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?
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: