Sometimes teenagers veer off the path of what is acceptable in our society. They begin doing things that make you question all the positive things you said and did for your child to help them grow up and make a place in the world. Teenagers are the age group that does things just to do them. If the world were an Urban Outfitters or an Aeropostale, a teenager would try on every single outfit: small, medium, large, extra large, while the adult is screaming their measurements and urging them to one rack that has just the size for them. Oh no. You can’t tell them what they need! Teens need to try every single misshapen outfit on, and that’s just the way it is.
In the words of the late Humor Magazine Owner Arnold Glasow, “Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.”
If you think about it, senior citizens and preschoolers are rarely caught vandalizing bus stations and spraying profanities on the doors of public bathrooms. Which age group began the Tide Pods challenge? That’s right. Teenagers. That part of the teen brain that makes decisions, the frontal cortex isn’t quite there yet—it’s still developing.
We find out that our teens doing drugs in the oddest ways: finding a collection of cheap beer bottles in the bottom of the trash can on garbage day, discovering some mysterious leaves in your kid’s pocket as you put a load of laundry in, or overhearing a hushed phone call that sounded all too much like a drug deal. It’s just devastating any time it happens.
When you hear your baby—that child you taught to ride a bike, and say please and thank you, and raised to be a good human— is doing drugs, the planet stops spinning for a brief moment. The tsunami of emotion crashes over your head. The force of the water is filthy with debris as the push of the waves destroy your idea of a happy family—bits of your home, your child’s trophies and favorite stuffed animals, your framed portraits—are all in pieces. It feels like nothing other than doom.
Take One Big Look at Yourself
How could this have happened? How bad is it? Who can I blame for this? My spouse? My child’s friends, the wrong crowd? Their teachers? Their coaches? What now? For a moment you may sit in this soul-crushing stillness to go over how you could have missed the signs—how you have prevented your child making the wrong choice… But wait just a sec. Get out of the hurricane and climb up on a dry surface to see the light coming from the clouds. Their addiction was your teen’s choice. Not yours.
Check out this hip-hop beat by Guru from three decades ago:
Step back, analyze, and use your own eyes to see (take a look)
I can’t be you, you can’t be me
For your problems, yo you can’t blame no one else
Take a look at yourself
Take a look at yourself
Take one big look
Take a look at yourself (you dig?)
This is the kind of vibe you want when you talk to your teen. You don’t want to scare them away with reactionary, military-style, “Shape up or ship out!” shouting match. You will lose. Listen to some old music from your high school days. Remember what it was like to make really bad decisions yourself. What was the stupidest thing you did as a teen? Take one big look at your own self and remember why you did it. Now hold on to that story. You are going to tell your teen all about your lamest of lame, and then you will be able to earn some credit as a fellow human and former teen.
We have to come to terms with the fact that no matter how well you parent, life is still life, and some circumstances are out of your control. You can blame yourself, jump off the roof and drown yourself in that ferocious moving water, or you can swim down the current, find your child, and reconnect. They might be just under the water’s surface, waiting for a miracle to pull them up from drowning.
Think Before You Speak
It’s okay to be upset, but it’s not okay to lose it. Do not say a word until you have been up on the roof for a good long while to ponder your own contribution to the problem.
It is perfectly normal to look at your piece in all of this, but not to blame yourself. Just like the grades your child earns in school or how well they do on the soccer field, there’s only so much you can do. Realize you set them up best you can—tutoring, practicing in the backyard: Yet they still got a ‘D’ in Algebra and missed every darn attempt to make a goal. And you taught them that drugs and alcohol are bad for their bodies and addictive, yet here you find out they tried the poison and became addicted anyway.
Find Out Why They Made the Bad Choice
According to a study by the Partnership to End Addiction, the top eight reasons teens try alcohol and drugs are: 1. Other people, 2. Popular media, 3. Escape and self-medication, 4. Boredom, 5. Rebellion, 6. Instant gratification, 7. Lack of confidence, and 8. Misinformation.
Now how many of those reasons are your fault? Unless you are an addict yourself or partake in glorifying drugs and alcohol, the reasons are probably not that simple to pinpoint.
Complicated circumstances like job changes come up that affect family finances, and in turn your teen. Sometimes money issues mean they can do less of an activity they like because you can’t pay for it. Or maybe financial troubles have made one or both parents less available. The family could be sinking as they face separation or divorce, mental illness or disability, sickness or death. Maybe when your teen wants to talk, some other emergency trumps their need to connect. Perhaps there are parental patterns like addiction or anger issues in the home. Sometimes family time is fraught with a combination of all these tensions, and anger takes the place of stories and gathering. Hugs are replaced with accusations. Whatever it is that was happening at home, it’s worth looking at.
When a teen has anything traumatic going on at home, coping with day-to-day tasks can become too difficult, so a teen may turn to something unhealthy, something that might give them social status or the attention they crave. In families where there is a teeanger with an addiction issue, the parent must look at what kind of home they are providing—to take one big look at yourself—and then they can help their teen confront why they feel the need for substances that hurt them.
There are other ways you can help. You can stop the bad habits by signing your teen up for therapy. You can help your teenager find healthy ways to cope with the anger and disappointment. You can remind them that you are still there. You can make a promise and a commitment to be there more. You must first make sure you have developed a trusting relationship based on mutual respect. You must be there to listen before you offer any kind of advice. After all, your teen made a bad decision, and though it can be remedied, you can’t find the cure unless you find out the cause. Still have that story of your teenage years? After you listen to why your teen made that really bad choice to become addicted, you can offer up your story. You can relate. And then you have a foundation and a trust to move on to how you can end the addiction as a team.
When You Need Outside Support
You tried. You really did. It may seem like nothing you say is sinking in or that your teenager doesn’t want to listen to you. When you get to a point when the stories you share aren’t working, and you don’t have a good feeling that your teen will do better with the tweeks within your family or with the help of a therapist, there is a next step.
An alcohol detox or an opiate detox may be what they need for a supportive, all-encompassing supportive environment. It is in no way your fault if you tried to reach them, and they need more help than you can offer. These groups are designed to be there when the family has tried all they can. This is a positive step. In the process of treatment, they will begin to gradually understand life differently and look at aspects that they would like to change. During this process, hold on to your relationship with your teen. Keep trying. Keep talking. Don’t hand everything over. Your teen still needs you.
The treatment process has the potential to unearth all the built up anger, fear, and pain, to reach the deep layers where your teen holds their tenderness, compassion, and love for themselves. The process sometimes can take weeks or even months, so be patient. This intervention to get to that point but they will be able to do it with your help, so don’t give up. To end an addiction, first your teen will need to admit they have a problem. When they are back on track, they will have learned some tools to cope with life’s temptations and troubles.
Helping them admit the problem is going to be the hardest step, but with the amount of support for them at schools and colleges, there is a way out of the situation. Focus on getting them on track with their hobbies and allowing them to follow their dreams for future health and happiness. Every family has the power in their hands and change is possible. Keep an open mind. In the end, overcoming tough times will mean something to you. Think about what Pop Star Justin Timberlake said, “My teenage years were exactly what they were supposed to be. Everybody has their own path. It’s laid out for you. It’s just up to you to walk it.”