Is My Teen Using Drugs?

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, consequences, counseling, depression, family conflict, intervention, parenting, substance abuse, Teen alcohol abuse, teen drug use

In recent years, the average age of the drug abuser has dropped dramatically.  In fact, we’ve seen shocking evidence that drugs are often consumed by children beginning during their   middle school age years.  Yes, times are changing.  The culture has grown tolerant of experimental drug use at a younger age and kids have access to drugs long before they reach puberty.

Every parent wants to guard their children from the insidious destruction drugs unleash.  So, how do you know whether your teen is using drugs?  And if they get caught using drugs, how do you help them get back on the right track?

In today’s brief article, we’ll attempt to answer both of those questions.  Over my years at Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school for teenagers, I have seen many students come to our program with drug issues.  We have found that drug abuse is always a mask for disguising deeper problems that need to be exposed and dealt with.

Take the Initiative

If you have any suspicion that your son or daughter might be using drugs, don’t be shy about snooping around their bedroom and belongings to find out.  At Heartlight, we use a few different approaches to ensure our kids remain safe.  We do random drug testing and also bring in drug dogs to sniff out backpacks, living quarters and typical hiding places.  But the drug test isn’t the first sign we have that tells us that the teen is using.

Signs of Drug Use

You know your teen better than anyone else, but even so, if your teen is using drugs they will be part of a culture that helps them hide what they are doing.  Lying, hiding and keeping secrets are all part of the game.  They may also be feeling shame over their drug use.  Whatever the case, they are probably working overtime to keep their new habit a secret from you.

One common trick is for teenagers to cover up their drug use by consuming counteractive things.  For instance, some vitamins can fool some drug tests, so if your teen has started some new vitamin or supplement, do your homework and find out whether there’s a tie to drugs.  Or you may pick up an unusual odor on their clothes or be using something obnoxious to mask the smell.  Has your teen started using incense and candles or placed dryer sheets in his clothes?  All of these help a teen veil the obvious scent of drugs.

You might notice a change in your teen’s regular routine.  Has his schoolwork slumped? Has his sleeping pattern changed?  Usually there’s something behind these new behavioral patterns.  Your teen could also exhibit a lack of motivation.  He’s become lazy.  Or he could care less about the things he once enjoyed, like sports, friends or hobbies.

Teens are created to be relational beings.  Most kids don’t do things because of their friends.  They do things with their friends.  So if friends are using, they may give it a shot.  It’s amazing how many kids say they started using when they were at a sleepover at someone’s house.  If your teen has new friends or has shifted away from other friends, you might begin to suspect their motivation.

If your teen begins lying to you, he might be using.  Or it could just be a shift in attitude.  Your teen could show aggression, anger, or have unreasonable mood swings.  If you built a strong relationship and have created reasonable boundaries for the people in your household, then when your teen starts using, or breaks any of these boundaries, he may shift blame to someone else or something else.

Here’s the point.  Even if you have nothing more than a gnawing feeling in your gut, or a parental hunch, I would suggest you  follow your instincts.  If these clues persist, you might start doing random drug tests on your teen.  Maybe not with drug dogs like we use at Heartlight, but they make convenient at-home drug tests (similar to pregnancy tests) that you can administer.  Using them can alienate your teens, but it can hold them accountable.  If you have built the relationship with your teen, the drug tests won’t be punitive.  Instead, it will deter him or her from taking that dangerous step towards drugs.  That’s part of your role as a parent – to build boundaries that your teen is still learning to build on his own.

Not My Kids!

Parents, if you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position of discovering drug use in your child, you may feel like a failure.  Look, don’t waste time beating yourself up.  Instead, try to spend your time in more productive expressions of recovery.  Try to help your teen understand what he or she is trying to anesthetize.  Drugs are just one way to find relief from the pressure they feel.  It’s an escape, like video games, hobbies, sports, or any other getaway.

If you have a solid relationship with your child, it’ll help you when she or he comes home and confesses to a drug problem.  Or you discover their secret.  When the cat’s out of the bag, it’s very important to determine if it’s simple experimentation or a heavy pattern of abuse.  Either way, you’ll want it to stop, but the way you handle it may be different.  If it’s just experimenting, try not to overreact.  If you crush their spirit, your child may not come to you again when life gets difficult and they’ve done something they want to confess.  If your teen comes to you with a heartfelt confession, it’s certainly not the moment to reinforce your standard.  This is when you reinforce the relationship.  You want your children to tell you the truth and come to you.  If it happens again, then you’ve got a problem that requires deeper action.

