The moment a teen completes treatment is a heady time. It is natural to feel a sense of triumph. But as a coach might say after his team’s first victory, enjoy it today and then get back to work. There is plenty to be done and there will be inevitable defeats along the way.
A treatment program is a structured, nurturing environment. Distractions can be controlled, external forces blocked out. But once a teen is home and back at school, there are many more variables entering their life, even if home life as structured and nurturing as possible. It is natural for your child to fall into old habits as they return to their familiar habitat.
Over the years, we have seen the myriad challenges that await families following discharge from treatment. These are the waterfalls families encounter as they navigate the whirling waters of life following treatment.
- The Discordant Parenting Waterfall
Parents have to work as a team with consistent messages. In the family hierarchy, they must establish themselves as the boss and speak with one voice. Parents who accommodate their children’s wishes to avoid conflict, or who try to be their children’s “friend,” undermine their status at the top of the hierarchy. Also undermining that authority is disharmony in messages between parents, which leads children to seek out the more accommodating parent. This waterfall is one of the two biggest parenting hazards.
- The Emotional Trigger Waterfall
The other major parenting hazard is the emotional trigger, which puts power in the hands of the teen. Parents must learn not to respond to eye-rolling, name-calling, empty threats and other efforts to disturb the balance of power. These old habits can be hard to break, but they are the key to maintaining the order teens need in their lives.
- The Power Struggle Waterfall
Closely related to the emotional trigger, teens will attempt to manipulate their parents if they think they can be successful. Parents need to avoid getting into an escalating power struggles by establishing clear rules and the consequences for violating them, and then following through. All that can be done without allowing emotional responses to the teen’s actions to interfere.
- The Freedoms & Privileges Waterfall
When a teen exits treatment, they are leaving behind a highly-structured environment that changed their behavior and re-entering an eco-system in which their problems germinated. It is essential that parents create a long on-ramp for their return. Simply granting back all the freedoms and privileges of home creates a jarring transition. Instead, teens returning from treatment must slowly regain their freedoms as they earn them.
- The Letting Go Waterfall
This is another waterfall connected to the transition from treatment. Years of experience demonstrate that it is unwise to allow a teen to leap immediately from treatment to college or living and working on their own. That long, slow transition is critical.
- The Over-accommodation Waterfall
This speaks for itself, as does its cousin, the Unclear Expectations Waterfall. Teens need to earn privileges and always understand what is expected of them and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.
- The Social Vacuum Waterfall
When a teen leaves treatment, it takes a village to support their continued recovery. Families are critical, but friends are also important. Teens who return without any social system around them can become isolated, impairing recovery.
- The Sibling Waterfall
Peer relationships can be severed if they’re not constructive, but siblings are forever. It’s important that siblings be educated to play a positive role in the transition, even if they feel things were better while their brother or sister was away.
Those are a lot of road hazards as a teen travels the path back to normal life. They point up the need to have a plan and be prepared for setbacks following treatment.