How can I inspire confidence in my teen?

Posted on December 1, 2022 View all news

Intro: The Every Brain Matters community understands how difficult and painful it is when you have a child or loved one with destructive behaviors such as using marijuana or any drug. We also know that each family navigates recovery and healing in different ways, applying valuable tools from many types of effective support systems. The information given here is taken from one of these reliable systems.

We are grateful that the Cornerstone Team Counseling community addresses these tough recovery questions and is allowing us to share their insight with you. Since it is beneficial to hear different perspectives, the following answers and opinions are from clinical staff, teens in recovery, and parents and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Every Brain Matters community. We encourage each person to take what they like and make their own decisions that benefit their families.

The Every Brain Matters community also does not recommend specific treatment programs but we are grateful to share the content from the Cornerstone community as a resource.

To learn more, please visit the support and resource page for families and find support meetings here.

Perspective from Staff: By far the best way is to be fully committed to YOUR program of recovery. Let that commitment show by attending meetings, actually getting a sponsor, attending climbers regularly, participating in step study, absorbing and understanding the disease concept, and (big one here) having real “Shots” (consequences).  

Perspective from Alumni Parent: Here’s a couple of valuable lessons I learned in the Climbers support meetings: Love is not accepting bad behavior – and, self-esteem comes from doing esteemable acts. My boy’s confidence came from eventually finding out that he was capable of making good decisions (and what they looked like), solving problems, and doing right things on his own ~which he learned to do by making mistakes and feeling consequences. 

I had to be able to let him do that (let him fall), which meant that I had to work a strong program as outlined above. A big part in inspiring his confidence was to set up good SHOTS, consistently enforce needed consequences, and then stay out of the way and let growth happen.  

Perspective from Alumni Teen: WORK AND LIVE your own program and let God do the rest! God’s love is the transforming power that drives our recovery. With that love we find freedom from the hopeless, desperate cycle of using, self-hatred, and more using. With that love we gain a sense of reason and purpose in our once useless lives. With that love we are given the inner direction and strength we need to begin a new way of life. With that love we begin to see things differently.   

The Big Book (from AA) uses the term “psychic change”, but it takes time to get to that place in our recovery. That’s why it’s so important for parents to really work their own program, because just like everyone else, adults carry spirit too. When parents work the 12 steps with a sponsor, and ask God to remove their defects of character, they too become a hollow bone for God’s love and truth.  

You (parents) cannot make your teen do anything, and more than likely, trying to force the program upon him will push him away more. The only way confidence was inspired by my mom was her continuing to tell me she loved me and didn’t hold anything against me. To let me know, through her actions, that wrong behavior and manipulation wouldn’t be tolerated.  

Get educated on the disease of alcoholism/addiction and what that really means. What the mental obsession and the physical allergy look like, and if your teen experienced that. If you are not an alcoholic you might not “understand” powerlessness over alcohol, and you will never actually understand how humiliating it really is. But just as if your teen was recovering from any other fatal disease, you would be there for them 100%, loving and understanding, because for a person recovering from any disease, it’s hard and scary.  

Our confidence comes from God; our belief or relationship with God comes from our level of surrender. Our level of surrender comes from how beaten down we are from our addiction- when we have exhausted all human resources.  

Addiction stays alive and feeds off any enabling force, so just work your own program and let God do the rest! 

Perspective from Alumni Teen: The BEST way is by leading by example, working your program, setting boundaries and sticking to them, which you will learn how to do if you work your program.  

When my sister came to me and asked me for help to get sober, it was because my program was attractive, and I had what she wanted. So I tried helping her…tried controlling her. I told her how to work her program, what people to talk to, what meetings to go to, tried pushing her to share in meetings when she wasn’t ready, I made her feel bad about herself when she would live in fear. Another thing I did, I would constantly lecture her and bring up stuff that she wasn’t ready to talk about yet. The best conversations that my sister and I had were the times when she approached me and asked me for help, but the more I tried controlling her the less she felt comfortable approaching me. 

I’m not saying I didn’t help her at all, but all those things  did push her away for a while. There’s a difference between inspiring your teen and trying to make things happen for your teen because you think you know better than them. The best way to inspire your kids is by taking care of yourself,  working your program, working the steps with a sponsor, and getting out of your comfort zone. 

