Ask the Experts
My teenaged daughter is involved with a known drug user who has had a devastating effect on her. I know that she doesn’t do drugs due to very open dialogue and past conflicts regarding the boyfriend but I can’t seem to give her enough information to come to the rational decision. She shows very classic examples of co-dependency and strives to "save him" while all the while giving up more and more of herself. He has been in trouble with the law on more than one occasion and his parents continue to bail him out. She is sure that he loves her, yet doesn’t understand that she has given up her friends, her extracurriculars, and certain aspects of her family life in an effort to "love him back." What are the logical steps to recovery for a child who is in this state?
You have clearly analyzed your daughter’s situation. It is true, being in relationship with a drug user will involve all of the elements you mention: 1) Co-dependency or putting the user’s needs before her own; 2) Increased demand from the user for more attention ("love") and help ("saving"); 3) Isolation from non-using friends; 4) Decreased involvement in extracurricular activities.
Let’s start with what IS working for the two of you. Congratulations for having a very open dialogue with your daughter about drug use. Keep up the good work and continue that dialogue! In drug research nationwide, it is proven that there is a very high incidence of drug use among teens whose friends are using. Your worry was warranted! Congratulations also go to your daughter for not getting involved with drugs. She may be thinking that this is a sign of her maturity and good decision-making. It is. So far she is managing the drug aspect of the situation well.
What ISN’T working?
It sounds like you’ve been trying to change your child’s ideas about her boyfriend. If that technique were going to work, you would have had success by now. So it’s time for a different approach!
The first step towards recovery is to get your relationship back on track and to use your authority as a parent in a constructive way. Because she is not using drugs, you have a couple of options or "paths" to choose from. Which path you choose depends on the severity of your child’s problem, and your own parenting comfort zone.
Parenting Path Number 1.
You can insist - and enforce - that your child not see this boy anymore. Your daughter is not at the point yet where she can determine what is safe for her and what is not. It is your responsibility as a parent to determine how to keep her safe. You do this by establishing rules, creating consequences for behavior you are trying to limit and rewards for behavior she changes. If she were using drugs, I would favor this path. Because she is not using drugs, you have the option of using a softer approach.
Parenting Path Number 2.
Work with your daughter to keep her focused on her OWN future. High school years are an important springboard for the "next step." Working with your daughter on behalf of her future instead of fighting against her about her romantic choice puts you both on the same team. Because you, as a parent, are responsible for keeping her safe and focused, you can insist - and enforce - that she be involved in certain extracurricular activities that may impact college or job applications. You may also require goal-setting sessions, or an after school job. These are ways of ensuring that your daughter has a life of her own without doing battle with her romantic relationship. My guess is that her relationship will lose some of its urgency - and appeal - when you stop pushing against it. The high school years are a time to experiment with new relationships but they are also a time to develop a vision for your life and career, don’t let your daughter lose sight of her future!
Alison Birnbaum is a Licensed Certified Social Worker who is a parenting expert in the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. She has a private practice in New Canaan, CT.
CTCADA offers both adolescent intervention and treatment programs. Education, individual counseling, family therapy, group counseling and referral to other resources are all part of a comprehensive effort to prevent or intervene in youth alcohol and drug abuse. Call us at 254-690-4455!