This is part 3 of a series of articles working on Help for Teens, Young Adults, and Their Parents.
Paul Krauss has over 10 years of counseling experience helping parents of young adults and parents through these difficult transitions and circumstances. Whatever the circumstances you are going through and whatever the goal, Paul can help.
The following are tips 7, 8, 9, and 10 for the parents of young adults and teens.
Follow Through and Consistency
We’ve all heard the trustworthy saying “Actions speak louder than words.”
(What are some of your experiences with people you knew whose actions spoke an entirely different language than their words?)
With children and young adults, our actions teach and impact them more than our words ever will. Children learn at a young age is their parents is serious about giving them a timeout or if they are just threatening in a frustrated manner. Since children’s brains are growing at an immense rate, they are able to better pick up on behavioral cues than on the meaning of our words. Just the same, young adults will know if you are serious about your boundary or rule regarding giving them money when they ask you for an exception because of X and you say “ok, but this is the last time” (And how many times have we said that?). Whether they are living with you or not, your follow-through will mean a great deal more than your words in helping your young adult transition to independence. It can be scary, but as long as your young adult is safe, remember they have to develop problem-solving skills somehow. Don’t make exceptions to let them have their way, just because they are emotionally upset—this is similar to them throwing a fit as a toddler and you giving in. If you need help with follow-through and consistency, find an adult accountability partner—maybe you will utilize your actual partner or another parent you know—set goals together.
Five Ways to show your child love without giving them money or unearned resources (adapted from “The Four Seasons of Recovery” by Mike Speakman LISAC)
- Words of Encouragement (“I love you” “I believe in you” “I know you can do it.” People generally hear disapproval twice as loud as approval, so you’ll need to redouble your efforts to show love to your son or daughter.)
- Cards or Letters (Written words of encouragement can be invaluable to your Young Adult. Often times, these forms of communication can be overlooked as texting and emailing dominate our culture. If you don’t know where your Young Adult is—you could keep the letter until you see them).
- Hugs (Hugs provide physical interaction that is irreplaceable. Hugging isn’t just something that happens between parents and children under the age of 18. It is a worldwide indication of affection, and adults hug all the time.)
- Emotional Support (If your Ten or Young Adult calls you crying, or angry, or distraught or talking about something—even if you disagree with the content—as long as they are not verbally abusing you, LISTEN. Just LISTEN. Don’t give any advice. Just LISTEN. Tell them you love them. Offer help—don’t give unsolicited advice or “rescue them.”)
- Sharing a Meal (You can share a meal together in your home if there is enough trust left or built, but this is a tricky situation. I work with many parents who feel an obligation to bring their adult child home for a meal when they’ve experienced theft in their home and or other negative interactions, such as violence. In these cases, it’s highly recommended that you meet in a restaurant).
As a parent, how many times a week are you worrying about your teen or young adult? What will become of them? Will they learn to become a conscientious member of society? Will they ever become a functional member of your family? Your own fear can cloud your judgment concerning your young adult and cause you to make choices that, in retrospect, seem ridiculous. For example, I heard of a situation where a Father was so fixated on his son having “good credit” (so that his son could take over their business…someday) that he would continually pay off his son’s credit card debt—even though his son was spending recklessly on his OWN credit card account. The credit card was not even attached to his father’s account. The father kept telling his son “stop spending so much money on your credit card….you should only spend in credit against of what you have in your checking account…don’t you want to take over the business? If you do, you need to have good credit….You must learn how to balance your checking and credit card account….” And on and on he would lecture. The Father would lecture and yell at his son each time they spent time together and the son would agree to “try harder.” However, the son knew instinctively that his father would “bail him out” because of the unwritten agreement he and his father had. His father wanted his son to take over the business and carry on the family name. The father was obsessed with having “good credit” because of the family business. The father had access to his son’s account (initially under the guise that he was going to help his son learn to balance his bank account), but soon after, his father began paying off the young adult’s credit cards instead of letting them stay maxed out. The son would either get a new card added or wait until his father paid off his card before going out and spending frivolously. The Father lived away from where the son went to college and—consumed with fear about his son “starving”—he continued to pay off his debts. Eventually his son developed a problem with consuming too much alcohol (much of the credit card charges were from local college bars where the young adult would drink 4-5 nights a week…he would also buy drinks for friends and strangers). His father continued to pay the bills until one day, his son dropped out of school, rented a car, and drove to a large west coast city and began spending and drinking even more than before. It wasn’t until his Father stopped paying the bills and the credit card maxed out that he got a phone call from his son asking for help—at this point the Father had received help and guidance. The Father agreed to help his son only with a greyhound bus ticket home and refused to give him any money until he completed 45 days of inpatient, 90 days of intensive outpatient and sober living, and 80 hours of volunteer work. The son took a few days to “think about it.” But as he soon learned, the friends he had made at the bar weren’t as excited to hang out, feed, and house him as they were when he was paying for all of their bar tabs. He eventually came home and received treatment and the boundaries he needed from his father.
8. Promoting Pro-Social Activities with Positive Peers.
The research has demonstrated time and time again that their peers heavily influence teens and young adults. Statistically speaking, your teen or young adult is much more influenced by their social group than both parents and professors. One way to use your money and influence on your young adult is to encourage or facilitate them to engage in one (or more) pro-social activity a week with their peer group. Pro-social is defined as a voluntary activity to help others—and while I do believe that that is a good goal—if you can get your young adult to participate in group therapy, hiking club, writing club, music classes, spiritual groups, exercise classes, etc. Any of the preceding types of activities can have a tremendous impact on their happiness and social abilities. We are striving for the opposite of anti-social activities with negative peers.
