My 16-year-old is becoming friendly with a boy who has near total social freedom. I’m real uneasy with the association, but he says I can’t pick his friends.

You’re not picking his friends. You’re putting limits on the pool of friends he can choose from. “You can’t pick my friends” is an absurd argument, but it’s been flung at so many parents by so many kids — as well as being echoed by so many “experts” — that it can rattle parents. It can make them wonder if they really do have any right to protect a child from his poor social judgment.

You do a lot of picking for your son. You may not micromanage each and every aspect of his life, but you put boundaries on almost all of it: what foods he can eat, what clothes he can wear, what money he has, what hours he can stay awake, what media he can hear and see. And, indeed, it’s your duty to select out much of what tries to come into your son’s world.

Common sense, backed up by social research, says that one’s peers have power — at least as much power as clothes, money, media and all the other stuff parents monitor.

Sadly, among teens, negative tends to influence positive more than the reverse. So, Mother, your instincts to protect are good. Don’t second-guess them because of your son’s playing of the psychology card.

Part of parents’ reluctance to supervise friend choices comes from the idea that kids need to be social. True. That peer relations are part of growing up. True. That children eventually can sort through who is good to be with and who is not. False.

Humans are social beings. But in no way does that mean socializing in and of itself is always good for humans. It matters greatly with whom one is socializing.

A parallel can be drawn to literacy. Some argue that reading is so good for a child that what he reads is secondary. As long as he is reading something, they say, he must be growing and improving.

Wrong! Bad reading can shape one badly. Bad friends can do the same.

If you believe this friend is potentially a very poor influence on your son, then you have every right to set boundaries, no matter what your son or some expert argues.

Your boundaries may be absolute: no association with Liberty whatever, though at school this is tough to enforce. Or Liberty may come to your home, where he will be under your careful watch. Or you, your son and Liberty can be a social threesome to events. This will excite your son, I’m sure.

I don’t think you’ll really have to worry about the friendship lasting very long, even should you select the latter two options.

If Liberty has as much social freedom as you say, he’s not about to limit it by coming into your world or your son’s.

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