Obviously, every situation is different.  And as I write these thoughts to you, I realize there’s so much more to be said and much more to be explored.  But I hope some of the things you read in this article will draw you closer to your teen and to help them be all God intended.

As a parent, you want good things for your teen.  We all do.  Your relationship with your son or daughter won’t change because they’re using drugs.  You still want the very best for him or her.  Just as God’s relationship with us remains unconditional, we should also remain in relationship with our teen.  No matter what they’ve done or how bad they’ve blown it, your son or daughter desperately needs you to remain in relationship with them.

I hope you’ll listen to the upcoming radio program on this subject.  The Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast will go deeper into the issues of drug use in teens.  Visit www.parentingtodaysteens.org to find a radio station near you, or to sign up for the podcast.

If you are in the Laredo, Texas area, we will be having a Turbulence Ahead Seminar on Saturday, January 28th in the United Middle School.
Tickets: $10/person and $15/couple. Call 956.726.3899 for more information or to purchase tickets.

If you have any questions about bringing a Turbulence Ahead Seminar to your city, please contact Sam Sheeley in our office at 866-700-3264, or e-mail him at Sam@TurbulenceAhead.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

Healing the Wounds Surrounding Cutting

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in at-risk teens, consequences, depression, intervention, self-control, teen anger, teen bullying, teen counseling, teen culture, teen therapy, troubled teens

When the pain in life gets too hard, too overwhelming, teens may take it out on themselves with drastic measures.  While many kids will respond with symptoms of low self-esteem, depression, or withdrawing from the family, other teens will try to mask the pain by cutting, a form of self harm.

In my ministry at Heartlight, I have seen dozens of self-inflicted injuries.  Some have used a razors to make slices in their arms.  Others use small pieces of glass or even paper clips to “scratch” themselves.  I’ve seen some rub their skin with an pencil erasure till it bleeds and others use a curling iron to burn themselves.  Whatever method they choose to employ, it’s usually very painful.

Tragically, in our culture today this type of bizarre behavior is no longer a rare occurrence.  While it used to be considered a sign of mental illness, now kids openly talk about it with one another.  For any parent with a child who chooses to inflict this kind of self-pain, the question is obvious:  what can we do about it?  

Causes of Cutting

This world is difficult for our kids.  They are bombarded by so many conflicting messages and pressures that they have a hard time coping with daily life.  And when the anxiety, emotions, and tension go up, teens look for a way out.  When adequate coping skills are absent, Often, that way out is through self-harm.

I’ve always believed that all behavior is goal-oriented.  If they’re doing it, they’re getting something out of it.  What we need to focus on is finding out why the teen is cutting so that we can focus on the real issue.  Teens inflict harm on themselves for a couple of primary reasons.  One is that they are dealing with bigger issues.  The other is to get attention.

Some teens use cutting as a distraction from other problems in life.  They think:  If I cut, I can focus on that greater pain, and the pain I am feeling from another side of life won’t seem as painful.  

Another reason teens cut is to get rid of boredom or create excitement.  Today’s teens are more bored than ever before.  With every kind of technological entertainment at their disposal, they are lost in a state of monotony.  So, kids are really pushing the envelope to create some kind of thrill.  They love an adrenaline rush.  They look around and see what their peers expect of them, and they fall into conformity, even if it’s painful, because they want to be accepted.  They may also try it just to show off or shock somebody.  Cutting is one way they think that they can get the attention and acceptance they crave.

Some teens will cut just because they’re curious to find out how it feels and what the infliction will evoke with their parents and friends.  I’ve noticed that those that show off their markings or scars are usually ones that “show” as a badge or an expression of need for attention.  Those that hide their self harm usually “cut” or “burn” out of escalated emotion, then hide their deeds because they’re embarrassed that they couldn’t adequately “handle” the situation.

Other teens may be using cutting to punish themselves.  They do so to discipline themselves for stupid or foolish decisions, as a way to purge themselves of the feelings of self-contempt.  It can also be a symptomatic sign of mental illness.  This is one reason why it’s so important to understand why your teen is cutting – so that you can address it appropriately and get the help you need.

