Teenagers are tough to raise. It is a time when their behavior is impulsive, they are likely to take risks, and they are breaking away from their parents as they strive for independence. These years are rocky for all parents. However, a troubled youth rips a family apart. Every one in the family loses out unless the parents use effective strategies to get their teen and themselves the help they need to turn things around.
Many times, teen substance abuse is the immediate problem that their troubled youth is struggling with. Teenage alcoholism and teenage drug abuse must be dealt with first. Teenage drug abuse and teenage alcohol abuse is too dangerous to ignore. Once the teen is sober, it is important to evaluate what other issues are present that may be underlying the substance abuse (depression, anxiety etc).
Here is an example of an extreme case from my practice:
Y.L. was a 16 year-old boy in my practice who showed very little respect for his parents. He abused drugs and alcohol, performed poorly in school, and finally ran away. He was picked up by the police in a different city where he was caught urinating on a building. His parents sent him to a teen wilderness camp in another country where he did better in a very structured environment where boundaries were strictly enforced.
He learned skills to control his impulses in this type of environment which helped him after the program ended. Not all teens of course are this difficult. His parents had to learn the strategies I have outlined below to help the family situation when he returned.
Here are the 10 Best Ways to Deal With a Troubled Youth With or Without Teen Substance Abuse:
- If teen substance abuse (whether it is teenage alcoholism or teenage drug abuse) is present, it is important to take your teen to a medical professional that is familiar with treating addiction (most family doctors and pediatricians have some familiarity. A psychiatrist who specializes in addiction would be a great option as well). A doctor can help determine the level of the abuse to determine if detoxification or rehabilitation is necessary.
- Clear limits must be set. For example, if teen substance abuse is present and your teen relapses, there must be a clear plan of action (returning to a 12-step program, taking prescribed medication etc.), no car or cell phone or freely going out with friends until your teen has proven to be on the path of recovery.
- Negotiate with your teen consequences for not honoring curfews, using drugs or alcohol, running up high texting bills, skipping classes, or performing poorly in school. Make sure these consequences are clear whether it is taking away the Internet, cell phone, or car.
- Be a good role model. If you drink and drive, you can expect your child to follow suit. If your child sees drinking and verbal abuse, you are setting a pattern for your teen to emulate. If you lie to your teen, your teen will learn to lie. Conversely, if you are truthful and fair with your teen this will have a positive influence.
- Be involved in your teen’s life. Inquire who your teen’s friend’s are. Know what your teen’s interests are. What kind of music does your child like? What are their favorite subjects in school? What TV shows are they watching? Their favorite YouTube videos?
- Keep your teen in structured activities like sports and music. Participating in a sport or learning a musical instrument is healthy and fosters good self-esteem.Too much unstructured time is not your teen’s friend.
- Eat dinner together as a family. Eating as a family actually results in less teen substance abuse.
- Talk to your teen in an open and calm way. Yelling or lecturing will cause your teen to shut down.
- Praise any positive progress your teen makes. Your teen still seeks your approval even though your teen will never admit this to you.
- Be your teen’s parent, not their buddy. Your teen needs you to be consistent, but firm to help him or her through this time of emotional upheaval.
Early on in my psychiatric practice, I observed that the parents who acted more like their teen’s friend than a parent had the most troubled children. Your teen needs loving parents that treat him or her with respect and are able to set appropriate boundaries.
Keep involved. Be open in your communication with your teen, Be vigilant for changes in behavior. Don’t ignore substance abuse. Be nurturing. Have fun as a family. Your teen needs you more than ever in this dance of breaking away from you.