As a member of several online support groups for parents of struggling teens and young adults, I often read this cry of desperation: “I have tried it all to help my kid! Is it time for me to give up and kick him or her out?”
Here are my thoughts:
The best advice depends critically on your specific circumstances: you, your child, your family, your history, your community and the support and resources available.
How sure are you that you have ‘tried it all’? Without questioning the effort we put into helping our children, I know from personal experience that as parents our thinking tends to be limited to what we know and resources we can easily access.
- Schools may have minimal ability and/or motivation to offer new or unconventional help to struggling teens and their families. Yet there are many promising approaches capable of producing good results: restructuring education, using homeschooling resources, engaging kids in extracurricular activities, or finding a teacher who serves as an inspiring role model.
- Individual or family therapy can help if and when the personality, treatment model and experience of the therapist fit the needs of the child and family. If your kid goes to see a therapist every week, but refuses to engage, perhaps it’s time to find a new therapist?
- Support groups can be lifesavers for both kids and parents by providing a community of likeminded individuals all struggling with similar challenges. Think school-based social skills groups, grief groups, Alateen, AA, NA and Al-Anon, Parents Anonymous, NAMI, or even web-based support. There is nothing worse than feeling alone with your problems.
- It is hard to overestimate the effect environment has in motivating kids to find the strength to change. If the home environment has little positive to offer, we might need to look inward to see what changes can be made to restore our family to health. If the community our child lives in does not support healthy behavior, how can we become catalysts for change?
- Assessing and changing our parenting. This is a hard one. We often see families with struggling kids managing problems tactically, not strategically. Parents might settle for a day or even an hour of peaceful co-existence at the expense of the long-term development and maturation of their teenager. Whether living in the same household or not, parents need first to get on the same page about goals and expectations for family life and then create a road map for how to get there. (This is where a good therapist can really help!)
- Well-intentioned parents too often do things for their children instead of teaching them to do things for themselves. When we believe our children are incapable of doing something on their own, inevitably our children come to believe that about themselves. When we hold up the expectation of personal responsibility, our children are more likely to rise to the occasion. When we bail our children out of the messes they create, we deprive them of valuable life lessons in personal accountability.
- Asking relatives and friends for help. Sometimes kids respond better to suggestions, rules, and advice when they come from others who are not their parents. Letting your child stay with a family member or a friend, even temporarily, might allow for a needed cooling off period while tempers settle and a more thoughtful long-term solution is investigated.
- Asking around about other local resources. This is area-specific; and you might be surprised to find a great opportunity for your kid just around the corner.
Getting back to the original question, I want to say one thing: asking your kid to leave your house or sending her or him away is not a sign of giving up. Sometimes a teen or young adult needs to learn personal responsibility the hard way; and letting them go is necessary. Placement in a therapeutic school, wilderness program, treatment facility or another setting may be in your, your child’s and your family’s best interest. Sometimes you have to say: enough is enough, but never give up on your child. Let them know that you believe they can do it on their own and don’t stop loving and supporting them.