When Your Teen Won’t Confess
A dad told me the story the other day about his son’s unwillingness to admit he had a problem with pornography. He had plenty of evidence that his son had a problem. He had done so many good things by communicating lovingly, compassionately, openly, and clearly about what he was observing in his son. He he had made multiple efforts and had come at this issue from multiple angles. Yet, each time, he was refuted; and his son wouldn’t open up to the reality of his problem and seek help.
What do you do as a parent when you know your teen is facing a significant struggle, but isn’t ready to talk about it, much less get help for it? It isn’t just pornography. The list could include: depression, eating disorders, self-harm, addiction to games, drug/alcohol use, fear at school, poor relationship boundaries, or simply poor hygiene. As a parent, you know something is wrong and you want to help. But, each time you try, it seems to only increase the distance between you and your child.
Check your motivation, emotions, and insecurity. It will be a shock to learn about your teen’s problem. It may cause you embarrassment, anger, fear, and a whole host of other emotions. Your first impulse will be to confront. The only problem is that you may not be rationally able to communicate, yet. Take some time, talk to your spouse, a good friend, or a trusted advisor, just to make sure you are able to talk about it in a way to ease your kid’s fears, not just your own.
Learn more, and get support. The behavior you are trying to eradicate most likely is an outward manifestation of a deeper problem. Cutting is a way to deal with pain; and drugs, many times, are used for self medication. Take some time to search on-line to learn more about what your teen is doing. Even better, find a support group, either on-line or in person, and get their advice before you confront your teen. Your first impulse is that you are alone and the only parent ever to have to deal with this. But, a bit of research will reveal that you aren’t alone, and there is help.
Figure out the most loving thing you can do. Your goal is to figure out the most loving thing to do to help your child. This may not be the easiest thing for him, or you; but, it is the most loving thing. This could mean a simple, warm conversation; or, it could mean being more confrontational. Teens fear overreacting, and will interpret much of what you do as overreacting; yet, that doesn’t mean they are right.
Don’t argue, just observe. Too many parents are looking for an admission, believing that admission will lead to quick healing and restoration. Focus on what you’ve observed, and your concerns. Arguments, manipulation, and threats are pretty normal when the teen is an addict, or is caught off-guard. Focus on being calm, and keeping your emotions under control. This will reduce the likelihood that you’ll get drawn into a battle, or say things you’ll later regret.
Don’t label or dehumanize them — encourage their dignity. Yes, they may be addicted and/or acting irrationally, irresponsibly, and horribly; but, labels and inhumane treatment is NOT helpful. If you see them as a ‘loser’, it only reinforces how they view themselves, and feeds into their hopelessness. The key is to see their dignity, even if they don’t see it themselves.
Set clear boundaries. You want them to know what you value. This probably includes: honesty, trust, purity, and a home which is safe for everyone that lives there. They also need to know that they do have freedom, but that freedom also has a cost. Your job is to protect your home and them; so, there are things you can’t sit by and let happen. They need to know there are consequences you need to allow to take place, for their good and the good of your home. Boundaries need to be shared, based on positive things you want to protect. The result of their choice either supports that value, or works against it.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. I am so impressed when parents seek professional help before things get out of control. Even if the teen resists getting help, you can meet with a counselor to work on strategies and your own emotions. It costs money and takes time. But, counseling and parent coaching are both very effective and provide a support to you, even when your teen isn’t willing to get help.
You’ve been throwing life ring buoys to your teen and they keep swimming away from them. You are worried and have plenty of reasons to be worried. However, this isn’t the time for you to: be isolated, be paralyzed with fear, or give up. Jesus gives us a glimpse into what it is like for God to be a parent, in the story of the prodigal son. God, as the perfect parent, still had two problem kids. One, who left Him to party; and the other, who never left, but was full rebellion and lack of mercy. God knows what you are going through, and isn’t judging you. He is giving you an example. Rather than worrying what the neighbors would say, the father longed, waited, and prepared for restoration. And when it came, once again, he didn’t worry about appearances — he loved his sons.
Question: What was helpful for you when your parents confronted you? What do you focus on as you confront your kids?
Eating Disorders: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eating_disorder_self_help.htm