The Key to a Better Year with Your Out-of-Control Teen: Map out Your Journey

Posted January 16, 2009 by

Happy New Year.

Now, before you roll your eyes (which most likely roll just fine because of the lubrication of way too many tears) and sigh (or scream) hang with me. There can be happiness in the New Year.  It’s OK if you don’t believe me, I didn’t believe it when others told me my relationship with my out-of-control teen could heal either.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this could be a happy new year?  A year of triumphant steps towards healing in your stressed out, chaotic, out-of-control relationships? A year where apologies (yes, plural) can tentatively start to be offered? A year of baby steps towards healing in bruised and battered relationships, hearts and souls?  A year when you and your child will hug and hold each other rather than hurl hand grenades of hostility?

Aren’t these places you would like to end up?  I remember desperately wanting those things, yet being so overwhelmed I was clueless as to how to get there. My AAA membership wasn’t going to help me with this one. There was no Trip Tick available; there wasn’t even a map…not even scrawled directions on the back of a napkin.

I know I needed a map to try to reach the elusive destination of hope and healing, but couldn’t find one when we were negotiating the U-Turns, detours, road blocks and closed roads (I suspect due to mudslides and avalanches) of our journey of belligerence, substance abuse and defiance with our son.

I believe we can use these experiences to support and encourage others if we are willing to share them, so here is my version of a Trip Tick designed to make your journey just a bit more direct.

Back to Happy New Year.

Instead of resolutions (I tend to dislike that word, as I seem to set myself up for failure rather than success) I prefer setting goals. Goals are measurable so when they are achieved there is success to be celebrated.

1.  Pick your destination. Where is it you want to go this year?  If you haven’t made this trip before (most of us haven’t, it’s not exactly on the list of top ten places to go) it’s hard to find a map.  Why not start with an affordable and reachable destination rather than signing up for a deluxe, all inclusive cruise. In other words, set an attainable goal.

2. Pack appropriately. If you are going to the mountains you probably won’t need shorts. If you are going to the beach, don’t forget your sunscreen and leave the hat and gloves behind. Make sure you are equipped with the resources you will need to make this trip.

3. Pace yourself.  Don’t try to get there in one non-stop, marathon road trip without stopping at rest stops.
I remember driving to Florida (from New England) years ago. It was horrible. Over twenty hours straight with two young kids in the back of the car before there were traveling DVD players.  Atari had just come out…no help there. Like I said, it was awful: we were exhausted when we got there, and couldn’t enjoy ourselves when we arrived.  Find a way to make the trip manageable, which usually means either finding a quicker way to get there (that option is not available for this trip, sorry) or taking your time and resting along the way.

4.  Focus only on getting to the next rest stop.  What I mean by this is when you map out your destination, identify several places you would like to stop and visit along the way.  If healing is your ultimate destination, maybe the first stop is making it through a morning where instead of conversations sprinkled with shame and blame (both ways, I know) you simply say nothing. The next stop may be to let your teen know you still love them, although you don’t love (nor can support) the choices they are making. When confronted with any large task, it is easy to become overwhelmed, so take it one step at a time. Baby steps if need be.

5. Don’t be afraid to stay put.  If you’re not sure where to go next (say the dog chewed up the next page of the map, or you wrote it in ink that smudged when your coffee spilled all over it) stay put until you can figure it out.  Don’t go just for the sake of going, always remember and know where it is you want to end up.

6. Your destination may change.  Have you ever planned a trip, only to find that some unexpected glitch has come up to rearrange your plans?  A hurricane swept through your vacation destination, closing the hotel. (I know you can identify with this, you may be thinking a hurricane swept through my life and I am living in the eye of the storm.) The airline went belly up and canceled all the available flights and instead of going direct, the trip will now require three layovers, you get the idea. Don’t be afraid to change your travel plans.  Maybe your original destination wasn’t realistic anyway.  Instead of perfection, seek progress. Instead of heading for that all inclusive five star resort  you really wanted to go because the brochure sounded so inviting (picture the perfect family, who by the way doesn’t exist anyway) why not settle for a bungalow at a state park overlooking the ocean.  Sure you have to bring your own linens, but it may be better to aim for what you know you can afford, or in this case, achieve.

7. Invite others to come along.  Don’t try to make this trip alone.  Support is critical.  If your travel companions aren’t up for the trip, don’t take them along.  Traveling with someone who doesn’t enjoy doing the same things as you do is a real drag. Trust me, I know.  I won’t make that mistake again. So no doom naysayers or curmudgeons on this trip. Only take along those who are on board for the same journey.  It was not at all helpful to me to have others in my inner circle who were critical (or judgmental) of how we were traveling our journey. They just made more of a mess of the map.

8. Celebrate when you get there.  Have a party. Live, laugh and love. If you plan your trip carefully and use the map you will get there.

