Much of adolescence is change: physical change, emotional change, and academic change. The body changes right before our eyes. Our moods swing like swing-sets caught in a hurricane. Bodies begin to resemble adults, but the mind hasn’t caught up. The brain of an adolescent is, in essence, a developmental playground. This is the period when the Prefrontal Cortex is still developing. What is that prefrontal cortex responsible for? Oh, you know, it regulates decision-making, rationalization, problem solving, consciousness, and emotions. For adolescents, that roller coaster ride is very real. Even though your kids may be experiencing mood swings, and …
It’s Father’s Day weekend and we want to honor some of the fathers we have here at Visions. Stepping onto the path of recovery includes working with dysfunctional root systems, which includes parents that aren’t emotionally and in some cases, physically there for us. However, the recovery process also presents another opportunity: The chance to view others in a positive light, and to be able to look at some of the men in our lives who are good and present fathers with what the Buddha calls sympathetic joy. Our founder, Chris Shumow is a great example of this. I …
According to a new report issued by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), there has been an increase in ER visits due to the recreational use of alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax. Per the report, “The number of emergency department visits involving non-medical use of the sedative alprazolam (Xanax) doubled from 57, 419 to 124, 902 from 2005 to 2010, and then remained stable at 123, 744 in 2011.” Xanax is part of a class of medications called benxodiazapenes and is indicated for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepenes work on the brain and the nerves – …
We know all about leadership in the workplace, however, the theory of leadership is also applicable to the “job” of parenting and the role of treatment in recovery. In our role as parents, we are leaders. We lead our children toward making good choices; we redirect them when they stray; we nurture them when they need to grow; we provide them with a safe container–the tribe of family–to lean into when times get tough; and we provide discipline when they need it. Ultimately, when one of our family members gets sick with mental illness, we lead them toward a …
It’s time for Graduation! During graduation time, it’s not uncommon for many teens to fall under great pressure from parents and teachers to exceed in academia or to get accepted into the ideal university. Stress tends to be high at the end of the year, no matter how you spin it. Often times, stress is somaticized (converted into physical symptoms) and it shows up in the form of : stomach aches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, eating more or eating less, and even mood swings. Unfortunately, some kids turn to drugs and alcohol to attempt to quell the anxiety and physical …
Conflict comes up frequently in the adolescent years, almost as though drama and discord are part of the growing-up process. But how our kids learn to deal with conflict is often a result of watching the way the adults around them deal with it. Parents, teachers, mentors, influential adults: all are their mirrors. Where conflict becomes problematic is in the unskillful ways in which it’s managed. Teens need to develop self-regulation skills so they can A: recognize what has triggered their anger, and B: respond to it skillfully. Try any of these 5 suggestions to help manage conflict: …
Entering adolescence is serious business; it evokes rapid change and confusion for parents and teens alike. From a parenting perspective, sometimes it seems your child is suddenly unrecognizable. From the teen perspective, the sudden physiological and emotional changes are confusing and perhaps even frightening at times. There can be an internalization of, “What is happening to me” but sharing that would be significantly “uncool,” or so it seems.
We know that adolescence is a time of great transformation. Teens are individuating, their hormones are raging, and things are moving faster than even they can grasp. Try and remember what it was like when YOU were a teenager. Do you remember how you felt?
This generation of teens is faced with even higher pressure. I have seen parents pressuring their elementary kids to perform better for the sake of college, or the perception of prestige. I have had a 13-year-old tell me they she was having an existential crisis – that she didn’t know what she was going to do with her life – all because of parental pressure to look toward college. Between parental pressures and the sheer nature of adolescent metamorphosis, the teen years can be intense.
But does adolescence have to be as disruptive?
Can we as parents take things less personally and develop a healthy way to show up for our teens? Yes, I believe we can. It requires that we educate ourselves in the ways of adolescence, and it also involves remembering and holding space for our own adolescent experience, without projecting it onto our teens. This may mean getting involved in a support group, or seeing a therapist and beginning the transformative process of unraveling any traumatized roots within oneself. Allow your teen to have their own adolescent experience rather than interpreting it as your own. You are not your teen’s experience; you are a guide and a representative of safety and security.
If you find yourself in a situation where your adolescent is perpetuating harmful behavior via drugs and alcohol, or if they are displaying significant emotional dysregulatory behavior, it’s important that you seek help. There’s adolescent angst and then there’s addiction and mental health issues. There’s help if you need it.
