Toxic friendships and how they can affect our kids

The phrase ‘peer pressure’ is often used in the context of youth violence and crime. Many people talk about teenagers falling in with ‘the wrong crowd’. But what does this really mean and how can we avoid it from happening?

Our need to belong and connect with others lies at the heart of what makes us human, but as a parent you can often only hope that the people your children decide to befriend help them grow, give them support and make their lives more enjoyable. Choosing the wrong friends can lead to good kids ending up in bad situations, like underage drinking, shoplifting or bullying.

For teenagers, without years of experience and hindsight behind their belts, it can be hard to distinguish between a good friend and a bad one. It is our role as parents and educators to teach children about the difference between healthy and toxic relationships, how to choose their friends wisely, and how to say no to peer pressure.

But how can teens tell whether their friendship with someone is toxic? Encourage them to listen to their gut feelings. If they consistently feel uncomfortable around someone, that person is almost certainly not a good friend. If they’re still not sure, there are other red flags to watch out for, such as frequent demands and manipulative or selfish behaviour. People often also find that being friends with a toxic person damages their self-confidence.

If you suspect your child is friends with the wrong kind of people, sit down with them and have an open conversation. Do not criticise, blame or attack them – the last thing you want is for your child to feel the need to defend themselves. Be patient and try to put yourself in their shoes. It’s not easy growing up, but with your guidance, your children will be able to make the right decisions.