By Leslie Davis
Whether your teens are in treatment for substance abuse, eating disorders, video game addictions, depression or behavioral issues, your participation is going to be important to their full recovery.
Participating means more than just finding an appropriate adolescent treatment center that can help your teens address their issues. It means taking an active role in helping your teens make needed changes, and offering them the support they will inevitably need when they return home from a treatment center, boarding school or wilderness therapy program.
“For kids to be successful at home, parents need to make changes themselves,” said Jason Drake, LCSW, a clinical program manager at Island View residential treatment center for adolescents in Syracuse, Utah. “Both the parents and the kids need to be invested.”
Without family involvement, teens are likely to return to their old patterns and behaviors once they return home. Getting involved with your teens’ experience can help reinforce their new positive behaviors, teach you new ways to communicate with them and help the entire family work on ways to support each other once your teens return home.
1. Participate in family therapy offered as part of your teens’ treatment.
A good treatment center will make family therapy an integral part of any teen’s recovery. Treatment centers such as Island View will make family involvement a priority, getting them involved through weekly therapy sessions, quarterly parent seminars, multi-family group therapy and home visits. This can help make permanent any changes your teen made in therapy and keep you up-to-date on where your teens are with treatment.
Some adolescent treatment centers provide family therapy in a more immersive setting. SUWS, a wilderness program in southern Idaho, holds regular Family Camps for its students and their families. These five-day camps allow families to rebuild bonds, reestablish communication and demonstrate care and concern for one another, all while solidifying expectations for when students return home.
“Students have learned new skills and new ways to talk to mom and dad,” said Dan Kemp, director of admissions at SUWS. “Family Camp lets students practice their new knowledge and make more concrete the new skills they have learned.”
SUWS’ Family Camp integrates multi-family therapy, one-on-one family therapy and experiential therapies in a way that promotes team work and builds trust.
“It’s an immersion experience that supports students through their new learned experiences,” Kemp said. “We don’t just want to send students home and on their way.”
2. Offer input into your teens’ treatment plan.
When your teens enter a treatment center, therapists and treating staff will work together to come up with an individualized treatment plan for your teen based on their needs and what is being treated.
If possible, provide input into your teens’ treatment plan so that they can receive the most appropriate course of treatment. You know how your teens learn and listen, and you can share these and other insights with the treatment team for a more effective plan.
3. Make changes at home.
Your teens will learn new ways to cope while they are at a treatment center. When they return home, they will want to put those skills to use. If you are not equipped with the skills to support your teens and help them adapt to a new family dynamic, there is a chance they will return to old behaviors.
The changes you make at home will depend on what your teens received treatment for and what they are capable of handling. If your teens were treated for an eating disorder, you may have to rethink what foods you buy and serve. If your teen was treated for substance abuse, you may want to keep all alcohol out of your house to avoid temptation. If your teen was treated for a video game addiction, it may be wise to eliminate gaming systems or limit their use.
4. Offer support.
While your teens were in treatment, they were in a supportive environment that took them away from the stressors of daily life and allowed them to really focus on themselves and their issues. Returning home after such an intense experience can be overwhelming, and while you may not be able to physically be there for your teens 24 hours a day, you can always be supportive.
Talk to your teens about what their experience was like in treatment, what they learned about themselves and how they want to change. Then help them make those changes, and let them know that you are there to help them make positive improvements to their life any way you can. Let your teen knows that you are there to talk to whenever they feel themselves slipping into old habits or even if they just need to vent.
5. Help yourself.
A lot of times, getting involved with your teens’ recovery means recognizing that your own behaviors can influence your kids. That may mean having to seek treatment for your own issues, whether they involve marital problems, substance abuse, a mood disorder or another issue.
“Parents need to be active in the process, and recognize that there are things they need to change as well,” Drake said.
Unless parents get actively involved in the process of helping their teens, the skills teens learned through therapy will not be permanent. Take the steps necessary to participate in your teens’ recovery so they can focus on a healthier future.