Intervening

If a teen is cutting for show, they can quit right now.  I’ve always said if you scratch yourself and it hurts, then don’t do it.  Pretty basic stuff.  For example, there have been times when I wanted to smash my fist through a wall out of anger.  And if I did it, I’d feel better.  For a moment.  My hand would be broken, but it felt good to release all that emotion for a minute.  But if a child is cutting because of a deeper issue in their life, you’ll need to address it because no brief exhilaration will ever be enough to disguise their emotional pain.

Parents, if your teen is cutting, don’t panic.  It’s hard to see your child inflicting these injuries on himself, but seek counsel before over- reacting (unless they need medical attention, then get it right away of course).

Take the time to get to the root of the issue.  Don’t pretend like the problem isn’t there, or make light of it.  Find a counselor who has dealt with cutters.  Make sure that you work through the issues with your teen, but be sure to spend time together that’s not focused on the issue, either.  Don’t forget that cutting is indicative of something behind the scenes that you cannot see.  You have to stop the cutting issue, but you also need to address the deeper issue.

Cutting tends to grow into greater problems, and can even become addictive.  This e-newsletter article only serves to introduce you to the basic issues behind cutting.  If you’re in a situation that needs to be addressed right away, I implore you to find professional help.

As an added resource to you, I hope you’ll listen to an upcoming radio program on this subject.  Licensed clinical social worker DeeDee Mayer has seen this damaging behavior in many of her clients and has a lot of good advice and counsel.  You can hear my conversation with DeeDee on the Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast.  We want to help you understand how to help your teen get treatment before the problem grows.

You can also find out more about Heartlight or request the booklet “The Phenomenon of Cutting” at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

 

Waiting For a Runaway

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in anger management, at-risk teens, boundaries, consequences, counseling, depression, disrespect, family conflict, grandparenting, intervention, parenting communications, punishment, struggling teens, teen communications

When a teen decides to sneak away from the household, it traumatizes the entire family.  How do you respond when your child decides to abandon the familiar and become a prodigal?

I have been helping runaway teens for a long time.  The first kid that I took into my apartment was a runaway.  Thirty-seven years later, one of my responsibilities as the executive director of Heartlight, a residential home for kids, is to help find teens who have run away.  It’s become almost a normal thing for us.  But it’s never normal for the families going through it.  It’s an emotional time.  In the midst of the emotion, you have a few choices:  You can to remain calm, think through some things, and move in a positive way to get your child back.

Running To or From?

Any time a child runs away, it’s a complicated situation.  It usually feels like it came out of nowhere.  But many times the teen may have tried to communicate something that will give parents a clue as to why they ran away.  If it’s happened to you, consider thinking through some of the things your child might be responding to:  Could running away be a symptom of a family structure that’s broken?  Is your child running away from something that is difficult?  Are they being abused (my wife was abused for 5 years and no one knew about it)?  Are they not being respected or valued? Is there something going on that you don’t know about?   It’s not fun to second-guess your contribution to the cause, but every parent needs to take the time to figure out if something needs to be fixed.  This is one of those scriptural encouragements to look at the log in your own eye before you look at the speck in your child’s eye.  If it’s not fixed, the child will continue to run away.  And as much as it seems like the child running away is the only problem, it’s really just a symptom of a bigger problem.

On the other hand, they could be running to something.  Maybe your child wants to express his independence or punish your family.  He could be running toward a dream of his, or to a young woman whom he thinks can help him achieve his dreams.  Try to be sensitive to this.  You may have to deal with this issue in addition to the runaway issue.

Leaving the Light On

When you know the reason why your child ran away, you may want to develop some parameters for how your child can come back and how you’re going to deal with the issues that made him run away in the first place.  This may be different depending on the age of your child.  A 14- or 15-year-old will likely have fewer parameters than a 17-year-old.  You may want to talk about the expectations you have for when they come back:  You can’t lie.  You can’t take things from us.  We’re going to get you help.  You can’t get help if you’re at home – so let’s talk about living with grandma.  If the conditions of your child coming back mean that he might live with someone else for a while, that’s better than not knowing where he is.

As a loving parent, let your child know that you want them to come home.  If you know where your child is living, you can still invite him to lunch.  Send him a text every once in a while.  You can continue the relationship without enabling him.  It’s not about giving them the money, clothes, or shelter they might need; it’s about being open to them and keeping the relationships available.  I’ve seen it time and time again — a point comes when they can’t take it any more – when they come to their senses like the prodigal son did – they may decide that it’s better to come home.

In the meantime, parents might end up playing the waiting game.  It might be difficult to see your child struggle.  It’s awful to watch.  But if you thwart the opportunity for them to live on the streets or with friends in an uncomfortable situation, you may rob them of the chance to see the hand of God working in their lives.  Now that doesn’t mean you have to turn your back on them.  You can stay connected and continue to find out what’s going on in their lives.  But it’s not enough to just know about what’s happening with your kids; it’s helpful to work through the problems.  This can help build the relationship and show your kids that you are willing to stay with them through their failure and pain.  This may be the hope they need.

Reaching Out for Help

If your best efforts (change of home structure, counseling, intervention, etc) aren’t working out like you had hoped, and your child’s action are placing them in greater danger, you may need to consider coming to one of our Families in Crisis Conferences or placing your child in the Heartlight residential program.  We all respond differently to different people.  Parents, it might help if you can have someone else come in and work with your child in a different way.  This will help give you, and the rest of the family, a break.  And it can help you calm down emotionally so you can start thinking a little bit straighter.

Despite the pain involved, I don’t fear when kids run away, because it either points to the problem that can now be dealt with, or moves a child to come to his senses and start making better decisions.  It takes them to the end of themselves.  When there isn’t any other option, the kids realize how important their family is to them.  And they will only come back home if the family leaves the light on for them.

To find out more about Heartlight and check out resources that can help you, go to www.parentingtodaysteens.org.  Listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens weekend broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas.  Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

Experimenting With Drugs

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in anger management, at-risk teens, boundaries, consequences, counseling, depression, family conflict, intervention, Mark Gregston, parenting communications, parenting older teens, Parenting Tweens, substance abuse, Teen alcohol abuse, teen drug use, troubled teens

prodigalIf you’ve seen an unexplainable or drastic change in your teenager’s honesty, grades, behavior, attentiveness, or friends, it may not be hormones.  It could be that they are experimenting with intoxicating substances that are as close as your kitchen drawer, medicine cabinet or garage.

It used to be that older teens were most susceptible to drug experimentation, but kids today are experimenting earlier and earlier.  In fact, 10 to 14 year-olds are now the most likely to begin experimenting with one intoxicating substance or another.

One fad is a throwback to the 60’s hippie culture, marked by an increased popularity, availability and use of marijuana (pot), as well as the more seriously addicting 60′s drugs like heroin and LSD (acid).  Today’s pot is several times more potent than it was just a few years ago and heroin is even more accessible in some schools today than alcohol.

Illegal drugs get a lot of news coverage, but there are literally thousands of less sinister, but potentially more dangerous, ways for kids to get high, including:  potent concoctions of common household glues, solvents and aerosols, prescription pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin, or even some of the plants found in your yard.  Some kids even get a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins.

Most teens think they’re invincible, so their drug history is their badge of courage.  They learn about every source of intoxication from the Internet and then try them one after another.  So, they could be experimenting with huffing aerosol propellants, glues, gasoline, or paint.  Or, they could be crushing cold medications and sniffing them like cocaine or guzzling liquid cold medicines.  They could be taking your prescription drugs or taking nothing at all and just playing the “choking game” to get a temporary high from near asphyxiation.  Still others show their courage by experimenting with the harder drugs like ecstasy, crystal meth, crack, cocaine, LSD, or heroin, which are all highly addictive.

When Does It Start?

When I ask kids in our counseling program the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade; and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs or alcohol when staying overnight at a friend’s home or other overnight youth event; or, at their friend’s house after school when their parents weren’t home.  Others were introduced to drugs or alcohol when attending parties … usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or don’t care.

Fact is, parents today who allow their teenagers to stay overnight with friends may be putting their teen in peril.  After the parents are asleep, the kids try to outdo each other in regard to how far they will go, armed with the latest vices from the Internet.  That’s why I recommend putting a stop to slumber parties at age ten.  Stop at age 10 for a couple of years …..slumber parties where the crowd influence is greater than just sleeping at someone’s house.  From then on, the normally innocent agenda of pizza and pillow fights tends to shift to more sinister things these days.

