Raising a teenager can be a challenge under the best circumstances.
But when a teenager’s addictions, learning disabilities, or emotional and behavioral issues become more than parents can bear, the young people often are placed in residential or wilderness treatment programs where professionals help them work through their issues.
Success can quickly unravel when the child returns home, though, if parents aren’t ready with a game plan to help with the transition.
“Parents often fear that their son or daughter is going to relapse into old, unhealthy or dangerous patterns,” says Dr. Tim R. Thayne, a marriage and family therapist and author of Not by Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment (www.drtimthayne.com).
“They have fears about how their child will connect socially with other people and whether they will find the right friends. They fear their teen will fall further behind in academics.”
Thayne suggests a few ways to help parents ease the transition:
- Identify natural mentors for your teen. A natural mentor – such as a neighbor, teacher, relative or coach – is typically more effective than an officially assigned mentor. “Studies suggest that most formal mentoring relationships last less than a year,” Thayne says. “In contrast, natural mentoring relationships, which come from the church, school, family and neighborhood, are far more durable, with the average lasting nine years.”
- Know when and how to grant back privileges and freedoms. Don’t let your teen pressure you into promising the return of certain privileges. Long before they come home, teens in treatment often begin asking what they are going to be able to do and how soon. “They want back the freedoms they once had, such as cell phone and car use, sleepovers, computer time, dating, time with friends and so forth,” Thayne says. “If there is ever a time not to buckle under pressure from your teen, it’s now while they are still in the program. If your teen is going to be angry, let the program deal with the fallout.” When they do come home, don’t make a rule you aren’t willing to back up. Consistency is key. Over time, as your trust grows, be ready to hand out rewards before being asked, but this doesn’t have to be done all at once. “Things can be handed out for a weekend trial, or at a level of 50 percent of what your child initially pushed for,” Thayne says.
- Find someone to talk with. “Parents should have someone they can open up to about their emotions,” Thayne says. He suggests finding a therapist or a coach who has experience working with parents in this situation. “That counselor will be better equipped to help you through this transition,” he says. “Nothing will surprise them; not your fears, not your questions, not your situation.” In addition to an expert coach, Thayne says, it also helps to have a trusted friend you can vent to as well.
“Long-term success doesn’t come about by chance, by hoping or simply because you shelled out a lot of money and sent your child away to get help,” Thayne says. “It requires work and changes on your part, and it takes a concrete plan.”
(Dr. Tim R. Thayne, a marriage and family therapist, is author of Not By Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and Out of Treatment. He also is the founder and CEO of Homeward Bound, a leading program in early intervention and in-home transition from treatment services for families of troubled teens. He has a master’s degree from Brigham Young University and a doctoral degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Virginia Tech.)