When we first become parents, we hear so much about the “terrible twos,” defined by some as “a period in a child’s early social development that is associated with defiant or unruly behavior.” While two-year-olds may indeed be a handful, there’s nothing that compares to the challenge of parenting a teenager — especially one who is struggling with addiction or other issues.
Many parents don’t know what to do or how to react when their lives are turned upside down by their teen’s behavior. Their parenting becomes a constant cycle of trial and error as they try to navigate their way through the storm. But there are some things all parents can do to help improve a difficult situation.
Use these 7 tips to make your life easier and help motivate your teenager to change.
1. Love Your Child Unconditionally
Teenagers will test you, even under the best of circumstances. When your teen is battling addiction, though, they will test you in ways you never could have imagined.
It’s easy to think that it’s okay to take a break from loving your child while they’re putting you through hell. But it’s not. A troubled child needs your love more than ever, and showing them that you love them even during the worst of times will increase their self-worth and let them know that they have your support.
2. Practice Self-Care
While your teen is struggling, your first inclination may be to totally immerse yourself in their situation and try to fix things. But you’re not a superhero, and you can’t fix their addiction. What you can do, however, is take care of yourself.
Instead of becoming addicted to your child’s addiction, continue living your life and doing things that make you feel better. It’s not at all selfish to do this. In fact, concentrating on self-care will keep you healthy and mentally strong – things you need in order to help your teen when they need it most.
3. Keep Calm
When you find out that your teenager has a substance abuse problem, you will be angry. It’s a perfectly normal reaction. But no matter how hard it is, you have to keep your anger in check.
Yelling at your child, using profanity, calling them names, or acting out physically against them will not help things at all. Anger only breeds more anger. If you’re angry, you’re teen will be angry, too. And their anger will likely cause them to increase their negative behavior.
4. Listen, Listen, Listen
Talking to your teenager about their problems is absolutely essential. But listening is exponentially more important.
Your child is hurting, and they need to know that you care about how they feel. Instead of you doing all the talking, create an environment that allows your teen to comfortably share their thoughts. Ask open-ended questions so they elaborate more. Validate their feelings and empathize with them. Be supportive. And, most importantly, be an exceptional listener.
5. Don’t Be an Enabler
It’s so easy to become an enabler when your child is addicted. You don’t want them to hurt, so making life easier for them is a natural parental instinct. The problem is, by making your teen’s life easier you frequently make their addiction easier, too.
You can help your child without enabling, but it may take some practice. A good rule of thumb: Doing things that allow them to continue their objectionable behavior is enabling; and doing things to help them with their recovery is acceptable support. So giving your teenager money is not okay, but driving them to an AA meeting is perfectly fine.
6. Act as a Team and Rely on Each Other
When you have an addicted teenager, it’s incredibly important that both parents be on the same page with respect to how the situation should be handled. You have to present a unified front and let your child know that mom and dad are going to act—and react—the same way.
When both parents are in complete agreement, expectations and consequences will be consistent. Anything less will send mixed messages to your teen, and he or she will start playing one parent against the other, which can create chaos. An added bonus: By being in agreement with your partner, you’ll both be less stressed and happier, and that will benefit everyone.
7. Don’t Hesitate to Ask a Professional
Being the parent of an addicted child isn’t something you can prepare for. Unfortunately, there’s no owner’s manual with all the right answers. You do the best that you can with what you know at the time, and you learn as you go along.
No one expects you to be a miracle worker, so seeking professional help is perfectly acceptable. Therapists and psychiatrists can be tremendous allies who provide much relief—for both you and your teen. Addiction specialists can offer great insight, too. Don’t try to do it all by yourself. It’s okay to ask for help.