We recently had the opportunity to hear David Sheff, author of “Beautiful Boy” and “Clean“, speak about addiction and mental health at UCLA’s Friends of the Semel Institute’s Open Mind series. Sheff is a journalist, and New York Times best-selling author who writes and speaks about addiction and recovery though the lens of a parent and as a well-researched journalist. Our family program is dedicated to approaching recovery from the eyes of the addict and those within the family system. David Sheff reminded me of the parental side of addiction and mental health that we don’t always hear.
Our kids are our babies: we see them as our innocent, silly, curious, innocent offspring. When it comes to addiction and mental health issues, parents often hang on to this ideology, telling themselves, “Not OUR kids. Addiction and mental health issues happen to other families.” There is a natural contradiction that occurs, marking the innocence parents seek to hold on to and the utter despair and devastation that is actually taking place. Addiction and mental health could care less about your financial status, race, religion, or gender, or age. What David Sheff does is talk about it. He names the elephant in the room. He invites parents to face the shadow side of addiction and mental health and bring it into the fore. He challenges us as a culture to unabashedly squash the stigma associated with addiction and mental health.
This stigma I’m talking about increases the suffering families experience around addiction and mental health. It inhibits one’s ability to move through the processes required to heal. If worry and concern about what people migt say hangs over the head of a family, how willing will they be to do the work? How frequently will they suffer in silence? How long will they go before asking for help? Shame is the muzzle of addiction.
Sheff pointed out some staggering facts:
- 80% of children will try drugs or alcohol before age 18.
- Addiction is the #3 killer
- The #1 reason teens use drugs: Stress
- 90% of addictions begin before 21
- Only 6% of pediatricians are able to recognize drug use
- There are 3000 addiction informed physicians and over 3 million addicts
But he also reminds us of this: these kids who are suffering from addiction and mental health issues aren’t bad kids; they are our kids. The focus needs to be on what is causing the use of drugs and alcohol, not the drugs and alcohol themselves. Kids are using because of stress, anxiety, social situations, trauma, et cetera. Our kids live in an environment that resembles a pressure cooker. I teach yoga to teens and tweens and I can tell you from my experiences with my students, the main reason they are there is because of stress and anxiety. And part of my work with them is teaching them tools for self-regulation.
These kids, our kids, need a reprieve from their overwhelm. Sure, drugs might offer a quick fix, but they don’t offer a solution. The solution has to come in the form of recovery, stress management and developing healthier means of self-regulation that allow for a better approach to being overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out. If there are addiction or issues of mental health, it becomes imperative to give them a voice. Shame keeps us silent. Shame keeps us sick. Shame increases our suffering.
Dr. Tim Fong, an addiction psychiatrist at UCLA also had some salient things to say that evening, but one that really strikes home is this. Families need the following 4 things for recovery:
1. A healthy home
2. Mental and physical health
3. Sense of purpose
4. To have and build a sense of community
I encourage parents to seek help if they recognize that their child is in trouble. You are not alone in your fear, your suffering, or your need to be heard. Your child needs to be seen and heard as well, and the sooner you can get them the help they need, the sooner the recovery process can begin. Remember this: if your child has some hiccups in their recovery, YOUR recovery doesn’t have to hiccup as well.
I will leave you with this, a quote from Anne Lamott: “Never compare your insides to other people’s outsides.”
Visions knows that a family in crisis needs requires an intensive family program. It doesn’t benefit a family to be viewed as having individual branches that need to be removed, trimmed or repaired. We are thrilled to be building out our 3-day intensive family program with the help of Jeff and Terra Holbrook. They have been doing family work for almost two decades and are deeply committed to healing the family system. Their insight and experience are invaluable and in line with the culture of Visions. Visions wants the family to heal from the inside out; We require all families to go to:
- Weekly parent support groups;
- Weekly multi-family groups; and
- Individual family sessions.
Families are also encouraged to go to outside support groups (Al-Anon, AA, ACA, Refuge Recovery, et cetera). When we meet with families, we address issues of attachment, enmeshment, codependency, and we assist families in creating healthy boundaries. The recovery process requires a level of willingness and curiosity on everyone’s part and it is particularly important to do family work because addiction and mental health are rooted in the family system. It is not uncommon for parents and loved ones affected by their child’s addiction or mental illness to become angry, place blame, distance themselves from their child, or try to fix the problem themselves; often times, the focus remains on the addict. Here’s where an intensive family program comes in.
