If your teenager is recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, it is important that you are an available and supportive parent. You might not know how best to support your teen, however. If you are in this situation, read this guide to learn about the importance of family support, what not to say, how to support your teen, and a few other tips to keep in mind as you help your adolescent through this journey toward sobriety.
The Importance of a Supportive Parent and Family
Family members can either negatively or positively impact a teen’s journey to recovery. In many families, there are some characteristics that are negative even if there are also many positive characteristics. Learning how to overcome any negative issues that could be contributing to your teen’s dependence on a substance is one vital key to his or her recovery process. For example, if your family looks the other way or keeps secrets in order to keep the peace, that is something that can enable your child to continue with destructive behavior. If there is any type of abuse in your family, that can also make his or her recovery harder. Getting to the bottom of these issues is a very supportive and helpful step.
Another idea to keep in mind is that your teen, despite looking like an adult, is still growing. His or her brain won’t be done developing until the early 20’s at the earliest. Teens, even older teens, still need their parents. They often crave their parents’ approval and are upset when they disappoint their parents. By making sure that your teen knows you love and support him or her, you’re giving them the gift of being able to focus on recovery.
Things Not to Say
It can be very difficult to know what to say when it comes to supporting your teen. Just as important, if not more important, than knowing what to say is knowing what not to say. Here are some things that could be more harmful than helpful:
- “Your addiction is in your head.” While this is technically true in the sense that addiction begins in the brain, it isn’t a matter of being able to simply turn off the addiction. If it were that simple, your teen would have done it already.
- “I know how you feel.” If you have not gone through the recovery process for an addiction, then you really don’t know how your child feels. Even if you have, each person is an individual and your teen might have very different feelings than you did.
- “What did you talk about at your last support group meeting?” Although it is good for your teen to feel that they can confide in you, it is important to understand that their therapy sessions and support group meetings are private and personal; they might not feel comfortable sharing details with you.
Giving Your Love and Emotional Support
A listening ear and a desire to understand are excellent ways to show your teen that you love them and care about what they are going through. Encourage your teen to open up and talk to you. Go to family therapy sessions without complaint, and be willing to keep an open mind and discuss the various issues that come up.
You can also be a supportive parent to your teen by being a buffer between them and curious friends, family members, and acquaintances. Don’t share personal information about your teen’s recovery without his or her explicit permission. Feel free to let well-meaning relatives and others know that you will not be sharing personal information if they persist in asking. Respect your teen’s privacy and don’t be afraid to ask others to do the same.
Giving Your Physical and Financial Support
There are also going to be more tangible steps you can take to be a supportive parent to your teen. The first has to do with financial support. The vast majority of teenagers still need their parents to support them financially. You will likely be doing this by allowing your teen to live under your roof and providing him or her with utilities, food, and so on. It is important to draw the line, however, when it comes to giving your teen money to spend at will, particularly in the early days of his or her recovery.
The other steps you can take to be a supportive parent have to do with physical logistics and boundary-setting. You might need to be the one to arrange to get your teen to his or her therapy appointments. You might need to lock up medications in your home. You might need to physically remove your teen’s car keys if you cannot trust him or her to stay safe and out of trouble. Your teen might not like these actions, but do what you need to do to help him or her succeed with the recovery process.
Taking Care of Yourself
Last but not least, it is vitally important that you take care of your needs as you strive to meet your teen’s needs. You know the familiar adage about putting on your own oxygen mask on an airplane before helping your child with theirs, and the same logic applies. You need to be sure that you are eating well, sleeping enough, and getting some exercise each day. If you are struggling with your emotions during this time, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a therapist. You can also consider joining a support group for the loved ones of those in recovery. Ask your teen’s addictions specialist about whether there is such a group at the facility where he or she is being treated.
Being a supportive parent and helping your teen through his or her recovery is going to be difficult, but it can be a great way to bond and to let your teen know that you are there for them. Keep the lines of communication open, go to family therapy sessions as recommended by your teen’s mental health care team, and keep in touch with those specialists who are helping your teen recover.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.