This is part 1 of 3 of a series of articles working on Help for Teens, Young Adults, and Their Parents.
While each of these 10 tips is important, the transition to adulthood and recovery is both a process and a journey- it does not happen over-night in a momentary ‘epiphany.’ Most people waking up from a night of binge drinking don’t ‘see the light’ and decide never to take such a risk again. In most situations, it is important that both the teen or young adult and the family members receive professional counseling and get support from the community so they can learn new information and techniques that will help them on their journey.
- Before beginning any of these steps, first, make sure your child is safe and receiving treatment if needed! If they are using drugs or alcohol—it’s time to address both their usage and their emotional development. It is best to do so without making substance abuse the main topic of conversation or blaming drugs and alcohol for the problem. There are many underlying reasons of why the Teen or Young Adult is using substances. Our role is to get Young Adults appropriate treatment so that they can be safe and discover meaningful relationships and activities. Regardless of the use of drugs and alcohol, your Teen or Young Adult may need professional treatment. So, before beginning any behavioral changes or treatment programs—make sure your Young Adult is safe—have them evaluated by a professional in your area.
I once heard a story about a young woman’s parents who were very concerned that he wasn’t getting a job or going to college; that he wasn’t moving towards independence. They went to therapy and the therapist realized that something else was going on…she had almost no responsibilities at home, was given an exorbitant allowance, her parents did her laundry and cooked her meals, and she was dangerously addicted to pills, alcohol, and other things—but the family didn’t want to “see it.” The family refused to consider a higher level of professional treatment (inpatient or groups) until he was involved in a near fatal accident.
WARNING: If you are not sure what is going on with your young adult and you believe they may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and in danger, dial 911 and have the emergency room evaluate the situation immediately. After that, it is important to get them evaluated by a professional familiar with the appropriate treatment placement of Teens and Young Adults. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to become educated about the warning sign behaviors of drugs & alcohol. Now, not every young adult is using alcohol or drugs, but this is a frequent “go-to” for those who are having difficulty coping emotionally (just as video games, TV, computers, shopping etc. can be).
Empathy and Self-Reflection.
Wait?! I thought we were here to talk about my child? Yes, we are. However, if any of these tips are going to help us, we must remember what it was like when we were Teens and Young Adults. (What struggles do you remember?) (Did you ever get in trouble?) (Did you ever do something wrong intentionally just because you knew you could get away with it, or because you were emotionally distraught? If you did not get in trouble, why did you make the good choices that you made?)
I’m sure many of you ready are angry or frustrated with situations where your Teen or Young Adults are using their intelligence and other gifts to merely keep themselves comfortable, rather than employing them in a journey towards independence and success. No matter how frustrated you are, research has demonstrated that without empathy, helping them change usually won’t work.
Once we have remembered what it was like to be a Teen or Young Adult and attempted to foster empathy for our child, we must reflect on our own behavior toward our Young Adult. Do we treat them like a child? Do we do things for them out of fear? Do we throw money at their problems? Are we treating them like an adult?
Though it may be difficult, in supporting our Young Adult and guiding them through difficult situations as one adult to another we can help them learn to reduce their dependence upon their parents and embrace their adulthood.
I once heard a story about some parents who appeared to have too much empathy for their Young Adult. They would do almost anything and everything for their child. Because of their anxiety of him “failing”—they would spend hours checking in on him to make sure he was doing his college work, getting to his appointments, and paying his bills. They weren’t teaching him how to do any of this and allowing him to take responsibility. When they would speak to him it was (as if) they were talking to a young boy—not a young adult. Things had stagnated to the point where a serious intervention was in order- in order to be able to treat their child like an adult they had to get him into treatment and get themselves support through therapy and parenting groups.
I heard of a situation where a highly successful family was frustrated that their intelligent son was failing out of high school they threatened to kick him out of the house. This happened because they allowed their anger and frustration to shrink their empathy for him— they began to demand that their teenager have the emotionally maturity to see things “their way.” To top it all off they were making a threat that they weren’t prepared to follow through with, which left them without options. The parents were adamant that their son have a “college experience” and were fixated on him going to the same University that they had both graduated from which was out of state. Their son had no interest in this University and wanted to go to college elsewhere and study different subjects than the parents wanted him to study. The parents would lecture him daily about how it was “getting harder and harder” for people to make money these days and if he didn’t get his act together he would be poor and destitute. However, this was coming from a family that made well over $300,000 dollars a year—that spent little quality time aside from vacations—so their son saw right through their hypocrisy. Meanwhile, the parents were not involved in any kind of self-reflection and because of this they were unable to see their fixation on money and achievement above all else. Because of this, no matter what they did or said to threaten or encourage their son, he only grew more and more distant and acted out more and more. The parents had to learn to have empathy for their son and engage in self-reflection in order to make any progress with him.
