen, avoids eye contact, and I've caught him smoking cigarettes. Now I'm rethinking our open-door policy. I'd love to be the guardian at the gate, but wielding that power, I suspect, would have serious consequences. Even mentioning concerns about Kyle rankles Gabe. "We can always go somewhere else," he snaps.
Of course Gabe's right. At this stage I'm kidding myself if I think I can choose my son's friends. But does this mean I should stay completely out of the loop? Most adolescent specialists say no, that parents should stay engaged. "Continue to nurture a warm and open relationship with your kids and they'll be more likely to hang out with a group who has a positive influence," says Chris Knoester, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, in Columbus. Want to have your say and also preserve everyone's dignity? Take a look at what works.