At Age 18, the Game Changes

As your adolescent enters the therapeutic world, a door opens and you learn loads of new information.  From therapists, to medicines, to educational consultants, to therapeutic boarding schools, it is a world I had no idea existed until we entered it a year ago.

As I have learned to navigate the therapeutic world, there was something I had no idea about and am grateful did not come into play with our family.  The entire game changes when your child turns 18, and you as a parent are reduced to having no decision making ability of your adolescent’s care.  At 18, an adolescent becomes an adult. This means they have the right to decide about their care, whether or not they have the ability to does not matter.  You as a parent have no control over what substance abuse counseling or other treatments they receive. Plus, if they are in a program of any type they have the ability to sign themselves out on their 18th birthday.  And you as a parent can do nothing to stop it.   This is a scary, but true fact.  To put someone over 18 in care you have to either get their permission (they can still sign themselves out at anytime) or you have to go through the legal system and get an involuntary care order signed by a judge.

I’ve seen a variety of examples of this over the past year.  In one case a mother was crying uncontrollably as her son chose to check himself out of a residential treatment facility on his 18th birthday, against everyones recommendations.  In another case, parents were able to negotiate with their child about their care when they turn 18 and make family decisions.  In the best case scenarios, a child will be at a point in their care when they turn 18 that they understand the importance of continuing on the path forward.

Bottom line, therapy and substance abuse issues are another place where early intervention is key.  I’m so grateful we fall into that category.  If you are a parent with an adolescent who is struggling, don’t wait too long.  Follow your gut, and know when your adolescent turns 18 the whole game changes.  At that point, you as the parent have no control.  We all know that as a parent, there is no worse feeling than feeling helpless when it comes to our children.

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