Wooton: Parents need to call it the way it is

By Will Wooton

One of the hardest concepts for parents to understand is the mindset of a teenage addict. How — despite all things seemingly going wrong — can someone still make poor choices with their life especially when all arrows point toward a path of, at best, an unhappy and unhealthy life?

Will Wooton

Drugs and alcohol, poor school performance, attitude or defiance of rules in the home are all symptoms of addiction. Yet one of the hardest concepts for parents seems to be the “If my teen just [gets a job] [plays a sport] …” idea.

Getting a job or playing a high school sport is great but will never address an issue of addiction. This combined with treatment at the proper time, sure; as a substitution, never. Yet I have had this discussion every week for more than 15 years with parents and it’s always the same reasoning. “My child is so down it helps their self-esteem. I know that they aren’t happy (or they are depressed) and this helps them.”

This simply isn’t so! Healthy self-esteem comes from not just accomplishing something like a job or being a varsity athlete, but having the integrity and character to accompany these acts. Core internal values produce a healthy sense of self-worth and only then can you add in external acts to build self-esteem. Without the first, the second will never last.

Lying, stealing and cheating are the makeup of addiction. If your teen does these things, no amount of practices or paychecks will change that. Proper treatment is needed.

Call it the way it is. Does your teen steal? Then they are a thief. Do they lie? Then they are liars. Do they manipulate to achieve what they want without thought or care for others? Then, and most parents don’t like to believe this, your teen is a scumbag. No parent wants to believe this about their child but must force themselves to step away from their parental role and hopefully see the truth. Now no one has ever explained to me how working or sports changes being a scumbag. How can you build self-esteem when you live only for yourself and devalue others? You can’t. Yet, if you look at addiction, this is exactly what it does — changes good people into liars, thieves and manipulators — and no amount of after-school activity will change that.

The good news is that great treatment can change these behaviors. Breaking down a person’s defenses to address the real core issues are what it is all about. Challenging these behaviors through reality and confrontation is the only way to break the cycle. Overprotection and giving excuses to your child’s behavior only makes it worse. Self-esteem will happen once integrity returns. Allow your teen to hit bottom and get the help they need. Don’t shield them from their actions and, at all costs, don’t justify their behavior.

Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company working with teens and young adults. Website: www.PacificTreatmentServices.com.

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Posted by Staff on Dec 5 2012. Filed under Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

27 Comments for “Wooton: Parents need to call it the way it is”

  1. Marsha Hester

    This is so right on so many times have I seem my kids friends parents make excuses for horrible behavior. Why do parents feel such a need to cover up and protect their children. Is there some core psychological reason for this? Does Mr Wooton have appointments to answer these type of questions?

  2. Michelle

    Great advice! Not easy to accept advice, but great!! I've heard many kids Will has advised that have turned around mention if they had been given a hug and a pep talk it never would have inspired change. Real talk (often in stern but compassionate tones) and reality are what inspire change! Parenting is a gift but it also is a repsponsibility and job that must be taken seriously. Good parents do what's best not what "feels" best! Our kids deserve no less that every opportunity to excell and become the person they were destined to be. I seriously doubt that was a drug addict or alcoholic! Be firm and seek support parents. I've seen it work and experienced the profound change that comes with proper treatment.

  3. Angry

    It's people like you that drive kids to smoke hard drugs. Calling them names and such. How do you stand yourself.

    • Heather

      It is hard to call it like it is, but if you don't, your addict will continue down the road that they are on. Wake up! Or maybe you don't know what it is like to be lied to constantly, manipulated daily, had thousands of dollars worth of money, electronics, and jewelry stolen from you and your family, and being held hostage by your child's addiction. Call it out or continue to be a door mat and possibly watch your child die! He is not saying to berate and name call. He is saying do not enable, coddle, and rename these behaviors.

    • Garrett

      If name calling made kids do drugs, we would have a lot more addicts in the world, get over it. People aren't as weak as your saying.

  4. Enabler Hater

    I love how Mr. Wooton tells it like it is. I can't stand the amount of coddling I see going on with kids who don't need to be shielded, they need some life lessons and sense!

  5. Paula

    Parents: if what you have been doing has not helped your situation…why not listen to Will Wooten? He knows what he is talking about. Ask the many parents who have turned their lives and their children's lives around and are once again a healthier and happier family because of Mr. Wooten's professional advice.

  6. eyeswideopen

    People love their fantasies, reality is hard and often it sucks. If I pretend my kids are fine, and then I close my eyes to anything that says they are not, maybe they will be. Or I could make up excuses for their behavior such as, they are just kids, they are having a hard time, or, it is just a phase. I empathize with parents using these tactics because I used them too. I thought I was being kind and compassionate, but really I was being cruel, watching my loved ones suffer while I stuck my head in the sand.

  7. Heather

    Sometimes it is hard to really look at a situation for what it is, especially when it comes to your child. Yes, calling their behaviors out is difficult, yes it is hard to look at your child as a liar, thief, or manipulator, but continuing to protect, sweep under the rug, and make excuses for your child is enabling them to continue keeping you hostage. Is it name calling, or is it taking control? When is enough, enough? When do you stop being a hostage to your teen? Parents need to stop with the "cool" parent b.s. and be a parent and not a friend!! Mr. Wooten's expertise and professional advice needs to be taken advantage of, or your teen becomes an adult addict or dead. Wake up and be thankful for people who can help you, like Mr. Wooten.

  8. RB mom

    Soooo true! More parents need to face the reality of what they are doing and take control.

