My Teen Is on Drugs. What Can I Do?

It’s every parent’s nightmare: having a teen on drugs. This is not life as God designed it. Substance abuse causes the breakdown of all that is good. Enslavement replaces freedom. Detachment replaces love. Chaos replaces order. Despair replaces hope. Many young people abuse alcohol and drugs, and this problem is not likely to go away anytime soon. I (Dr. Townsend) can’t overstate the danger of substance abuse. It can, and often does, lead to poverty, injury, disease, and death. But despite the seriousness of this problem, parents of teens with this issue need to understand that the greatest single force to help a teen resolve a substance problem is an involved parent. What follows are some guidelines for the process. Defining the Problem Unfortunately, the teen years are a perfect fit, in a sick way, for substance abuse problems. By nature, adolescents challenge the authority and values of parents and are highly susceptible to peer approval. They are interested in feelings and experiences, often to the neglect of good judgment, yet they can quickly become disconnected and can feel isolation deeply. Teens get easily bruised, discouraged, and hurt, and they gravitate toward quick ways to medicate the pain. No wonder the issue... Continue Reading »

Raising Kids with an Eye on the Future

It was a normal day, but one that would forever change my friend’s parenting. We had finished dinner, and I (Dr. Cloud) was visiting with my friend, Allison, and her husband, Bruce, when she left the dinner table to do some chores. Bruce and I continued to talk until a phone call took him away as well, so I went to see if I could lend Allison a hand. I could hear her in their 14-year-old son Cameron’s room. I walked in to a scene that jolted me. She was cheerfully putting away clothes and sports equipment and making the bed. She struck up a conversation as if things were normal: “I can’t wait for you to see the pictures from our trip. It was so much—” “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m cleaning up Cameron’s room,” she said. “What does it look like I’m doing?” “You are what?” “I told you. I’m cleaning up his room. Why are you looking at me like that?” All I could do was to share with her the vision in my head. “I just feel sorry for Cameron’s future wife.” Allison straightened up, froze for a moment, and then hurried from the... Continue Reading »

Your Child’s Pain Should Not Control Your Actions

Boundaries with kids begins with parents having good boundaries of their own. Purposeful parents stay in control of themselves. If your child is controlling your decisions by protesting your boundaries, you are no longer parenting with purpose. Terri was having problems with her thirteen-year-old son Josh not doing his homework. I helped her come up with a plan that would require Josh to set aside a certain time each night to do homework. During this hour Josh had to be in his study place with nothing else but his work, and he was not to do anything else but study. Terri had no control over whether or not Josh actually chose to study during that time. What she could control was that he do nothing else during that time but sit with his homework. When I saw her the next time, Terri looked sheepish. She had not lived up to her end of the plan. “What happened?” I asked. “Well, we were all set, and then he got invited to go to a baseball game with his friend. I said no, that his hour was not up yet. But he got so upset, I could not talk him out of... Continue Reading »

Common Signs of a Lack of Boundaries with Family

Let’s look at some common signs of a lack of boundaries with the family we grew up in. Catching the Virus A common scenario is this: one spouse doesn’t have good emotional boundaries with the family he grew up in — his family of origin. Then when he has contact with them by phone or in person, he becomes depressed, argumentative, self-critical, perfectionistic, angry, combative, or withdrawn. It is as though he “catches” something from his family of origin and passes it on to his immediate family. His family of origin has the power to affect his new family in a trickle-down effect. One sure sign of boundary problems is when your relationship with one person has the power to affect your relationships with others. You are giving one person way too much power in your life. I remember one young woman who made steady gains in therapy until she talked to her mother, when she would withdraw for three weeks. She would say things like, “I’m not changing at all. I’m not getting any better.” Fusing with many of her mother’s ideas about her, she wasn’t able to stay separate. This fusion with her mother affected her other relationships.... Continue Reading »

Boundaries and Emotional Blackmail

“Every time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she’s not there anymore,” mused Ingrid over coffee with her friend Alice. “It’s like she’s hurt and withdrawn, and I can’t get her back. It’s really a horrible feeling to think you’ve lost someone you love.” Let’s be honest. None of us enjoys being told no. It’s difficult to accept another person’s refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Good relationships are built on appropriate no’s. Even when we’re children, young or old, we need to know our boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that our disagreements, our practicing of saying no, and our experimentation will not result in a withdrawal of love. How often do we hear the statement that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”? It’s true. His love is constant and never fails. When parents detach from a misbehaving young child instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, God’s constant love is misrepresented. When parents pull away in... Continue Reading »