By the time most parents first discover their child is using drugs, the child has usually been involved for several years.  But if parents can be diligent in keeping their kids from experimenting with intoxicating substances before age 14, they’ll be less likely to get started at all, so it’s important to be the most vigilant in the critical tween and early teen years.

The Addicted Teen

There’s obviously a difference between experimenting with drugs and being addicted.  However, experimenting is no less dangerous, since we hear stories every day of deaths of first-time users.  And some drugs are so addictive, that they can lead to a lifetime addiction with their very first use.

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager’s drug addiction.  Just watch a few episodes of the show “Intervention” on television and you’ll see what dealing with an addict is like.  It’s a constant nightmare, not just for an addict, but for the entire family.  The lying, stealing, fits of anger, run-ins with the law and constant fear that the child will overdose can destroy and bankrupt a family.  And it won’t get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict’s entire life.

Sadly, each year more than a million teenagers need to go into substance abuse treatment programs.  And just like alcoholism, many of them will struggle with that addiction throughout their entire life.  That’s why it’s far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.

Why Do They Experiment?

Kids are usually motivated to experiment with drugs by curiosity and the need to fit in.  They want to try what their friends are trying, and they have a great need to belong.

Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain.  In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses they are feeling.  For instance, many kids use marijuana to reduce their anxiety, but medical studies show that the prolonged use of the drug has the opposite effect, leading to heightened anxiety, depression, nervousness, mental disorders, paranoia and panic attacks.  While some parents diminish the seriousness of use of marijuana, they should pay attention to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says are the effects of its prolonged use.  They report it can cause, “… impaired attention, memory problems, diminished learning capacity, interference with the formation of memories and the ability to retain knowledge, a general apathy toward life events, poor coordination, diminished interpersonal skills, and poor judgment.”

Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate.  Teens with more serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of “Russian Roulette.”  They reason, “If I die, then so be it.”  Not a week goes by that I don’t receive a message from a parent or grandparent, heartbroken that their teen overdosed and died.

Signs of Drug Use

There are many signs of substance abuse that a parent should watch for, but the only way to know for sure is to take your teenager to get a full-spectrum drug and alcohol test (a test for many types of drugs).  To be sure, have it done professionally by a local lab that processes tests for businesses.  Give your teen little forewarning to prepare for the test, since they can usually find ways on the Internet to falsify the results.

A substance abuse test is warranted if you see any of these signs:

Masking – you notice that they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask drug use.

Increased lying – not just once or twice, but chronic dishonesty, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and marked decrease in hygiene.

An unusual odor on clothes or in the room — frequent use of incense or deodorizers to mask the smell, frequent use of eye drops (to alleviate bloodshot eyes), extended periods locked alone in their room or the bathroom, frequent use of the garage or shed or other vacant buildings.

Change in friends – your teen exchanges healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to questionable people you don’t even know.  They may even run away, or disappear with their new friends for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth — shoplifting, credit card abuse, valuables disappearing from the home without explanation.  Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house or out camping.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

Drug paraphernalia — pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, empty aerosol cans, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, empty liquid cold remedy bottles, cold remedy blister packs, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons used for crushing and sniffing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Dropping grades– lack of care for school, sports or other healthy pursuits.

Drugs May Be the Behavior Issue

It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame drug use on teenage rebellion, but it could be that drugs are what’s affecting your child’s behavior.  The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place.  This is simply denial.  Until a parent understands the real possibility of drugs use — even if their teen has good Christian friends and is active in church — they won’t be able to get to the root of the problem.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether.  And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.  I’ve found that parents with kids in Christian schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem.  After all, they are in a “safe” environment, right?  Wrong!  Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that the drug problem is more prevalent, not less, in the Christian schools they’ve attended than in public schools.

Before Counseling, Get the Drug Use Under Control

Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager’s system.  Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months.  That’s why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program.  We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of.  Likewise, don’t attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system.  It’s a waste of money and time.  The best plan is to have the two therapies work hand in hand, ensuring that the ongoing support of an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program continue in tandem with your teen’s counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.

