Guiding Light: A Parent’s Guide To Supporting Adolescents In Treatment

Supporting a teenager who struggles with addiction can be a real challenge. You might feel unsure about what to do or say, and that’s okay. But here’s the thing: what you do matters big time. Even if your child doesn’t say it, your support is crucial for their recovery journey.

Being there for them can make all the difference, no matter what difficult thing your child is going through.  And your support can be a guiding light for them during a very dark time.

Although it can feel like they’re doing the work, your role is just as important. You’re like the backbone of their healing journey. We’re here to help you navigate treatment alongside your teenager, offering the support that truly counts.

Understanding Adolescent Mental Health

Whether stressed about school, feeling down about friendships, or something else, teenagers’ negative emotions can pile up quickly and make life feel really hard.

“ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression are the most

commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Even without mental health or addiction challenges, the teen years can be a tough time for some kids. That’s why it’s so important to take teenage mental health extremely seriously.

Talk to your teen regularly about how they manage complicated feelings and whether they feel overwhelmed.

Knowing when it’s time to talk to a professional can be tricky. If your teen starts acting differently—is always sad, angry, or withdrawn, this might be a sign something is up.

Mood swings are a part of the teenage years, but if your child is starting to have problems at school, their habits change, they start using substances, or talk about harming themselves, these are red flags.

A professional—like a therapist, doctor, or counselor can help you figure out what’s going on and guide you on the next steps, whether that’s treatment or just some extra support. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Teens and addiction

When anyone relies too much on something, like drugs or alcohol, it can start to mess up their life. Because their brains are still developing, teens can get especially caught up in this dependence. It’s not just about the substance. It’s about how it affects their entire world, from school to friends to home life.

Sometimes, it’s hard for teens to talk about what they’re going through. But as parents, we are responsible for asking the right questions and staying on top of what’s happening in their lives.

By learning more about mental health and addiction, you can better understand what they might be dealing with. And that understanding can help you best support them during treatment.

You don’t need all the answers—that’s what their treatment team is for. You should feel supported throughout this journey to support your teenager.

Does My Child Need Treatment?

Knowing if or when your teen needs professional help can be challenging. As a parent, you want to be the one to help them. But sometimes, they need more than you can give. And talking with a professional who is an expert on teen mental health or substance use can be critical.

There’s no shame in asking for help for your child, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a parent. It’s in their best interest and could be life-changing or even life-saving. It means you care enough to get them the help they need.

Some signs your teen may need treatment:

  • Their mental health seems to be getting worse, and they use drugs or alcohol to cope.
  • Their substance use affects their daily life; they have trouble focusing on school, you notice their friendships suffering, or they are always in trouble.
  • You’ve tried talking about their substance use, but things aren’t getting better.
  • They are putting themselves in risky situations or talking about self-harm.

The Role Of Parents While Their Teen Is In Treatment

Your involvement and support during the treatment process is a vital piece of the puzzle. Be prepared to participate actively in family therapy sessions and regularly engage with your child’s treatment team.

Effective communication strategies

Talking about mental health and addiction with your teen isn’t always going to be easy. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable talking to you, and choose an appropriate time to approach these sensitive topics. Let them know you’re there for them, no matter what.

Practice active listening by giving your child your full attention, not interrupting, and trying to understand their feelings. Repeat what they’re saying so they know you’re listening to them.

Encourage open dialogue and let them know they can talk to you about anything they’re going through and don’t take it personally. Be open and honest, share your feelings, and encourage them to do the same.

Your teen wants you to be proud of them, so have a judgment-free zone when discussing sensitive topics. This safe space helps them feel comfortable opening up without worrying about getting in trouble or disappointing you.

Collaborate with the treatment team

Your child’s treatment team will be your go-to for support and guidance. Be sure to understand the treatment plan they set up. Ask questions, stay involved, and work with them to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Communication is key. Participate in family sessions with your child’s therapists, counselors, and medical professionals, as their team recommends.

If you have a gut feeling, go with it. Advocating for your child’s needs within the treatment program can make a big difference. But try not to interfere with the plan. Remember, it’s their job to help your child, so let them do that.

Following the legal requirements is essential if your child is in treatment due to a court mandate. However, as a parent, you still have the right to decide about your teen’s well-being and the authority to pull them out of treatment if you think it’s in their best interest.

Before making any big decisions, consider discussing with their team as it will significantly impact your child’s treatment plan. It’s essential to understand the potential legal implications beforehand and put your child’s welfare first.

Prepare To Support Them After-Treatment

Your child will get so much support during treatment, but when they come home, the real work begins. Staying involved in their progress after treatment can help significantly.

Stay connected with their treatment team and understand their role in your child’s post-treatment care. Ensure your teen attends appointments and follows the team’s guidance for a smooth home transition after treatment.

Create a supportive home environment

Establish routines and create a stable environment for your child to thrive after they get home. Create a space where they can feel secure, understood, and supported.

Encourage and model healthy habits like proper nutrition, regular exercise, and healthy sleep habits. No one is perfect, so if you need to work on this too, try to work on it together. It’s an excellent opportunity to bond with your teen.

Set boundaries and offer encouragement

Balancing your support and proper boundaries after your teen comes home from treatment is key. It’s crucial to set clear and fair boundaries with your teen, like curfew or rules about drugs and alcohol.

Identify and avoid any enabling behaviors. Don’t make excuses for or cover up your child’s mistakes. Stand firm on your boundaries, and don’t give in when they’re doing something harmful.

Don’t forget to acknowledge the good! Be their biggest cheerleader. Encourage your child’s positive behaviors and celebrate their progress, big and small.

Be aware of their triggers

Pay attention to what might upset your teen, act out, or tempt them to return to harmful behaviors. These could be school or friends, including you, their other parent, or another family member. Work together to manage or avoid their triggers if possible.

It’s okay to acknowledge that our behavior or our past interactions might unintentionally upset or trigger our children. If this is the case, talk to your teen about how your actions or words affect them. Listen without getting defensive. If needed, seek guidance from a mental health therapist or direction from someone on their treatment team.

Your goal as a family should be to address issues and work toward healing family relationships. Your willingness to understand your teen and adjust can support their recovery in a big way.

The Importance Of Parental Self-Care

Treatment can be a stressful time for everyone. Try to recognize your emotions during the process. Although this is about helping your child, your well-being is important, too. You can’t properly care for them without caring for yourself.

Model healthy behaviors for your child to observe and work through family conflicts together. Family therapy is a part of treatment for many facilities. Use this to your advantage and educate yourself about supporting them best while in treatment and when they get home.

Lastly, prioritize your mental and emotional well-being.  Seek support for yourself if you need it. Show your teen it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s completely normal to ask for help, even before you need it. If you have the financial means, consider talking with a therapist regularly.

Remember, being active in your child’s recovery can positively impact them now and in the future. Plus, it will benefit your entire family unit. Trust us, it’s worth it.


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