Has Your Child “Boomeranged”?

Most of us think adolescence ends at the age 18, but the American Medical Association has defined adolescence as going all the way to age 23.  What used to be a period of seven years is now fourteen years!  And for many parents reading this article, this means that your kids may come back home to live with you after college.

We set our kids in motion to live as independent adults, and like a boomerang they just come right back to where they started.  Sometimes it happens for good reasons because of issues outside their control.  But when a child wants to disengage from a normal growth opportunity and fails to establish their own independence, it’s a sign that emotional problems are in play.

It’s been great for Jan and me to be empty nesters.  We love it.  Oh, sure, I like it when the grandkids pop in with their parents, but it’s good when they leave, too.  Gratefully both our son and daughter have established independent lives of their own.

But maybe you’re in a different place.  Maybe you’re dealing with the boomerang effect.  So let me offer some helpful perspective and a couple suggestions.

Welcome Home?

Some kids come home after college until they get a job.  That’s one thing.  And in this economy, finding a job takes much longer than ever before.  So it’s understandable when they need a place to stay while aggressively pursue the next phase in their life.  But when kids get too comfortable in your home and can’t launch from that spot, they’re in trouble.  They can’t get to the next place, and they show their inability to function at a higher level.

Mom and dad, when you take these kids back in, you aren’t doing them a favor.  Parents want to be helpful, but they’re just postponing the inevitable.  I’m talking about when a child wants to avoid growth.  Moving back home becomes a way to avoid the challenge of becoming independent.  A child can try to live like they’re in high school, or have everything provided, or take an “extended vacation.”  We all have a plan for our lives.  When your child comes back home, it’s kind of outside of the plan.

When Coming Home is Healthy

Sometimes, it is healthy for kids to come home.  But just because the reason they come is appropriate doesn’t mean that your transition will be easy.  To help, you need to line out your expectations for your son or daughter and set up some new rules.

To help you get along with your adult children, spend necessary time with them.  But not out of obligation.  Your child doesn’t want to spend time with you if they think it’s a burden.  Love your child in a way they can receive it.  Sit down and talk.  Be a servant to them.  I want to be a servant to anyone who walks in my door.  But being a servant doesn’t mean being a doormat.

You need to build an understanding of how you’re going to live together.  Your child is the new person to the house, even if they’ve lived there before.  So he should fit into your household’s current agenda.  Parents, you need to openly say to your children, “You’re welcome here, but you’ve gotta follow the current game plan.”  Talk to your child before he comes home.  Determine whether they will pay rent or not, whether or not they will be required to work.  There are a lot of times in my life that I haven’t liked what I was doing for work, but I did it because I knew it would strengthen my work habits and would help me financially.

If your child is not following the plan you talked about, and it’s becoming disruptive to the house, you may need to kick your child out.  Sounds harsh, but if you don’t take action, if you allow your child to keep the same attitude, they will find it easy to stay like a child longer.  Not to mention that they may influence the habits and attitudes of your other children.

Adults are adults.  You need to treat them that way.  And if your child isn’t acting like an adult, you may need to push them out.  Every adult’s goal is to live an independent life.  This means moving on to another place.  You need to respect this goal in your child’s life.  If your child doesn’t see the need for this movement, and you don’t act, you are enabling your child’s foolishness.

Parents:  Plan, Act, and Let Go!

If the presence of your boomerang child has become a negative situation, and they’re still enjoying the benefits of living under your roof, then you are probably kidding yourself about their maturity.  You could be justifying their childish behavior.  You’re allowing it to happen.  Kids are hampered by their parents’ inability to act.  I have seen some of these kids at Heartlight, and I think, “You can’t be serious!”  By letting your kids stay at home, you are allowing them to rely on you when the Scripture says we are to train up a child in the way he should go.  Hear that?  Go.  If they stay because of excuses, these kids won’t grow up to be good husbands, good wives, good fathers, or good mothers.  They’ll repeat the cycle with their own kids.

If you are the problem, you need to let go!  Parents, remember that your child is more important than you.  If you aren’t releasing your child to move onto the next step, it’s your issue not theirs.  When you finally let go, let me tell you this;  you’re going to love it!  Where they are going is more exciting than where they have been.  You need to trust God to take care of your kids.