Preceptive from Staff: The best place to start would be to dive into working your own program of recovery. Get a sponsor, go to as many parent and Climbers (support) meetings as you can, and start working the steps. This will help you to learn to support your teen in a healthy way. This includes letting them fall and figuring out how to pick themselves back up. Also, allowing them to problem solve for themselves when they might get lost on the bus, or are experiencing some natural consequence of their actions. By stepping back and being loving, but not accepting wrong behavior, you will allow your teen to develop their own self-esteem. Plus, when you’re working your own program, they will see you changing and it will inspire them to work their own program as well. Putting in a proportional effort into your own program is the best thing you can do. 

Please read the parent story for hope and inspiration

My purpose in attending my first Cornerstone meeting was to learn how to parent my fourteen-year-old drug addict son. I  did not bring him with me because I did not think he was ready to seek recovery. It had been obvious to me that he had a drug (including alcohol) problem since he was twelve years old. While I had made many failed attempts to protect him from drug use (e.g. boarding school), I thought he had not used mind-altering chemicals long enough to know he was powerless. I thought he would not be able to engage in the recovery process. I now have a different viewpoint. Today, I  believe that waiting to help a teenager with the disease of addiction until they are ready to ask for help is like waiting to help an elder with Alzheimer’s disease until they are ready to ask for help.  

In actuality, I had not gone to my first meeting too soon. Between my first and second meetings, I discovered my son was doing more drugs than I had thought. He ran away from home. The parents in the program gave me the support I needed to get through that horrible time, especially the days I did not know whether he was dead or alive. Looking back, his running away was a blessing. It enabled me to see how serious his drug use had become, motivated me to develop relationships with the other parents in the program, and brought about a unity of perspective between his father (from whom I am divorced) and myself. 

I am an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I achieved ten years of sobriety between my first and second Cornerstone meetings. In my second meeting, while sharing about my panic and sadness over my son’s drug use and running away, I mentioned my ten-year anniversary. I was amazed at the response. The other parents congratulated me in a manner that demonstrated that they did not just accept me in spite of being an addict, they liked me better because of my disease! The acceptance I have found, from the people in the Cornerstone program, as a person with a “history” has been a catalyst that has enabled me to find self-acceptance and live a more authentic life. 

As a teen, I was a psychotic drug addict. Through the program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, psychotherapy, religious experiences (Christian), and more recently, the program and fellowship of Cornerstone Recovery; I have recovered from serious mental health problems and addiction to numerous drugs, including alcohol. Of, course, my recovery depends on my continuing to do on a daily basis those things that enable me to stay recovered, like working the twelve steps. At times I have actually been envious of the teens in the program. They have an opportunity to lead a life of recovery and will not have to go through or inflict emotional pain to the extent that I did. Many times I have reflected on what a wonderful opportunity our teenagers have to live sober and happy lives. It is a privilege to participate in 12-step meetings with our teens. 

While I have enjoyed the support from the parents from my first meeting, I did not instantly change my ways of thinking and parenting. Embracing the program came a little at a time, as I learned from my mistakes. One of my first mistakes was in disregarding the Cornerstone second step as applies to my son. In the second step states, we need to “Stick with  Winners”. Instead of encouraging my son to associate only with other teens in recovery, I encouraged him to invite his using friends into our home and to go to meetings with him. I thought this would encourage him to stay and lead his friends to sobriety. I did this in spite of advice from counselors, other parents, and even the kids. Needless to say, my son did not get sober while he continued to “hang” with his using friends. After he had lived with another Cornerstone family, my son firmly told me he was choosing to not associate with his using friends. He also told me that he wanted my support in working his second step. Finally, I was able to understand the importance of positive peer pressure. 