How to Win a Titanic Power Struggle with Your Child

In one family I (Dr. Townsend) know, seven-year-old Taylor was going through a titanic power struggle with his mother. Sometimes, she wondered if setting boundaries with kids was actually possible. Taylor fought any “do” or “don’t” she said. Finally, his mom went to his bedroom to talk to him. As she opened the door, a cup perched on the top of the door tipped over, covering her from head to toe with milk. Any parent would have blown up at her child. Instead, Taylor’s mom said, her face dripping with milk, “Son, this is really serious. I’m going to have to take some time to figure out what will be happening to you. I’ll let you know.” The next few hours were excruciating for Taylor as he waited in limbo. By that time, the mom had called her husband and worked out a plan. The plan included restrictions on Taylor’s time—such as no TV, limited outdoor time, and limited friend time—and consequences—such as shampooing the carpet and learning how to use a washing machine to clean Mom’s clothes. To avoid feeling like the bad guy, Taylor joked with his dad that evening about the incident, saying, “Dad, wasn’t that kind... Continue Reading »

Why Your Child Really Isn’t Perfect and What to Do About It

Children need more than a parent who will talk about boundaries. They need a parent who will be boundaries. This means that in whatever situation arises, you respond to your child with empathy, firmness, freedom, and consequences. This is how God handles his children, and he is our model. But, sometimes parents contribute to the problem by trying to justify their kid’s behavior, rather than addressing the issue. Setting boundaries with kids isn’t about “making” your child do anything. It is much more about structuring your child’s existence so that he experiences the consequences of his behavior, thus leading him to be more responsible and caring. Use the following three key steps to help begin the process with your kids: Step 1: Acknowledge that your child is not perfect. All kids are immature sinners; this is our human condition. Some parents have difficulty with this first step. They deny their child’s behavior. They rationalize genuine problems. For example, smarting off becomes a cute sense of humor. Laziness becomes fatigue. Intrusiveness becomes high-spiritedness. Parents rationalize their child’s problems for many reasons. Some do it to avoid guilty feelings. Some don’t want their own perfectionism challenged. Some feel as if their child... Continue Reading »

How to Determine the Right Consequences When Setting Boundaries

Not long ago I (Dr. Townsend) took my kids and some of their friends to a major league baseball game for an outing. While we were watching the game, a young boy sitting behind us was making everyone miserable. He was out of control, loud, and rude. His parents did try to manage him, but their efforts were ineffective. They shushed him, praised him when he was quiet, bribed him with food, and threatened to take him out of the game. Nothing worked. Finally, one of my son’s friends turned to me and said, “That guy needs some serious consequences.” I made a note to myself to call his parents when I got home and congratulate them. I don’t often hear that kind of thing from adolescents. If you are like many of the people I talk with, you may often have difficulty identifying and following through with appropriate consequences. Let’s take a look at a five simple principles that can guide you in determining the right consequences when setting boundaries. 1. Remove the Desirable, Add the Undesirable A consequence is either removing the desirable or adding the undesirable to someone else’s life as the result of a rule violation.... Continue Reading »

How to Overcome a Victim Mentality

A woman complained to me (Dr. Cloud) about a coworker who would always interrupt her while she was trying to get her job done. She acted as if her tendency to be behind in her work was her coworker’s fault. “Why do you talk to her?” I asked. “What do you mean?” she replied. “When she comes in and interrupts, why do you get into a conversation with her?” “Well, I have to. She is standing there talking.” “Why don’t you just tell her that you have work to do, or close your door and put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign?” The woman looked at me with a blank stare. To have choices and to have control of her own behavior was a concept that hadn’t occurred to her. She felt that if something happened “to her,” then that was the way it had to be. There was nothing she could do to change it. When I suggested that she had many choices, she quizzed me about them. I gave her five or six suggestions, from talking to the woman about the problem, to talking to a supervisor, to asking to be moved to another area. This was a... Continue Reading »

Single Parent: 3 Tips to Save Your Sanity

If you are a single parent, you may need to know something: you have the hardest job in the world. You have to meet all the needs of your kid, over many years, without the help of a spouse. Some of my (Dr. Townsend) closest friends are single parents, and my heart breaks with theirs when they encounter the rough years of parenting. Single parenting can sometimes be brutal and overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to discuss boundaries for single parents. Many of my friends have also found the balance and resources they need, and they are experiencing success as parents. Their children and teens are doing well and are maturing at the right rate. So there is hope for you as well. Let’s look at three of the biggest struggles single parents face and explore what you can do to meet those challenges: Single Parent Challenge #1 – Not Enough of You Single parents have to do the work of two parents, yet they have more limited resources than two-parent families, both in quantity and in ability. This limitation becomes more of a challenge when your kids are teenagers. They push against your authority and limits and assert their... Continue Reading »