Teen Addiction Anonymous
07/10/2012 by Susan Rothery
As a teen and family crisis counselor for thirty years, working with high schools and family service agencies to support education, recovery and healing, I can attest to the fact that we are in the midst of a major crisis. You may have become immune to the deluge of teen tragedies as you observe this in the media daily, but it is time to pay attention.
Today we are living in a world that appears to be redefining itself each minute. The sense of keeping any kind of "balance" is untouchable. Kids are being challenged at multiple levels, and we are losing them. Whether they are looking for support in gangs or abusive relationships; whether they are suffocating with depression leading to self-mutilation, eating-disorders, and other destructive habits; whether they are using drugs and alcohol, dropping out of school, simply "giving up", teens are looking desperately for a "way out" of the loneliness, pressure and instability that faces them each day.
We, as a society, have tried. Billions of dollars are put into "programs". There are businesses that offer credible, reliable "teen and parenting" information on a continuous basis and are readily available for the interested parent. Speakers, drug kits, research, clinics, counselors, social workers, assessments, evaluations and facilities are utilized within youth support programs, but we are hardly making a dent in the pattern of addictive behavior within this generation. Twenty percent of our teens admit to coming to school under an influence, thirty-five percent are binge drinkers, fifty percent smoke pot, and heroine is one of the many party drugs of choice. HEROINE, really? If this doesn't concern you... then you are immune to the catastrophic losses within this generation. You have forgotten that these are our children, our future.
Perhaps you are horrified. Good. Not all of us "get it". Most of us have survived in a world that surrounds us with addictive behavior. We simply choose to ignore it. We acknowledge some habits as being more "acceptable" than others. At least that is the message that we give our teens. If a teen is able to party every weekend, get decent grades, stay on the "team" and have cool friends... isn't that perfectly acceptable? Does it matter that he/she tries a few hits of coke, doesn't drink less than 6 to 8 beers at a time, secretly stays in an abusive relationship, cheats his/her way through school and/or drives around "high" now and then? Isn't this about survival of the fittest? Are we over reacting, unless a teen is arrested; a teen overdoses; a teen is found dead?
We have decided to wrap our brains around test scores. Sure, that is the answer. If our teens pass enough tests, then we are doing our job. Somehow the "rest" will go away. With their diploma, they will turn into responsible, productive citizens with a great future. Wrong. Graduating from high school can be an indicator of future success, but it is one part of the package deal. Unless we find a way to educate teens about finding their own sense of empowerment, in a world that offers a media slammed with abusive, narcissistic and shallow lifestyles, they will never be able to appreciate their own sense of value and will not find a way to process decisions with any sense of reason.
"Ok, I get it", you say. The question still remains, "What do we do?" It's not that we don't see what is coming down upon our children. We just don't know the answers. It's not that we haven't tried to reach out. We go through multiple motions, but working with a teen is tough. How do we "fix" anything, when often times, we are on a "survival" mode ourselves?
I have spent my entire career as an educator, counselor and mother, trying to find the answers along with all of you. I felt that my efforts created the "band-aid" effect. Sometimes, I was fortunate and a few words of advice or consoling seemed to take care of the problem. That was before my kids reached the age of 12. In reality, I (as a mom) wasn't "enough"; I just thought that I could be. No matter how you approach a teen, who is struggling with peer and life issues, you are NEVER quite enough. If you don't believe this, then you might be in denial. I know that I was.
I remember counseling one student, who had been abandoned as a child, who said to me, "No one ever gives me the answers that I am looking for. People try. I know that they care. But the pain never stops. It never gets better." Where do we possibly begin? How do we approach all of those kids who feel so alone, so trapped, so inundated with insecurity within a world that offers so few answers? We can no longer point to the "other" person's child, because some of those kids, despite our best efforts, are our own children.
So what do we do as parents? We hide behind our fears. We keep our kids busy. We sign them up for sports, music, drama, etc. We buy them all the things that we didn't have or we try to make up for their disappointments by being their close friend and, oh yes, we set fabulous goals for their future. And, by the way, these efforts don't always work. Sometimes, we pretend that all is well when it is not, or that problems will go away, when they don't. After all, they ARE teenagers, and weren't we just as confused? Maybe. But we also sense that our kids today face a new kind of danger, that they are surrounded by a type of violence, a sense of unrest, a lack of conscience.
And sadly enough, our fears are real.