If your teen is showing any of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen.  Make it a prerequisite for using the car.  Hold them accountable to the results, just as if a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation.  Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don’t trust them.  Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store that can be used for regular monitoring.  And when you test them, stay in the room.  Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample.  If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail.  Better a few days in jail and a time on probation where they’ll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.

Don’t stick your head in the sand or otherwise pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs.  If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are most likely dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol or other intoxicating substances in one form or another.  The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

 

When It’s Time to Act

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, bullying, christian boarding schools, consequences, counseling, family conflict, God's Will, intervention, Links to Heartlight, Mark Gregston, parenting, parenting communications, Single Parenting, struggling teens, teen communications, troubled teens

prodigalFor parents, there is no worse feeling than watching your child spin out of control while nothing you do seems to make any difference.  If your teenager’s behavior is giving you feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear, I would like to offer you some suggestions.

First, stop what you are doing and start a new way of thinking in regard to how you are handling the situation.  Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  If your home is feeling a little insane these days, perhaps you need to change how it operates.

Start in a new direction by first talking to others, like your friends, pastor, youth minister, your parents, your child’s teachers, and the rest of the family.  You need to gain wisdom and a sense of reality regarding the situation.  Are you blowing it out of proportion, or perhaps not even noticing how bad it has become?  Is your teenager just acting out at home, or are they behaving even worse when away from home?  People around you will know, and they can help you gain perspective.

Accepting the reality of the problem is difficult for some parents.  They won’t acknowledge it because to them it would be accepting responsibility for failure.  Others tend to see just the good and believe no wrong in their children.  They are blinded to what everyone around them can already see; that is, until it becomes a full blown crisis or tragedy.  So when you come to a right “realization,” don’t hesitate to begin your search for a resolution by validating your suspicions with those around you.  They know what’s going on and will be glad that you finally see the light.

WHAT IS AN “OUT OF CONTROL TEEN”? An out of control teenager is one who doesn’t appear to have the internal ability to function within established boundaries and rules of the home or society. Their behaviors, if allowed to continue, could have dangerous or grave consequences for them physically, for their future, or for your family.

When Is It Time to Act?

I’m sure you wish this situation wasn’t at your doorstep.  But it is, so you have to act on your child’s behalf.  And no matter how lonely it might be, or how difficult it might appear; no matter what your child’s response, you must act quickly.

STEP ONE:  INVESTIGATE

It is critical to ask questions to get to the root of what is causing your child’s change in behavior.  Is he depressed?  Is he being bullied, abused, or using drugs or alcohol?  Has a major loss happened in your family recently?  Most of the time, parents find out way too late about underlying causes of a child’s behavior.  Communication is key at this time.  If the lines of communication are down, then re-establish them—forcing communication if need be.  Require time from your child to discuss how they’re doing before you pay their next car insurance bill, give them gas money, or hand over the keys to the car.  Determine to establish the lines of communication and make sure you ask lots of questions.

Find out how your child is acting outside of the home.  Talk to your child’s teachers and coaches, kids at church, your own parents, your siblings, their siblings, your friends, their friends, their youth minister and just about anyone who has had contact with your child.  See if they have any insights into why your child’s behavior has changed.  In fact, if your teen’s friends show up at your home, don’t be afraid to ask them what’s going on.  Some will be honest, as they might be just as concerned as well.  Just make sure you ask questions, and ask everyone to be honest with you.

STEP TWO:  SET BOUNDARIES

Establish and communicate clear boundaries for behavior by all members of your family (not just your wayward teen).  Determine what you hold to be true and the principles upon which you will base your rules for living.  Communicate and live by these boundaries, rather than “shooting from the hip” every time something comes up.  Make a policy and procedure manual for your home, so everyone knows what to expect.  Spend some time determining how you want to live and put some feet to it to ensure that all understand those boundaries.

STEP THREE:  ESTABLISH AND ENFORCE CONSEQUENCES

Once boundaries are in place, there must be reasonable consequences for inappropriate behavior, and they must be enforced, or your credibility goes right out the window.  And keep in mind that they must be enforced for all members of the family, not just your teen, so they don’t feel singled out.