Healthy Relationships and Quality Time
The research demonstrates that teens and young adults who have healthy relationships with their parents, and families that spend intentional time together tend to use less drugs and alcohol and have more healthy relationships. When you are having difficulties with your teen or young adult, a misconception among many parents and clinicians alike is that the most important element is to begin setting up a system of consequences, punishments, and strict boundaries with your young adult to get them under control or have an intervention. Yet, clinical research has proven this fact time and time again, the single most important element to a long-term solution with your Teen or Young Adult is continuing to work and strive toward a healthy (adult-to-adult) relationship between you and your Teen or Young Adult. How does one do this? 1. Spending intentional quality time with your Young Adult (that you schedule ahead of time) where you engaged in conversation, enjoying a shared activity (not watching movies, for example) and where you are not arguing, begging, nagging, pleading, or lecturing them is very important! Remember, you have been there and done that—but for your Teen or Young Adult to continue healthy development, they must make their own choices and learn from both successes and failures.
Upon learning that healing the relationship is the most important place to start with your Teen or Young adult (following safety), many parents have expressed to me that they are either unwilling to work on the relationship with their young adult because their young adult clearly isn’t working on their part of the relationship, or that they feel like they have already attempted to do so and that it did not make a difference.
If you’re not ready to work on the relationship, it may mean that you are personally suffering from all of the stress and heartache your Teen or Young Adult caused you. It may be time to work on forgiveness for the Teen or Young Adult. Or maybe you feel guilty about your role in their behaviors—it may be time to forgive yourself for your shortcomings or mistakes (in hindsight) in parenting. Remember, you are still their parent, and whether you believe it or not, your bold authentic words and actions can have a tremendous affect on your child. You may have to put yourself out there time and time again, with no immediate results, but this is part of the journey.
If you’re not ready to work on the relationship, it may mean that you are not sure how to change it from the status quo (perhaps you view and treat your young adult as a much younger child than they actually are. Or maybe you just want to be their friend and let them figure it out. Or maybe it’s a different scenario entirely). Whatever the situation, if you want your young adult to progress and thrive you are going to have to take action—even if they aren’t.
I heard of a situation with a mother whose daughter was acting out at college (getting arrested for drinking, vandalizing the dorm, not going to class, etc.) and was behaviorally acting out toward her mother at home. The home environment was becoming hostile with constant verbal fights. Mother went to another therapist who suggested enforcing strict rules and boundaries. The daughter acted out more and many nights did not come home. When they did see each other—animosity was in the air and screaming matches abounded. Eventually I worked with family urging mother to focus on quality time and forgiveness. Soon her daughter opened up to her about her emotionally abusive boyfriend, difficulties figuring out what major she wanted to choose, and body image issues. Shortly thereafter, their relationship improved and mother was able to start setting rules and boundaries, one at a time—and to her surprise, the daughter accepted these without argument.
Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of this series which can be found here.
Do you or someone you know need professional help working with their Teen or Young Adult? Paul Krauss MA LPC can help. Call 616-200-4433 today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Paul Krauss MA LPC specializes in working with the parents of Teens and Young Adults as well as Young Adults. Paul Krauss is an expert at helping parents of teens and young adults through these difficult transitions and circumstances. The goal is to establish safety, restore the relationship, and grow into the future.
Choosing a treatment program guide:
References and Related Articles:
Tensions in the Parent and Adult Child Relationship: Links to Solidarity and Ambivalence (Birditt, Miller, Fingerman, & Lefkowitz, 2009). Psychol Aging. 2009 Jun; 24(2): 287–295. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690709/
Parenting: Respect Starts at Home. Do your children respect you and themselves? By Jim Taylor Ph.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201001/parenting-respect-starts-home
7 Tips for Mothers of Adult Addicts: Parenting adult children who abuse substances, the law, or their families by Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lifetime-connections/201410/7-tips-mothers-adult-addicts