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Don’t Ignore Your Teenager: A Warning for Parents in Transition

Change can be tough for anyone. During adolescence, when your world is tiny and one poor fashion choice can seem like the end of all things, major change can be completely and utterly overwhelming.

If your teen is changing schools, you’re in the middle of a divorce or they’ve gained a new step-parent (and step-siblings), their world feels like it’s been overturned. It is important to help them cope with this major transition. If they don’t have healthy coping skills in place, it’s a risky time for substance abuse.

Focus on Your Teen’s Mental Wellbeing

Substance abused teen sleeping on a bed in a dark roomYour teen may be struggling with emotions – and drugs can seem like an easy way to dampen them. Maybe he’s worried about making new friends, so he considers trying substances in an effort to fit in with his new surroundings. He may be angry about the change and try to get even with you through rebellion.

No matter the specific circumstance, an emotional upheaval has so many effects on his mental state. This time of turmoil is prime for making poor decisions that can lead to substance abuse and addiction.

3 Tips for Healthy Transitioning

So how can you help your teen transition well? Start by taking the following proactive steps:

  • Offer your ear and your shoulder: Teens aren’t always willing to open up to Mom and Dad, but let him know you’re willing to listen…and then do it. Truly listen. Express empathy. He needs to feel understood. And validate his feelings. You don’t have to encourage poor attitudes, but let him know it’s okay to have negative feelings. Your teen may feel pressured to maintain a positive attitude about the situation. He may feel like he can’t tell you if he’s sad, scared, frustrated or angry. Let him know he’s absolutely allowed to have these emotions. Let him cry on your shoulder or vent about school issues. Navigating these negative emotions – and talking about them – will help him develop healthy coping skills.
  • Offer choices: Teens rarely have input about the changes adults are going through. Things are out of their control and the accompanying sensation of control-loss can lead to feelings of helplessness or rebellion. While you can’t let your teen make major life decisions, you can give him smaller choices that will help him cope. If you’re moving, for example, let him decide how to decorate his new room. Offer options about extra-curricular activities at the new location. Give him a role in some decision-making so he feels like everything is not out of his control.
  • Offer stability: Do you have any family traditions? Maybe you have dinner together every Sunday. Maybe you go out for ice cream once a week. Maybe your teen has a favorite armchair he loves to read or watch TV in. As you navigate major changes, maintain some stability by keeping these things consistent. Furnish your new place with familiar items and continue your traditions. If schedules and jobs have changed, this may be difficult, but it provides continuity and grounding for your teen as he copes with the many other changes around him.
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