I talk to many parents whose teenagers have developed serious problems with drugs, alcohol, addiction to media, toxic relationships and more. Mostly this began in the middle school years, and just like a train coming down the track, the parents could see it wasn’t going anywhere wonderful. Sometimes the situation was ignored, thinking it would go away, and sometimes the parents jumped in with both feet to try to derail what was coming.
Sometimes the situation could be handled and the teen overcame their challenges to envision a healthier future . Sometimes the child went right on to have increased difficulties with these same issues, now with difficulty having a functional young adult life.
I wish I could say I knew what helped one teen and why another teen . Obviously, individual teens respond in different ways to intervention and we don’t always know what will help a particular teen. I am not a mental health professional, and do not offer the suggestions below as such, but know these were some of the commonalities I have heard in talking to parents whose teens were successful in getting their lives together.
Open communication and respect for what the child or teenager was going through, even if the parent didn’t understand it all.
Unconditional love, BUT especially for older teens the understanding that you cannot control their choices and you cannot enable them and protect them through their choices.
Understanding that you, as parents, and the other members of the family, have the complete right to be safe.
Investigation into psychological help, counseling, or residential programs early on instead of waiting. Yes, you cannot run away from your problems but for some teens a change of scenery with qualified help really is wonderful and a game-changer. And the earlier this happens, sometimes it can really make a difference.
Sometimes more structure. This may include things such as changing school settings to a smaller, more structured program.
Increased physical exercise as possible. Sometimes if a teen is suffering from anxiety or depression, this seems nearly impossible, but it does seem to help if the teen is open to it.
Increased time in nature with family. Some parents have reported great success with camping, long-term hiking, or other excursions into nature. Again, the earlier, the better.
The biggest piece of advice I have heard is that if things are going off the rails at ages 12-14 get help right then and there. Do not wait! Investigate options thoroughly, and see how your child responds.
I would love to hear what you all think. Let’s all help each other.