The moment when the prodigal son came back to his senses was right after everybody quit giving him everything.  You need to consider what this means for your family.  Come up with a plan of transitioning your child into the real world.  Move them to a point where they are either in school, working, or waiting for a move to the next step in life.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program.  It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens.  Next time, we talk with Family Coach Tim Smith.  Tim, whose philosophy of parenting is “don’t do anything for your children that they can do for themselves,” will share his personal experience and perspective on having children return home.

You can hear Parenting Today’s Teens online, as a podcast, or find a radio station near you.  All the information is found at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173.  Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.


Experimenting With Drugs

prodigalIf you’ve seen an unexplainable or drastic change in your teenager’s honesty, grades, behavior, attentiveness, or friends, it may not be hormones.  It could be that they are experimenting with intoxicating substances that are as close as your kitchen drawer, medicine cabinet or garage.

It used to be that older teens were most susceptible to drug experimentation, but kids today are experimenting earlier and earlier.  In fact, 10 to 14 year-olds are now the most likely to begin experimenting with one intoxicating substance or another.

One fad is a throwback to the 60’s hippie culture, marked by an increased popularity, availability and use of marijuana (pot), as well as the more seriously addicting 60′s drugs like heroin and LSD (acid).  Today’s pot is several times more potent than it was just a few years ago and heroin is even more accessible in some schools today than alcohol.

Illegal drugs get a lot of news coverage, but there are literally thousands of less sinister, but potentially more dangerous, ways for kids to get high, including:  potent concoctions of common household glues, solvents and aerosols, prescription pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin, or even some of the plants found in your yard.  Some kids even get a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins.

Most teens think they’re invincible, so their drug history is their badge of courage.  They learn about every source of intoxication from the Internet and then try them one after another.  So, they could be experimenting with huffing aerosol propellants, glues, gasoline, or paint.  Or, they could be crushing cold medications and sniffing them like cocaine or guzzling liquid cold medicines.  They could be taking your prescription drugs or taking nothing at all and just playing the “choking game” to get a temporary high from near asphyxiation.  Still others show their courage by experimenting with the harder drugs like ecstasy, crystal meth, crack, cocaine, LSD, or heroin, which are all highly addictive.

When Does It Start?

When I ask kids in our counseling program the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade; and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs or alcohol when staying overnight at a friend’s home or other overnight youth event; or, at their friend’s house after school when their parents weren’t home.  Others were introduced to drugs or alcohol when attending parties … usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or don’t care.

Fact is, parents today who allow their teenagers to stay overnight with friends may be putting their teen in peril.  After the parents are asleep, the kids try to outdo each other in regard to how far they will go, armed with the latest vices from the Internet.  That’s why I recommend putting a stop to slumber parties at age ten.  Stop at age 10 for a couple of years …..slumber parties where the crowd influence is greater than just sleeping at someone’s house.  From then on, the normally innocent agenda of pizza and pillow fights tends to shift to more sinister things these days.

By the time most parents first discover their child is using drugs, the child has usually been involved for several years.  But if parents can be diligent in keeping their kids from experimenting with intoxicating substances before age 14, they’ll be less likely to get started at all, so it’s important to be the most vigilant in the critical tween and early teen years.

The Addicted Teen

There’s obviously a difference between experimenting with drugs and being addicted.  However, experimenting is no less dangerous, since we hear stories every day of deaths of first-time users.  And some drugs are so addictive, that they can lead to a lifetime addiction with their very first use.

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager’s drug addiction.  Just watch a few episodes of the show “Intervention” on television and you’ll see what dealing with an addict is like.  It’s a constant nightmare, not just for an addict, but for the entire family.  The lying, stealing, fits of anger, run-ins with the law and constant fear that the child will overdose can destroy and bankrupt a family.  And it won’t get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict’s entire life.

Sadly, each year more than a million teenagers need to go into substance abuse treatment programs.  And just like alcoholism, many of them will struggle with that addiction throughout their entire life.  That’s why it’s far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.

Why Do They Experiment?

Kids are usually motivated to experiment with drugs by curiosity and the need to fit in.  They want to try what their friends are trying, and they have a great need to belong.

Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain.  In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses they are feeling.  For instance, many kids use marijuana to reduce their anxiety, but medical studies show that the prolonged use of the drug has the opposite effect, leading to heightened anxiety, depression, nervousness, mental disorders, paranoia and panic attacks.  While some parents diminish the seriousness of use of marijuana, they should pay attention to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says are the effects of its prolonged use.  They report it can cause, “… impaired attention, memory problems, diminished learning capacity, interference with the formation of memories and the ability to retain knowledge, a general apathy toward life events, poor coordination, diminished interpersonal skills, and poor judgment.”

Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate.  Teens with more serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of “Russian Roulette.”  They reason, “If I die, then so be it.”  Not a week goes by that I don’t receive a message from a parent or grandparent, heartbroken that their teen overdosed and died.

Signs of Drug Use

There are many signs of substance abuse that a parent should watch for, but the only way to know for sure is to take your teenager to get a full-spectrum drug and alcohol test (a test for many types of drugs).  To be sure, have it done professionally by a local lab that processes tests for businesses.  Give your teen little forewarning to prepare for the test, since they can usually find ways on the Internet to falsify the results.

A substance abuse test is warranted if you see any of these signs:

Masking – you notice that they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask drug use.

Increased lying – not just once or twice, but chronic dishonesty, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and marked decrease in hygiene.

An unusual odor on clothes or in the room — frequent use of incense or deodorizers to mask the smell, frequent use of eye drops (to alleviate bloodshot eyes), extended periods locked alone in their room or the bathroom, frequent use of the garage or shed or other vacant buildings.

Change in friends – your teen exchanges healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to questionable people you don’t even know.  They may even run away, or disappear with their new friends for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth — shoplifting, credit card abuse, valuables disappearing from the home without explanation.  Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house or out camping.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

Drug paraphernalia — pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, empty aerosol cans, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, empty liquid cold remedy bottles, cold remedy blister packs, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons used for crushing and sniffing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Dropping grades– lack of care for school, sports or other healthy pursuits.

Drugs May Be the Behavior Issue

It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame drug use on teenage rebellion, but it could be that drugs are what’s affecting your child’s behavior.  The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place.  This is simply denial.  Until a parent understands the real possibility of drugs use — even if their teen has good Christian friends and is active in church — they won’t be able to get to the root of the problem.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether.  And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.  I’ve found that parents with kids in Christian schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem.  After all, they are in a “safe” environment, right?  Wrong!  Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that the drug problem is more prevalent, not less, in the Christian schools they’ve attended than in public schools.

Before Counseling, Get the Drug Use Under Control

Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager’s system.  Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months.  That’s why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program.  We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of.  Likewise, don’t attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system.  It’s a waste of money and time.  The best plan is to have the two therapies work hand in hand, ensuring that the ongoing support of an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program continue in tandem with your teen’s counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.

If your teen is showing any of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen.  Make it a prerequisite for using the car.  Hold them accountable to the results, just as if a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation.  Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don’t trust them.  Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store that can be used for regular monitoring.  And when you test them, stay in the room.  Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample.  If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail.  Better a few days in jail and a time on probation where they’ll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.

Don’t stick your head in the sand or otherwise pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs.  If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are most likely dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol or other intoxicating substances in one form or another.  The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.

 


Balanced Parenting

The “Baby Boom” generation was so anxious to have good relationships with their children that they tended to set aside their primary role as parents.  Their desire to be their child’s best friend nurtured the advent of a self-centered, demanding, “Me Generation” who believes the world revolves around them.  But there’s hope!

Parenting in Past Generations — Too Rigid

As I’ve grown older, I see more with the eyes of my heart than I do with those on each side of my big nose.  And the aging process has brought me to a greater understanding of my own mom and dad’s parenting style.  I’ve learned that things really weren’t as bad as I used to think they were.

My dad, like yours, was less than relational; his focus was on providing for his family.  Working at the same job for 38 years; providing was his way of showing love for his family.  He demanded respect.  He taught us to be responsible because that’s the way he was taught, and he wanted us to live the same way.

My father worked hard because he grew up during the Great Depression, and he knew first-hand the challenges of having little to live on.  He also saw to it that our family was protected.  Food was always on the table, a roof was always over our head, we all went to college, and the enemy he fought in the South Pacific never marched on our homeland.

Parenting in Today’s Generation — Too Relational

Then, the 60’s and 70’s came along.  Some called it a revolution.  Millions of “Baby Boomers” fell head over heels toward relationships and feelings of love for all mankind.  Our music and lifestyle expressed our desire for universal peace and love.  We swooned to lyrics like “all you need is love,” and “smile on your brother; everybody get together; try to love one another right now.”  There was a “whole lotta’ love” going around.  And we “showered the people we love with love … showing them the way that we feel.”  Then we took our desire for peace, love and affection right into our parenting style.