In this case, you may reward your teen or young adult, at first, for attending—with gift cards (never cash). Remember; don’t give them gift cards worth over $25 dollars. If they are living with you—you can have more leverage—paying for their phone, gas driving, etcetera all contingent upon them participating in activities. You’d be amazed at what happens when you call the phone company and turn off your young adult’s phone for a few days—or just get rid of text and data for a few days. Results come quickly!
Time and time again I see teens and young adults dramatically change their behavior and reduce their consumption of drugs/alcohol when they begin to participate in and make friends with peers that enjoy pro-social activities. It’s not to say that all of their peers don’t recreationally drink or use drugs—but they are more engaged in sober activities and do not make “using” their primary activity. Your teen or young adult doesn’t need to be in five clubs and be obsessed with volunteering and arts and crafts to get a benefit from pro-social activities. Even, being a part of something positive, social, and meaningful once a week can help your young adult begin to alter their behavior and begin to seek healthier friendships. While many young adults will require clinical attention and much larger interventions—encouraging and promoting pro-social activities can be excellent ways of letting your young adult learn that there is a much greater and long-term reward in healthy meaningful relationships and fulfilling activities than in the short-term high and superficial friendships they acquire while using. Countless times, I have worked with teens and young adults to find something—anything—that they liked to do that did not involve using drugs/alcohol. When they finally get involved in a somewhat consistent manner, I almost always see a reduction in their consumption of drugs/alcohol along with attitude and positive behavioral changes.
Be a Good Example of a Community Member.
Since you are likely paying for most of their life, they can spare some time to spend with you.
Sometimes, we need to bring our young adult out of their comfort zone and expose them to new ideas and situations. For instance, you can bring them with you to volunteer to help the less fortunate or to a self-help group. The possibilities are endless. If you did this a few times a year it could still be impactful.
This next example surprises many parents:
…so many times I hear teens or young adults say “I wish my parent(s) would spend more time with me…” And then I reply “Wait…you just got done telling me that you are sick of your parents and that you wish they’d leave you alone.” And the teen or young adult says something like this (although not as concise articulate): “Well, I am sick of them trying to control me, telling me what I must do, and lecturing me—but I do wish that when I came to them to talk to them that they would actually listen, not judge me, and offer encouragement. I wish they would believe in me instead of telling me that I don’t know what I’m doing. I wish we could spend time doing things together…but I don’t think my parents could ever do this…they just worry…judge me…tell me what to do….and scoff at my ideas…”
I have parents tell me “I’ve tried spending time with my kid, but they don’t want to listen to me…” Again, I ask—what are you talking about? Or what are you telling them about? When a relationship is strained or needing to grow—it is important to remember that your presence, time, and caring and encouraging presence is needed more than your wisdom. Trust me, if they have questions, they will ASK YOU. To repair or grow a relationship, spend time where you are interacting for hours and doing something meaningful and/or fun. That is why I suggested volunteering. Some parents say “Well I bring them on vacation with us every year…” I would ask you how much time you spend face to face with each other (without electronics and movies on). If you don’t know what I am talking about, I would suggest getting 4-6 sessions of counseling to work on being more present with your child. Less worried, less judgmental, and less controlling—more in the moment and accepting and celebrating the time you have together.
Set Concrete and Achievable Goals.
Now it is time to take action. Write down small goals weekly or biweekly, that are brief, specific, and doable regarding which tips are you are going to try and when. To find a specific way to apply the aforementioned tips to the problem you are facing, try the following problem-solving skills:
First, define the problem. Second, Brainstorm ALL possible solutions with a professional or someone you trust. Third, Eliminate all possible solutions are you are not willing to try. Fourth, select a solution that you would like to use. Next, frame your goal for the week: First, Write down a goal based on the possible solution you found to the problem. Second, write down all the steps you can think of that will help you achieve this goal. Third, write down all potential barriers that may get in your way. Fourth, write down ways to navigate around or through potential barriers.
Remember, it is difficult to do this alone.
You are not alone, but you may need to reach out for help.
We all need resources and connections with others.
- Find a Licensed Professional Counselor with teen, young adult, and family experience.
If you are in Grand Rapids, MI or anywhere in the state of Michigan, Paul Krauss MA LPC can help you.
- Meet with other parents facing similar phases and stages of life.
- Try out or join a local support group for parents.
- Read Books or check out blogs on this subject.
- Seek wise counsel.
- Get into counseling yourself–just 4-6 sessions can help immensely.
- See what local community organizations and treatment centers offer.
Remember! If your teen or young adult has a serious mental health and/or substance abuse issues: Consider hospitalization, detox, professional assessment, inpatient treatment programs, intensive outpatient treatment programs, sober living, behavioral adjustment program, and finally outpatient therapy.
This 3 part series was inspired by the Teens, Young Adults and Parents that I have met in my counseling practice, empirical research, and the belief that all families can find a way to experience healing. – Paul Krauss MA LPC
Paul Krauss MA LPC specializes in working with the parents of Teens and Young Adults as well as Young Adults.
Mike Speakman’s Book
The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think by Johann Hari
Research Matters / Promoting Adolescents’ Prosocial Behavior by Yael Kidron and Steve Fleischman
Prosocial Involvement as a Positive Youth Development Construct: A Conceptual Review by Ching Man Lam
How Volunteering Affects the Volunteer by Douglas LaBier
Here is a webpage recommending many other quality books related to this subject books that may help you: