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Addictions... Guidelines for Parents to Stop Enabling and Disengage
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In the last section, we discussed the four steps parents of teenage addicts can take to get support for themselves. These are learning about chemical dependence, joining a support group for parents, making time for personal needs, and gathering information on the teen’s behavior.
In this section, we will discuss the six key guidelines to help parents stop enabling and disengage from their chemically addicted teenager. These guidelines are, don’t take it personally, don’t confront, don’t say things you don’t mean, don’t nag, don’t clean up, and don’t make excuses. We will also discuss the "Learning Ignoring Skills" technique to help parents manage verbal confrontations with their chemically addicted teens.
Six Guidelines to Help Parent Stop Enabling
♦ Guideline #1 - Don't Take it Personally
The first guideline I explain to the parents of chemically addicted teens is not to take their teenager’s anger personally. As you know, as the teen begins to realize they can no longer count on the Rescuer, Provoker, and Victims enabling behaviors discussed in Section 7, they become very angry with their parents. I tell my clients, "Dealing with this anger can feel like standing still and letting your teen throw garbage at you. The best thing to do is to step out of the way and let the garbage hit the wall!" As you are well aware, dealing with this anger can make the parents feel angry as well.
♦ #2 - Don't Confront
This leads in to the second guideline, not confronting the teen while angry. I encourage my clients to respond by saying, "Right now I feel angry. I am going to take some time to cool down. Let’s decide on a time later today when we can both talk about this calmly."
♦ Guideline #3 - Don't Say Things you Don't Mean
I find that the third guideline is to encourage the parents not to say what they don’t mean, or things they cannot enforce. As you are aware , statements like "I wish you had never been born!", or "you’re grounded for 100 years!" are provoker behaviors that enable the addiction.
♦ Guideline #4 - Don't Nag
In my experience, the fourth guideline is never to nag the chemically addicted teen or constantly remind them about the negative effects of chemical use. I encourage my clients to talk about their concerns and express their feelings at appropriate times, but to avoid nagging at all costs.
Do you have a client who needs to be reminded that nagging equals provoking, which equals enabling?
♦ Guidleine #5 - Don't Clean Up
The fifth guideline I give to parents is to not clean up their chemically addicted teen’s messes. As you may have experienced , this can be one of the most difficult steps for parents. I encourage my clients not to cover bad checks, and not to cover fines or repairs caused by substance use. If the teen’s behaviors result in an arrest, I advise my clients to let the teen spend the night in jail.
♦ Guideline #6 - Don't Make Excuses
In addition to don’t take it personally, don’t confront, don’t say things you don’t mean, don’t nag, and don’t clean up, the sixth guideline, in my experience, is closely related to not cleaning up the teen’s messes. This guideline involves not making excuses to family, friends, or schools about the teenagers substance use.
Remember Olivia from the last section? When her father, James, asked me about writing excuses for school when Olivia was hung over, I stated "Olivia needs to experience the consequences of her own behaviors. Writing an excuse for her is a rescuing behavior, and by rescuing Olivia from these consequences, you enable her addiction."
♦ "Learning Ignoring Skills" Technique
After James refused to write an excuse note for Olivia, she became very angry, and expressed her anger through verbal games and power plays, as we discussed on Section 6. I recommended that James try the "Learning Ignoring Skills" exercise with me.
There are three degrees of verbal games:
(1) I explained to James that the first degree is comparison time, which can lead to anger and provoker enabling behavior from the parent. For example, when James told Olivia she had to be home by 10pm, she stated, "Everyone else gets to stay out until midnight!" I told James, "When Olivia responds to you with a comparison, just answer ‘oh, really?’".
(2) The second degree of verbal games is the verbal assault, which can lead to hurt feelings that cause victim enabling behavior. A verbal assault is when the teen says "This place sucks!" or "I hate you!" I stated, "When Olivia makes a verbal assault, just say ‘wow’".
(3) As you are aware, the most severe degree of verbal games is going for the jugular. When Olivia became really angry, she would tell James "I’m going to do whatever I want, and you can’t stop me! I’m going to stay out as late as I want to and do whatever I want. The cops might even pick me up and throw me in jail. You’ll have to come get me and take me to court. The neighbors will all talk about it. Then you’ll be sorry!"
James told me that these statements made him feel guilty. As you know, guilt can lead to rescuer enabling behavior. I told James, "I know this is difficult, but when Olivia says things like that, the best thing to say is "whatever" and ignore her."
As you are aware, keeping responses to angry verbal games to five short statements: yes, no, oh really? Wow, and whatever, can help parents defuse angry situations and learn ignoring skills to keep themselves from falling into provoker, victim, and rescuer behavior. I encouraged James to repeat these five short statements over and over to himself several times a day, and to use them consistently when Olivia engaged in verbal games. I told James, "the more you practice, the easier it will get to just ignore Olivia when she is using these games and power plays with you."
In this section, we have discussed the six key guidelines to help parents stop enabling and disengage from their chemically addicted teenager. These guidelines are, don’t take it personally, don’t confront, don’t say things you don’t mean, don’t nag, don’t clean up, and don’t make excuses.
In the next section, we will discuss the four ‘C’s of confrontation in an intervention with a chemically addicted teenager. These are choices, consequences, contracts, and control.
What are the six key guidelines to help parents stop enabling and disengage?
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