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Bad Company: Discussing Your Kid's Friends

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...and Communicate with Extreme Caution

Although these reality checks help calm my nerves, I still want to be able to tell Gabe what is on my mind. But he has already let me know it's a sensitive subject. I'll have to take a deep breath and a tempered approach. "You can speak to your kids about their pals, but address the issue with a feather touch," says Linda R. Young, PhD, counseling psychologist at Seattle University. "When you make a big deal, it can create a power struggle. Adolescents are then twice as likely to rebel and may end up drawing even closer to the questionable buddy."

How to proceed? With world-class diplomacy. "Even the lightest, gentlest judgment about a friend can feel like an insult to your child," says Anita Gurian, PhD, executive editor of aboutourkids.org, a Web site of New York University's Child Study Center. In a sense the peer group becomes a teen's family, and any discussion parents initiate can flip into a case of love my friends, love me. Or conversely, insult my friends, insult me.

With this in mind, I decided to have a gentle conversation with Gabe during dinner one night. I forced myself to keep a neutral tone and facial expression. "Tell me what you know about this new guy, Kyle," I asked. "I'm curious."

"You've seen Kyle's mother," he said. "She works in the vitamin department at the food co-op." That was all he offered. But my tactical decision not to overstep a boundary had us talking, sort of.