"What do I do when my child won’t stay home and gets involved with peers who are a negative influence?" I have been asked this question numerous times. To answer this question adequately, there needs to be a conversation with the parents and child. I use this response as a basis to develop that conversation. The primary aspect involved with this is what’s happening or not happening in the family dynamics. If the child has steadily lost positive relationship with the parent, then the peers are offering the support, acceptance and understanding that the child is not getting from the family.
It’s probably a case of stressed out adolescents getting together and providing soothing for each other. The family is more than likely generating a negative feedback loop that’s pushing the child away from the family and towards peers. These peers probably have similar issues and/or family dysfunctions as the child. You have to really look at the family dynamics and relationships first to find out why the child is being attracted away from the family to this peer group. The child is going to the peer group to try to get everything he or she should be getting from the family.
I recommend that the father and the mother start to make special opportunities to be with their child. Here’s a formula to follow, it’s called 10-20-10. Simply put, this means to spend 10 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes in the evening with your child. These are special opportunities to be with your child. These opportunities are to just listen without judging, blaming, or shaming. Validate whatever your child is saying and feeling. Validation does not mean you agree with their opinion. Validation means that you are listening to your child. By doing this, families can start to start to repair their broken relationship. This improved relationship then goes towards influencing the child to start making more responsible decisions and demonstrating respect.
The second recommendation is the three phase intervention. Use this to help connect with your child. The three phase intervention consists of reflect, relate, and regulate. Reflect: How am I feeling right now? It is not OK for a parent to say to a child "Tell me how you feel” unless the parent has examined his or her own feelings. When you connect to yourself, you can communicate in a secure way. Relate: While you’re breathing say “I feel ________ right now, and I need to know how you feel.” The child may not know, so give him or her words for what you sense they are feeling. “You look (angry/sad/scared). Are you feeling ___________?” Then say “Tell me more, I want to hear about it.” “Tell me louder.” Regulate: Remain emotionally regulated (calm, in control of your own feelings) and accept all the feelings your child can give you. Your calm, regulated state will help your child become regulated and move into a positive relationship with you.
Thirdly, I recommend that the parents explore what is contributing to the negative neurological feedback loops within the family. The parents need to identify their negative reactions to their child’s behavior. They need to understand what in their own pasts triggers this negative reaction. Understanding this is critical in developing secure attachments with children. Parents need to have an understanding of their own childhood attachments. Their own history of attachments and relationships is the blueprint they follow. Until this blueprint is changed they will continue to perpetuate negative neurological feedback loops within the family.
Jesus said in Luke 18:16 to "let the children come to me." This is Godly advice for parents. Jesus was a safe place for children. Parents need to strive to be a safe place for their children.
About the Author: Ken Thom, MS, LPC,* specializes in assisting individuals, families, and children in trauma or distress. A nationally recognized Christian counselor and published author, Ken uses Scripture and Biblical truths along with the Post Institute Stress Model to put love into action to heal relationships. Ken has over 25 years of experience working with people with alcohol and drug addiction; sexual, physical, and emotional abuse; mood disorders; ADHD and other behavioral disorders; and relationship and marital problems. A parent and grandparent, in his free time, Ken supports faith-based community efforts, youth and men's ministries at his church, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Academy for Christian Education. As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict himself, Ken's personal experience allows him to better assist his clients in "Healing Relationships through Love in Action." You can find him on the web at www.kenthomcounseling.com
*Master of Science, Licensed Professional Counselor