In Cornerstone, I have been learning that as I attempt to live a more spiritual life, my mistakes can be vehicles for personal growth, instead of experiences that keep me trapped in shame. I have also been learning that making a mistake as a parent in the past does not justify being a poor parent today. For the first several months after going to meetings, my son was continuing to use drugs and get drunk. Just about everyone else in recovery was aware of this,  except for me. His drug use at this point should have been clear to me, but as a testament to my denial, I was not aware.  When my son is high or drunk, he can be physically aggressive. The counselors and other parents were encouraging me to ask him to find another Cornerstone home to temporarily live. I thought that I could not do this because, if I had been a better parent, he would not act in a violent manner, so it is not right for me to punish him. I shared my dilemma with a  pastor at my church. He shared with me that making mistakes does not make me a bad parent. He pointed out that by joining the Cornerstone program I was working on what was best for my son. He helped me to see that even when I have a part in my son’s bad behavior, he still needs my discipline to help him grow. The next night, at Climbers (parent educational group), our counselor, gave me the same message in different words. 

It was also suggested that the next time my son is physically aggressive, I should call the police. Up until this point, I had thought that it was my job, as a parent, to keep him out of jail. Finally, I was able to tell my son that a requirement for living in my home is abstaining from violence and threats of violence. I told him that the next time he was physically aggressive or threatened violence, I would call the police. That same night he was unable to meet this requirement for living in my home. I called the police, who were willing to arrest him. He was given the choice to live with another family in the program. He chose to live with the other Cornerstone family. Within a day or so, he started the Outpatient program. From that point on, he has wanted to be sober and live what his recovery program has taught him. Also from that point on, I have been trying to provide consequences for his behavior with regard to the principles of the program and what I think is appropriate, instead of my old ideas and feelings. 

In order for my son to go to the Outpatient program, I had to take him out of school. This was a very difficult step for me.  At the time, I had begun classes toward getting a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology. One of my professors had a  background in Educational Psychology. I asked if I could get her professional opinion on whether I should keep my son in school or put him in outpatient. After telling her a little about what was happening with my son and in our home, she pointed out that a teen that is drunk or high, has emotional difficulties, and is experiencing conflict at home is unlikely to successfully learn in a school environment.  

During the ten months, my son was in the Cornerstone Recovery outpatient program, he made several significant changes.  He has since chosen to be sober and after one early relapse, has maintained more than two and a half years of continuous sobriety. Where before he was mostly dishonest, he consistently tells the truth and maintains a high level of integrity. He had been depressed. Although he still needs more self-esteem, he has gained self-confidence and is usually happy. 

Since the night I invited the police to help him stop his aggressiveness and demonstrated that I will not tolerate violence in my home, my son has not been violent or threatened to be violent. It took a little longer for me to make the changes necessary for our home to be a sanctuary in which we treat each other with mutual respect. I discovered that I had been unknowingly teaching my son to pressure me into giving him what he wanted. When I did not give in to his requests, my son would pressure me in an increasingly harsh manner until I would finally give in. One night in a Climber’s meeting, Kirk asked me why my son did this. I then realized that he did this because it worked. I have found that since I consistently do not give in to my son’s demands, he no longer makes them. 

Before my son moved back into my home for the first time, I wrote our shots and boundaries (house rules). I shared them with him before he came back home and posted them on the refrigerator. One of the house rules is about treating each other in a respectful manner. When he was disrespectful, I would confiscate his cell phone, except when I was driving, in which case I let him out of the car, so he could walk home. As a result of a few simple changes in my behavior, he now treats me with kindness and respect. 

I found that I had a distorted view of our family conflict. After my son had gone several months of being consistently respectful, I realized that at times my temper was out of control. I came to realize that for the same behavior in my son that I would characterize as disrespectful, yelling, and/or aggressive; for myself, I would call “parenting” or ‘fussing”. It has been hard holding myself to the same standard of respect and courteously toward my child that I had come to expect from him. I have found it helpful to do the following when I communicate in a less than courteous manner with my son:  inventory my underlying issues, pray, talk with an individual (e.g. sponsor) about the situation, and finally, share about it in a meeting.  

There was another set of actions on my part that needed to change. That was doing for him the things my son should have been doing for himself. I would take care of the things that he should be doing for himself, such as straightening his room, washing his clothes, and putting his backpack in order. At some level, I was aware that it damaged his self-esteem to do these things for him, and I was ashamed of what I had been doing. However, I found that doing these mommy things were pleasant and relieved my anxiety. I was able to let him take care of himself after I revealed to my sponsor what I had been doing. My sponsor’s acceptance and understanding of me the way I was enabled me to stop treating my son as an incompetent person and respect him by letting him take care of his own things. For months, I had to stay out of his room to avoid the temptation of taking care of his things. Today, I no longer have the compulsion to “baby” my boy. 

