Episode 13 - Parent Playbook - Asking for Help
The “When”, “Who” and “How” to get help for a struggling teen.
This Audio Journal series focuses on what it takes to coach your family through the Opioid Crisis with the right game plan, a playbook, an understanding of your opponent and help from your “assistants” when it’s called for. This episode will focus on why you need a good staff around you because no game is winnable if you are the only coach calling the plays.
Football coaches know that they don’t have all of the answers. That’s why they rely on their assistants. Nick Saban of Alabama has hired the best assistant coaches, relies on their advice, and lets them take the lead in their area of expertise. Managing your child when he is oppositional, defiant, losing ground at school, and using drugs that can cause overdose at any minute is not something parents should try and manage without help.
There are plenty of good assistants out there to help parents adjust their strategy, send in better plays to protect their children, and know when the game plan that they have is just not working. This all seems logical, but parents often fail to know the when, the who and the how to ask for help.
Let’s focus on “the when”. I would seriously doubt that a football coach waits to consult his assistants after the game gets out of hand. They ask for advice early and often. But the same is not true of parents when their child is in trouble. That’s because parents are often ashamed, traumatized or confused. It’s never a good idea to wait to ask for help. When you see your child’s grades drop, their behavior change, or just are worried that things are not right, ask for insight, advice, or help right away. Waiting can have deadly consequences allowing adolescents to keep using drugs, engage in dangerous behaviors and sometimes lose their lives to overdose.
And what about your “pre-game strategy”. You should avail yourself of the help, strategy and advice of others to learn how you should prevent substance misuse and go on the offense before you have to play the much harder game of defense when your child is already in trouble. You may want to take a look at one of InterAct LifeLine’s portals called Rethink the Family.com (http://rethinkthefamily.com) where there is an abundance of education about the disease, how to talk to kids, and prevention strategies you can use.
Now, let’s explore “the who”. There are so many people out there that parents already know who can be helpful. All you have to do is ask. Let’s start with people at your child’s school. Teachers have their ear to the ground, know when kids are falling behind, and may see behavioral issues before you do. I started my career as a middle school teacher and believe me, I knew what was going on. Get to school, schedule a conference with teachers and invite the guidance counselors to join. If they don’t know all the answers, they will now have their radar up and can be on high alert on your behalf.
Then think about your neighbors and friends, particularly those who have kids the same age as yours. My friends and neighbors were the first to alert me that I had a problem with my daughter Laura. Their kids were telling them what they were seeing her do at school and the bad crowd that Laura was hanging out with. Fortunately, I didn’t have to ask for their help; they offered it, but it taught me a lesson that sometimes your best allies are those closest to you.
And then there are times when you need professional help. Consider engaging the services of an adolescent therapist that is trained in substance misuse and addiction. Think about having a full psycho-educational assessment to understand the issues driving behavior as well as any learning differences that are making their school performance much harder. Some families opt to hire an educational consultant, experienced in at-risk adolescents who can help you assess the extent of the problem, offer solutions and recommend treatment options.
And now for the “how” to ask for help. Asking for help should seem relatively straightforward but it is almost never that simple. For some parents, it doesn’t seem natural to admit that they can't manage their teenager and have lost control. They are almost always mortified by the behavior and ashamed to reveal what’s happening. Parents, I’m telling you that it’s so critical that you swallow your pride, admit what is going on, and be honest about the details.
Here is a strategy that works. Start with letting the individual know that you need to have a confidential conversation about something you are struggling with that is causing you a great deal of stress and anxiety. Then, let them know who it involves. Don’t try and make it a hypothetical situation about someone else when it’s you that needs the help. And don’t hold back when you are giving that person the details. It will be hard to share your kid’s struggles, but people can’t help you if they don’t know the facts.
And finally, let the person know what role you want them to play. Do you need them to just be a good listener so you can get the problem out in the open to better process it? Do you need them to offer advice? Or are you looking for a partner or individual to help you solve the problem?
When my daughter Laura got into trouble at age 14, I was fortunate to put my ego, fear and pride aside and accept what my friends shared with me to let me know Laura was in trouble. I sought the school’s advice to see where Laura was in her academic performance and what we could do to keep her in school and get her back on track. I put Laura in therapy with someone who specialized in working with adolescents. And when that didn’t work, I hired an educational consultant to give me a deeper assessment, recommend a treatment program and a strategy to get her enrolled.
Asking for help is a sign of strength, a recognition that a team is better than any one individual to solve a problem, and that you can push past your reservations for the sake of your child to get the help you need.