So instead of resolutions for the New Year, set a goal instead, in this case a destination of where you would like to go in your relationship with the one who is wreaking havoc in your life.

Think about it. Where would you like to go this year?  And I will even be your tour guide if you like. Next time we’ll visit some rest stops together.


Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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  1. liz (Edit) Report

    my 16 yr old daughter had a completely out of control first 6 mos of 10th grade… sneaking out at midnight, coming home at 4:30a, then the next time i was out knocking on the doors of her friends’ homes from 4 to 5:30a trying to find her – only to find that another mother had put her on the train to go to another town over an hour away… there were nights/mornings where state troupers helped me track her down. She’d come home exhausted, defiant, hung over and so far outside the realm of reason there was no way to connect with her. In mid January she landed in the emergency room. Her first pap was a rape kit. Her blood alcohol level .325 – that’s 300times the legal limit… There’s so much of the her story I could try to tell – but it’s my story I’m working on understanding. I’ve found amazing support from the police, crime victim advocates – I had her hospitalized in a place that specializes in mental treatment and during that week she was gone I slept. I can’t describe what happens when I hear a footstep or possibly a door or window open – that’s the end of my sleep even now despite the 9 weeks that have passed by since the last time she snuck out. The prepping for a blissful vacation analogy is a bit of a stretch – at first it seems outrageous to compare, but then, if all these prep steps result in a relaxing weekend then yes – at this point that would be amazingly refreshing food for the spirit. One day at a time – I’m learning to take it one connection, one morning, or one short car ride at a time. Some of these brief encounters are easy and it’s like I have my child back in my life. Other times it’s just not there – she shuts down, or lashes out – I’ve learned to pause instead of push – I bring the moment to an end, I move on to another activity or shift my thoughts to something else. It hurts – but… throughout this journey so many people – most of them strangers – have encouraged me to hold my ground. Be strong mom – you can get thru this. They’re right. I fight my impulse to remove her pain – it’s watching her hurt that is the most difficult. But the pain she’s feeling now – friends being unkind, disapproving looks from people who’ve heard rumors, struggles to make up school work – this pain is her consequence. It is the result she brought herself. She needs to feel and experience and overcome so that she knows the reality of the consequences. My goal is to make sure she knows I love and believe in her. I’m not packing or planning a fabulous vacation – but I did make enough coffee that when she wakes up there’s a cup there for her. Hopefully, she’ll come sit for about 20 minutes on the sofa and want to talk. More likely, she’ll want to just sit – she’ll turn on music videos – and that’s OK – sometimes that’s a way to start a conversation about something we can both be totally objective about. Maybe there’ll be a laugh. That is a moment of paradise – I’ll make sure I’m available for it and later, if there’s an encounter that doesn’t go as well – I might just shift my thinking back this memory, or start planning another morning cup of coffee.

  2. kathy pride (Edit) Report

    Parenting as a team is critical. I was the weak link. It must be enforced, even if you guys go to bed each night reading your list until he has the script inside his head. He has to follow through or it won’t change.

  3. nanners (Edit) Report

    I’m married with two highschoolers and one gradeschooler. My problem is that my husband and I will agree on expectations and consequences, but my husband has a very hard time following through with consequences. We even wrote everything down, but unless he reads is out loud, he doesn’t remember anything and just says, “Well, next time …..” So my kids don’t follow the rules because they aren’t enforced unless I do it my self. Any suggestions?

  4. kathy pride (Edit) Report

    It’s back to my new favorite phrase, “I expect, you decide”. Spell out the expectation, pick the consequence and let them decide…

  5. wendi (Edit) Report

    My daughter (13) tomboy that she is, hates to take a
    shower. So I let her pick the 2 days a week that she
    wants to take one. Morning or night. If she misses
    her mark, she loses her tv privaledges until she
    has taken her shower. I don’t fight with her. It’s
    as simple as that. I also remind her the night before
    a shower day (she likes a lot of notice). That way
    she can take one the next morning, after school, or
    at night. She has to be in the shower no later that
    730pm. When she is playing sports she has to take a shower right after practice, or she misses practice the next
    day. She’s pretty good about it, but she needs those
    consequences. All kids do. (We adults do too sometimes).

  6. Maria (Edit) Report

    I have no idea where I am putting this but here goes nothing…I have a 10 year old that will not listen to me. Everything from taking a shower to doing his homework he says later then never does it. I have taken thing away, sent him to his room with nothing, offered to help him with it even the shower. I told him I would wash his hair if he just took a shower and cleaned up, but NO he says he doesn’t need a shower he smells fine. I have even thrown him in there clothes and all.

    I am a single parent and 33yrs old. I had a heart attack Aug. 6th of 2008. I need HELP for fear of having another one. He is in jeopardy of failing 4th grade. HELP



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