Being an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was familiar with working in a twelve-step program. I found that I needed my sponsor to learn how to apply the steps in my relationship with my son. In particular, I have been learning to apply the AA third step in my parenting. My son is a separate person from me. While I can contribute to his well-being by being a loving and strong parent, ultimately the big stuff in his life (like sobriety, integrity, and spirituality) is based on his choice. I can implement consequences that make it more likely he will make good choices, however, I cannot make him choose. I am also better able to inventory my actions. Today, as part of my daily eleventh-step prayer time, I ask God to help me be the mother he wants me to be instead of telling him how he needs to change my son. 

After graduating from Group Therapy, my son asked to not return to our local public high school. He stated that he was uneasy about being in a drug filled environment for more than a few days. He requested that he do a distance learning high school program. At this point, he has completed his freshman and almost completed his sophomore school years with this program. A few months ago, he began to not get his school work completed. I have explained to him that at his age (17), the reason that I provide for him financially (clothes, housing, food, etc.) is so he can be busy preparing himself to launch into adulthood. I have shared that if he is not busy with his preparations, I really should not be providing for him financially. He will always have my emotional support. He should only have the financial support that benefits him.  Several times over the last few months he has not met the requirement that he be actively pursuing his education and has lived temporarily with other families. It has not been as hard for me to ask him to live with another family because I have learned to trust the discipline process and the Cornerstone community. 

I have been loved and accepted by the other parents in the Cornerstone program, even while being my authentic self and sharing experiences about which I felt ashamed. The love and acceptance I have found in these friendships have enabled me to better love and accept myself. As time has passed, I have been able to give that same love and acceptance to other parents in the program. Acts of kindness and service have enabled me to gain self-esteem. 

It has not been only the other parents that have enabled me to grow emotionally and spiritually. The Cornerstone teens have given me joy and self-understanding. Being a part of the teens’ recovery has been a significant part of my own recovery. Watching teens become sober, honest, and kind people who are developing their spirituality and self-esteem has been enormously gratifying. Maybe the greatest privilege has been the times I have been able to observe the transformation up close in my home and even been a part of the process. Loving kids who are just like I was, when I  thought I was so unlovable has helped me to know that I have actually always been loveable.

Glossary of terms:

Addict: An old term used to describe a person with a substance use disorder that is not currently socially accepted anymore.

Al-Anon: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Awakening: A term used after Completion of the 12 steps and the requirements of the Cornerstone community. Like a graduation but it’s viewed as a “spiritual awakening”

Climbers: an interactive educational group for family members to bring issues, questions or concerns, and receive direct feedback from a counselor and other family members. As well as learn tools of recovery to help you and your family. The Every Brain Matters community offers a Climbers meeting every Wednesday.

Destructive Behaviors: Self-destructive behavior is when you do something that’s sure to cause self-harm, whether it’s emotional or physical. Some self-destructive behavior is more obvious, such as: attempting suicide. binge eating. compulsive activities like gambling, using harmful drugs, gaming, or shopping.

IOP (Intensive Outpatient Therapy): treatment programs used to address addictions, depression, eating disorders, or other dependencies that do not require detoxification or round-the-clock supervision.

Mar-Anon Family Groups: A twelve-step organization that provides support and hope for families affected by another person’s marijuana use.

Parent-Driven Recovery: Tools that Work is a must-read for parents of substance-abusing teens. You’ll learn how to maneuver through the chaos to create a harmonious family life. Even if your teen is not ready or willing to change, there is help and hope.

Recovery: A return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. A healing process.

Shots: A term used in the recovery community called Couerstone Team Counseling. It’s a customized list of rules and consequences each family makes for their homes. To learn more, attend the Every Brain Matters Climbers meeting on Wednesday evenings at 7 pm Central time. A list of our meetings is at this link.

SO: Stands for Significant Others, a term sometimes used when graduating from an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) after making amends to our “significant others”, or people we have harmed.

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