After the wake-up call

Teens need to understand the extent to which their life is off kilter.

Rebellious teen and worried mother (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Rebellious teen and worried mother (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
In my last article, I wrote about identifying the elephant in the room – dysfunction in our children.
What happens next? Once the elephant is identified, we have no choice but to deal with it.
If we are dealing with a dysfunctional teen or young adult who is still living at home, we have to help them see how their condition affects them and others in the household. If they live away from home, it is a bit more challenging, but still needs to be addressed.
Just as we wouldn’t let a child run into the street, we have to help our kids see the dangers of the direction they are heading and help them come up with solutions that will make their lives and ours more manageable.
Doing nothing is not doing them any favors, as uncomfortable as it might be.
It is our responsibility to help our kids see the reality of their condition and understand exactly what their behaviors look like, how the world around them sees them and what they can do about it.
One way to assist our kids in monitoring their functionality is to have them keep a log of their daily accomplishments. The log can look like this:
1. When did I get up in the morning, and did I have a restful sleep?
2. What did I eat today, and were my meals healthy and at a normal hour?
3. Did I exercise today, and how did I feel afterward?
4. What did I accomplish today?
5. What issues did I have to deal with today that were troubling for me, and how did I deal with them?
6. Were my thoughts positive ones for the most part, and when negative thoughts entered my mind, was I able to turn them around?
7. What positive things did I do for myself today to make it a good day, such as connect with a friend, play music, listen to music, draw, read, play a game, meditate, stretch/yoga, etc.?
8. Did I spend my money wisely and keep track of what I spent?
9. Did I reach out to help someone else today?
10. Did I take the time to learn something new?
11. Did I set a goal for myself, and if so, did I reach it?
By helping our kids keep track of what their functioning truly looks like, we can help them see the extent to which their life is off-kilter, and identify exactly what they need to work on. We can only begin to assist them in getting the help they truly need when they themselves understand what those needs are.
Once the problematic child is aware of his dysfunction and it is out in the open, he can feel more comfortable in enlisting the assistance of the entire family to help him progress toward a healthier life.
Unfortunately many of us have stigmas when it comes to seeking professional help. It is hard to admit that there is a problem we can’t deal with on our own or as a family.
Having the child, no matter what age, share the answers to questions like the ones above gives everyone a better understanding of what needs to be dealt with.
In treatment, one always starts with the lighter solution unless the problem is life-threatening. First we try weekly therapy, and if that is not enough, we find an appropriate day treatment program. Supervision in an inpatient/residential setting is the last resort.
Although the family will certainly benefit from consulting a private professional, sometimes involving a mental health center through your medical plan is necessary to provide a comprehensive program.
At a local mental health center, your child can receive individual, family and group therapy, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, alternative approaches such as play and art therapy, and other services. Some of these centers also offer day treatment programs, and if they do not have the facilities you need, they can refer you to the right services.
Different health insurance providers are associated with different treatment centers. It is often helpful to sit with your family doctor to get advice as to where to start. Always keep in mind that secrets keep a family sick, so no information should be kept from the family doctor.
It’s important that you feel comfortable with the professionals in question. They should include you in the child’s treatment, no matter the child’s age, so you can share what you are experiencing outside of the treatment setting and track the progress. If your young adult is over 18, you need his or her agreement for the professional to share the information with you – though whether or not your child agrees, it is imperative that you relay all pertinent information about his or her dayto- day progress to the professional. We are not healthcare professionals, and even if we are, we cannot do that for our own kids. However, we can – and often do – act as their case workers, making sure that all of the services are being provided and that our kids are cooperating and benefiting from the process.
At the same time, it is always helpful to have a family counselor outside of the system who is familiar with the system, to help direct you. We do not naturally know what to do to help our kids. An effective counselor meets with the parents and the troubled family member, sometimes together and sometimes apart. Everyone needs to be on the same page for treatment to be effective.
Our kids need to know that we will not tolerate them wasting their lives away, and that we expect them to get the help they need and stick with it. Organizations such as Enosh and Milam provide family support groups as well as counseling sessions for parents. Self-help groups can be found in the back of this supplement. Sitting with other parents dealing with similar issues can give us the essential support we need, both by enabling us to learn from their experiences and by offering a safe setting in which to vent our feelings.
If you get only one thing out of this article, I hope it is that there are solutions for your child. As they say in AA, “it works if you work it.” Awareness, honesty, treatment, collaboration with professionals, follow-up, follow-through, family involvement and support for the family are the keys to getting our loved ones the help that they need.
The writer is an addiction counselor counseling teens, young adults and parents. She is also the founder of the Sobar alcohol-free live music bar for teens and young adults.