Parents today tend to be so relational that they find it hard to send a strong message to “not go this way” for fear of losing their relationship.  But what most parents don’t understand is that kids do want direction, correction and help in moving through the transition to adulthood.  Tom Landry once said, “A coach makes people do things they don’t want to do so they can get to a place where they do want to be.”  Parents must do the same for their children.

STEP FOUR:  GET OUTSIDE HELP

“He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  — Chinese Proverb 

Perhaps your child’s issues are deeper and they’ll need professional counseling or medication to get through it.  And maybe you’ll need counseling to get through it as well.  Find a good Christian counselor that specializes in teen behavior, and trust what they recommend.  If you’re going to pick and choose the counsel you receive, then you’ll more than likely just continue to do what you want, and your child will continue to spin out of control.  Don’t let old beliefs about medicine control your new decisions that have to be made for your child.  If your child is depressed or anxious, has ADD, or OCD, can’t sleep at night, is bi-polar, or has a true mental condition that demands medication, don’t let your outdated boundaries prevent your child from getting help from something that is essential to their well being.

Hospitalization may even be needed if you feel that your child is a danger to himself or herself.  Extreme cutting, eating disorders, bizarre behavior, extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, or excessive drug or alcohol abuse are just a few of the symptoms that might warrant hospitalization.  Don’t hesitate to hospitalize your child just because you don’t know what it is.  It’s better to be safe than sorry.

When Nothing is Working

In the event that your teen is running away or otherwise hitting bottom, and counseling is going nowhere, you may need to place your teen in a therapeutic program outside of your home for a time.  This is not the time to spend mulling over where your parenting has gone wrong.  It’s time for action, when your child could damage his life and possibly make choices with grave consequences.  After you’ve had time to get good counsel (hopefully from quite a few people) and you’ve had some time to think it through, start to put an intervention plan into action.

A therapeutic program or facility away from home will get them away from their peers, drugs and other influences.  It will give the whole family a time of rest and regrouping.  It will offer the teen a fresh perspective and a concentrated, focused way of dealing with their issues.  Yes, it’s a “last ditch” effort, to be initiated when all other options and attempts to help your child have been exhausted, but for some kids, it can be a lifesaver.  Over the past 20 years, some 3,000 kids have come to live with us a Heartlight (http://www.heartlightministries.org) for 9 to 12 months at a time.  We daily work with them in a relational way to change their thinking and ambitions to more positive pursuits.

All therapeutic programs are not the same, and there is very little regulation or standards in therapeutic care for youth.  So do your homework.  Check out each program’s professional references.  Call the local Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints.  Get a list and call the parents who have had their child in the program recently.  If the program won’t allow you to call parents, then that may be a sign to look elsewhere.  And make sure the list they supply is made up of real parents, not just people trained to convince you to enroll in that program.

A therapeutic program isn’t an easy or inexpensive option for parents.  It can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  No doubt, it will be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make.  But one statement I hear from kids and from their parents over and over is this:  “If I (they) didn’t come to Heartlight, I think I (they) would have been dead or in prison by now.” 

It’s a harsh reality to send a child off to be cared for elsewhere.  But that reality pales when you consider the possibilities or outcomes of your child’s current behavior and how such behavior could ruin his or her life.  What you are giving him or her is something that can’t be found in the current home setting.  You are loving them in a way that perhaps you haven’t loved them before.  It’s tough to think that they’ll have to miss some of their time in the local high school, and may never graduate there.  But it’s a good decision if it will save your child.

Don’t ignore what is happening in your family.  Though you undoubtedly hope it will just go away, it won’t likely do so without a major change in the way your home operates, or placement of the teen in a therapeutic program away from home, especially if the behavior has already been going on for many months.  And if you think the problem will disappear when your child turns 18, think again.  It won’t disappear; it will likely get worse and linger well into adulthood if it is not dealt with earlier.  Just envision the chaos in your home from having your teenager still living with you at age 35, either because they continue to be addicted to drugs or they can’t find a job because they were arrested and have a record.  That’s a reality in more homes today than you might imagine.

Consider this … if God’s timing is perfect, and I believe it is, these issues are happening at this time in your life for a reason.  So take advantage of it, and do what you need to do.  And know that this time of trouble will one day be over.  II Corinthian 4:17 states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  I would put an emphasis on “momentary.”

This struggle may last awhile, but it won’t last long – not if you take the necessary steps to correct it now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.