  9. Parent in Training

    My parents (now in their 80's) were model parents. They were both teachers and they understood adolescent motivation and behavior. They set expectations and held true to the consequences. They were not friends–they were in charge. But yet you knew they would always support you (not make excuses for you) when you needed it. I don't know when we lost our moral backbones as parents and lowered our expectations of our kids, but I believe those of us (myself included) who have fallen into this trap are doing a disservice to the futures of our kids. Our kids need clear expectations from their parents, especially as it relates to being an accretive member of society, giving back at least as much as they are taking. And we as parents need to stand strong in holding them to those expectations. So I agree with Will Wooton that if my child steals, lies, or manipulates, I need to call a spade a spade. This is the first step that is required in order to course correct.

  10. Mom of 3

    Mr. Wooton,
    What about the old theory that parents should address the behavior and call it a name, not the child him/herself a name. example: "You are acting like a liar." and then I might say "I want MY son/daughter BACK!"

    • Mom of 3

      Now that I think of it… When I tried to be diplomatic with my kid he heard only what HE wanted to hear, and misunderstood me. I had to be very concise, with no room for misinterpretation. Sooo now that I've thought about it, Maybe Mr Wooton is right.

    • Susan

      My child does not act like a liar. She lies constantly. I'm not doing her any favors by saying it's an act.

  11. Kelly

    This is so true Will, I was that parent that was in such denial and felt like my job was to protect my son. I just wanted to help him feel better about himself, what ever it took. I didn't want to face the music and just hoped and prayed he would start feeling better about himself if he just got a job or played on the traveling basketball team. Well after many sleepless nights and finding out he was just getting high while on the job and fired to playing high on the basketball team to getting let go, did we really start to look at his addiction and accountability for his actions. We needed to stop making excuses and start having consequences for his actions. He needed to hear about himself and yes Will I did come to find out and realize my son was all of the above a liar, a cheat and a thief. A total scum bag!! Its so important to be on the same page with your spouse and not let your teen manipulate you and play each other against one another. They are very good at that and find ways to buck the family system .

  12. Kelly

    . Stay strong seek help from some kind of support group where you can get honest with yourself about your teen and they can then hear about them selves. only then will things start to change with your family and teen. They need to work on the inside out. Sobriety should be number one in their life. They will have plenty of time to get a job first things first! It will be the best thing you could ever do for your teen is seek out a support group that confronts their behavior and addiction. Tough love.

  13. LostinColorado

    Losing sight of reality is easy to do, just bringing it back down to earth will, thanks

  14. Laurie

    Another great article! I agree 100%.

  15. Weak Mom No More

    My son laughs now at parents that cower to their kid's feelings. He tells me if I had not put him in a program that pointed out to him that he was being a scumbag, that he wouldn't be a clean, college attending, happy teen he is today. He would have NEVER responded to anyone asking him about his feelings. He would have just put them in the category of all the adults he could manipulate! Today he points out to younger kids that they too are scumbags and they need to grow up and be grateful for what their parents give them. Had Will given him a hug and asked him why he was a liar, that would have never worked.

  16. Mom of 3

    Mr. Wooton,

    I would add sneaking to lying cheating and stealing. This was the first thing I noticed as a parent.

  17. Former Powegian

    I would say Will was to easy on the parents (maybe because you don't want to alienate your customers). If we are going to call things like they are, there is no reason to stop with our kids. Will argued that in making excuses for our children or holding ideas such as "If my teen just [gets a job] [plays a sport]", parents are doing something wrong. Now contrast parents doing something" wrong" (constructively implied) with kids being "scumbags". I am all for calling a spade, a spade, but this should extend to the parents. If they are enablers, they need to admit it before progress can be made.

  18. NicholAscota

    Good article. Will makes many valid points. I think, and I know that I am no expert, that self esteem issues stems from parenting. I look at myself as a child/teen; my stepfather was not the greatest "father figure" out there, but even at a young age, he was always teaching me how to do the things that he knew how to do (working on cars, riding motorcycles, how to use a lathe, etc). I don't think that either one of us realized it at the time, but what he was doing was improving my self esteem. I was doing things that none of the other kids/teens were doing or knew how to do.

    I do not see how playing sports can improve self esteem. I think it can do the exact opposite. When you play sports, you are always competing to be the best, not only against rivals, but against your own teammates as well. So you end up being a star athlete, and you make many achievements, with plenty of trophies to display on the wall, none of that really comes from within, and that would be where self esteem comes from. I will say that playing sports does build teamwork skills that the individual can go far with in life.

  19. ingrid

    My child started stealing money out of my wallet. Until that moment when he was un abashedly stealing from me, I could totally see my stupid ass taking him to the shooting range, just trying to re
    connect. Our hopes for our children may not ever be fulfilled. I got to the point where I realised that I was allowing him to treat me in ways that I would never put up with from anyone else in my life. Don't be a doormat. I know it's a shot to the heart. None of us ever expects that our kid's may need special attention, unfortunately so many do.

  20. jearuiz01

    Alcoholism may be a type of disease, current research shows it is. But a “lifestyle disease” is a lot different than other diseases. It is not a disease like cancer, you can not possibly choose to stop having cancer. And I, at least, will always believe that you can possibly choose to not drink alcohol. It may be incredibly hard for many people to make that choice, but it is a choice as far as I am concerned. If I came up with steps one of the early ones would involve taking responsibility for your actions, just like everyone else is supposed to do for all the other things they do

  21. Call it the way it is. Does your teen steal? Then they are a thief.

  22. No parent wants to believe this about their child but must force themselves to step away from their parental role and hopefully see the truth.

  23. iglobalnews.com

    Teenage is the age at which the parents have to take more care about their child. There are many chances for them to get into many troubles and traps such as alcohols, drugs etc. Thanks for sharing your views on this topic.

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