Think of the family system as a garden. Imagine the roots of everything in the garden weaving their way through nutrient rich soil containing love, respect, healthy boundaries, positive attention, and connection to healthy resources. Now imagine what happens when that same soil becomes fallow: The roots begin to suffer from neglect, abuse, abandonment, deprivation, and entanglement; the garden begins to whither away, grasping onto whatever is closest to try to survive. Family systems need to be nurtured from their root systems all the way up. Removing one unhealthy part won’t allow the entire system to heal. In fact, the entire root system will malfunction as a result.
Our intensive family program provides salient educational tools for parents to learn to face addiction and mental health in a healthier way. Families must begin to unpeel their own layers, and begin looking deeply within themselves and at the origins of their own root systems. Parents must also understand what they are asking their kids to do to recover, and more importantly, it’s invaluable for parents to show their kids they are willing to do the same hard work. For example, if a family is asking their kids to look at how they are powerless, that same family needs to ask themselves the same question. Addiction and mental health are a family disease; they are not isolated incidents wherein one family member goes rogue. As David Sheff, author of Clean says, “The addicted are not morally bereft, they are ill.”
An intensive family program will also help parents move away from the stigma of mental health and addiction and move toward acceptance and healing. Families are often surprised to find out that their feelings are in line with their child’s: Both may feel angry, betrayed, ashamed, scared, resentful, frustrated, tired, and so on. When parents are able to shed a light on these similarities, the willingness to look at the hows and whys of addiction and mental illness becomes more palpable. Recognizing this similarity also elicits compassion and empathy for their child and for themselves. When a family can recognize that everything is connected, recovery can truly bloom.
Identifying as an LGBT teen
for the first time is a courageous, albeit scary leap toward self-acceptance. Often times, one embarks on this leap with great trepidation, avoiding conflict with aversive family and friends while creating a whirlwind of conflict within. In cases where there is little to no familial support, this process can really be challenging. We have hosted several LGBT youth in our programs and we offer them a wide variety of support while also encouraging them to be unabashedly who they are.
“I think one of the most important aspects of recovery for an LGBT teen is the availability of LGBT meetings. Additionally, it is important for LGBT youth to develop a mentor relationship with someone who has dealt with the challenges of growing up as an LGBT youth in American society. LGBT youth, like all young people who get sober, need to see that there is a life beyond drugs and alcohol; that there is a life to be had and a life to be built.”
Some other challenges LGBT youth often face is familial discord and deep resistance to a sexual identity different from the family’s perspective on societal norms. Often times, families are more concerned about what others thing rather than focusing on what their teen needs. When I asked Garth LeMaster, MA, LMFT, and therapist at our Outpatient Program about what parents can do in order to support their teen, he said,
“The most important thing for a parent to do is get support for any feelings that may arise. The kid may be dealing with enough regarding their feelings, so parents must provide a safe place for them to land. If they do not, they make like infinitely more difficult for the kid and can seriously damage the relationship.”
A component of our treatment programs are our family support groups and we offer them to parents throughout their teen’s treatment. These groups are a terrific resource for parents to use and lean into. They can provide the group support necessary to help parents unravel the tangle of emotional difficulties they may be experiencing. It’s also beneficial for parents who are having difficulty accepting their LGBT teen to have individual therapy, which facilitate a deeper unraveling and investigation of the root causes of resistance.
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) shared incredible statistics about the connection between familial support and the betterment of behavioral health. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) announced their new resource “A Practioner’s Resource Guide: Helping Families to Support Their LGBT Children,” which can be downloaded for free. The statistics show LGBT teens with low or no family support, who experience rejection instead of acceptance were:
- 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide
- 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression
- 3.4 times more likely to use illicit drugs; and
- 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sex—
Compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.
Family acceptance helps:
- Protect against depression, suicidal behavior and substance abuse;
- Promote self-esteem, social support, and overall health.
LGBT teens faced with this inner conflict can often feel like outcasts, castigated for not being like “everyone else,” and challenged to conform. If we as a community can provide support for your LGBT teen, we can help normalize the transition from feeling apart from to feeling a part of a community.
Creating a safe, supportive space for a teen coming to grips with their sexual identity is a necessary component in allowing them to land on both feet in their recovery and in their process of self-acceptance. Showing our kids that they are loved and cared for, regardless of who they are, is an invaluable gift we can give our kids.