The term "grooming" is usually applied to positive actions in our daily life. We tidy ourselves up and look presentable. But grooming can also have a sinister aspect when it comes to friendships and relationships. Nowhere is it more evident than in adolescent relationships. In this instance, grooming occurs when someone in the peer group controls the teen using negative manipulation strategies.
Within that context, it is both physical and emotional tactics that are employed to control another person. They might use their physical presence as a method of intimidation, always invading their personal space. Emotionally, there are any number of ways that a peer could groom your teen. And groomers can be either the very popular member of the group or the needy member. The common element is that they are manipulators.
As a parent, what do you need to look for and how will you determine that your teen is surrounded by healthy friendships?
To identify negative relationships your teen needs to clearly understand the attributes of possessiveness, isolation and jealousy.
First establish that they understand the elements of a balanced friendship. Offering an example of a balanced friendship in your own life gives them context and is a real-life example. Then let your teen reciprocate.
Throughout the teen years, vulnerabilities crop up. That, in turn, makes them susceptible to controlling friends.
To identify negative relationships your teen needs to clearly understand the attributes of possessiveness, isolation and jealousy. These are strategies used by others to control a person.
They use your teen's vulnerabilities against them
One example is that these "friends" will pick away at your teen's self- esteem with criticism, defending it as a way to help them. Appearance is one big area that occupies a teen's life. It also makes an easy target for a person wanting to control them. One critical line tossed off by a controlling friend can gut a vulnerable teen.
Intimidation is another tactic. They might say, "If you don't do this I will 'unfriend' you, leaving you alone with no friends." They might control social time with threats, like " Don't spend time with others in the group or I won't be your friend." Spending time with other people diminishes their control over your teen. For the groomer, intimidation is one way to eliminate that possibility.
In this instance, it is important that your teen does not lose sight of reality. When controlling statements are made to them, a reality check is necessary. Often our teens cannot see this control and intimidation. They are too close, blinded by the friendship, pulled in by the groomer's charismatic, controlling tactics. Remind your teen to take a step back and try for a global view of difficult situations.
The "scorecard" is another way that controlling friends maintain their power. Guilt plays into this scorecard. They accuse your teen of not paying enough attention to them or spending too much time with someone else. Keeping score. They might shower little gifts, called love bombing, to create an imbalance and encourage your teen to feel indebted.
Sharing of personal information is another demand that might be made by these groomers. One way of approaching this is to discuss the whole aspect of friendships that can be intense one minute and gone the next.
Know what an unhealthy friendship looks like
If they haven't already, your teen will eventually have some experience with the "ghosting" of friendships and relationships. They will have people in their lives that feel like "forever" and then suddenly those people disappear out of their lives. Gone, disappeared without a trace and without an explanation. Before they leave, these manipulative friends might blanket your teen with attention to draw them closer.
As a parent, ensure your teen has a clear understanding of the difference between close friendships and suffocating friendships.
Your teen could also experience "gaslight" friendships. The friend will attempt to use various ploys to isolate your teen from their other friends and diminish their self -confidence. Your teen begins to doubt themselves, insecurities surface. The gaslight friend has the ability to challenge your teen's reality at many levels. Recognizing a gaslight friendship is the first step to taking back personal power and control.
Talk and, most importantly, listen to your teen
Knowledge is power and teens need the coping skills to handle the various types of people in their peer group. Your teen needs to be decisive about who they allow to be close and who they keep at a distance.
Conversations with a parent about friendships over the teen years is essential. And, take the time to get to know your teen's friends.
Two excellent resources for parenting the teen years. Being a Teen, by Jane Fonda, described as " full of life information, all teens want and need to know" and How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which is an "indispensable guide to surviving adolescence."
Knowledge is power for parents as well as their teens.
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Smartphones still have a telephone in it somewhere. When everyone expects you to text, “sup,” surprise them instead with an audible “Hello.” Your friends may not know what to do at first, but more often than not, the sound of your voice will be a welcome surprise.
When a friend asks you if she should dump Johnny for his twin brother, don’t start out by saying “No, that’s a terrible idea.” Instead, ask questions like, “Why do you think you want to do this?” No one wants to be told what to do, especially when the solution is obvious. Friends don’t boss each other, they guide.
When a friend asks you to read the manuscript he wrote, cover it in red ink. Challenge him so he knows you’re on his side, and that you believe he can do better. Sometimes the best gift is showing someone he is worth more than he thinks.
We don’t want to manipulate our friends, but we do want to feel appreciated. Whether it’s a milestone celebration (like a job promotion), a recital or a call for help, friends spend money on the extra gas to be there. Plus, showing your friends that their presence matters is ultimate compliment.
This rarely ever happens. Sending a piece of parchment with your own handwriting on it will warm your friend’s heart. There’s simply more soul in a handwritten letter than in an e-card or Facebook message. The memory of opening it will last a long time.
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