Baby boomers as parents focused on maintaining peace and love, at all costs.  We determined to have better, stronger relationships with our kids than we had with our parents; carrying out these normally good and healthy desires to an extreme.  Out of financial abundance, we gave our kids everything they ever wanted, and more.  Modern conveniences allowed for more free time and less responsibility.  Soccer moms equipped with minivans shuttled kids from one event or activity to another, with stops at McDonald’s in-between.  We indulged, spoiled and provided too much “stuff” as misguided expressions of our love.

But Good Relationships Are Good, Aren’t They?

What’s wrong with too much love?  Nothing!  But there is something wrong with it if it is our only focus.  To put it bluntly, placing kids on a pedestal and focusing our lives on them created feelings of entitlement.  Kids began equating our love with our pocket book and our willingness to do things for them.  Their thrills in life came from getting new toys, new clothes, new honors, and new excitements.  They became demanding, selfish, adrenalin junkies, searching daily for new thrills.  When the excitement ended or the money train slowed, they became angry.  We wanted to be the best parents ever, but the more we focused our attention and our money on our kids, the more they fell into anxiety, depression, and outright defiance.  After all, they wouldn’t admit it, but deep down they were terrified for what they would do after they left the comforts and indulgences of home.  Perhaps you have a teenager fitting this description living in your home right now?

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over 3,000 such teenagers in our Heartlight counseling program over the past 20 years. These are kids whose parents loved them greatly and gave them every convenience and materialistic advantage in life, yet they developed so many emotional problems that they had to be taken out of their homes.  So, I’ve seen this phenomenon thousands of times; and we continue to receive dozens of pleas for help from parents of out of control teenagers every day.

The crux of the matter is that it is hard to be a good parent when our focus is on having peace, love and friendship with our children.  This becomes especially difficult in step-families and some adoptive families.  The crucial role of correcting and holding children accountable is impossible when our overriding concern is to avoid any form of damage to our friendship.  But what we need to realize is that our children need parents first, not more friends.

So, the big question is this:  How do parents establish their position of authority, while also maintaining their relationship with their teen?  In other words, how do we find a proper balance without swinging the pendulum too far the other way?

Parenting the Right Way – Balanced

A simple answer is to say things like “No” and “Maybe” more often; and we need to apply boundaries and consequences when our kids cross over the line.  Balanced parenting is applying strength when needed; and tenderness at the same time.  It is not just one or the other, it is both.  The essence of balance in parenting is to stand beside our children and walk with them through life, while also determining to stand in front of them when we need to stop them from their foolish ways.

Kids learn quickly when they come to live with us at Heartlight that I am an authority in their life.  But that is always coupled with acceptance and love.  That’s why we continue to have great relationships with them over the years.  I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to come to their college graduations or weddings, or who have connected with me on the Internet or by phone.  And most of them have turned out great, so I know there is hope, even with the most difficult and selfish teenagers.  There is a way to resolve this dilemma, but it takes a balanced approach.

Our goal should be to help our kids get to where they want to be, and keep them from going to a place they really don’t want to end up.  But since they are too immature to know any better, we need to remain in control, no matter how upset it makes them temporarily.  Then, as they mature in their thinking, the reins can be gradually released.  Believe me, your kids will express their appreciation when they are older for holding them in line as teenagers, and they’ll realize that you did it out of love, not to be mean or rigid.  In fact, they’ll ask for advice when they have children — and the beat goes on.

Scripture describes God as a mighty warrior and a fierce lion.  Scripture also reveals His softer side, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isa 66:13).  One purpose of parenting is to give a child a taste of the character of God, and that means giving them both sides of His character.

It’s never too late to start being a balanced parent; have a loving relationship, while also holding them responsible.  Your children need your correction, wisdom, and willingness to help them travel the path God has for them.  They need you to be gentle and loving, but also firm – a clear reflection of both sides of God’s character.

A wise man once told me, “When you’re called to be a servant, don’t stoop to be a king.”  Parents are never a more like a servant than when they willingly love a child through anything.  But don’t grow weary in doing what is right, since your first job is to be an authority in your child’s life.  Your teen needs a parent and a friend, but when push comes to shove, they need a parent more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.