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.

Celebrate Every Tiny Victory

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Family Days at my son’s residential treatment center.  I not only got to spend time with my son, but also engaged in parent support groups, educational discussions about processing struggles, and teacher conferences.  It was an exhausting but informative few days, and reassured me that my son’s placement is the correct one.

On the way down in the car my phone rang and the number was one associated with my son’s school.  I immediately engaged in “phone flinch” thinking, what happened now, did he do something again, is he struggling?  This has been the pattern of phone calls and texts for over a year.  Every time I have a call from him or where he is, my heart stops because I fear the bad news.

As my son was on the line he said, “Mom, they are short players for the basketball game tonight is it okay if I go?”  “We have to travel so I won’t be able to see you tonight, but I can meet you in the morning.”   I quickly had to process what he was saying and practically screamed “of course” into the phone.  My child, who had barely wanted to leave his room at many times during the last 18 months is asking to go play in a basketball game?   Amazing!  For some, your child asking to play in a basketball game is a regular occurrence.  For us this was a large step forward, and a sign he was beating the depression.  He was choosing to engage in the program and life.  After I hung up the phone, I cried some tears of joy in the car and thought I can’t believe how happy I am that my son asked to play in a basketball game.

That event was the start of me working to celebrate the little victories throughout the weekend, and on our journey thus far.  During the weekend, multiple staff approached me to share how much they enjoy my son, and how his smile brightens their day.  I also sat back and smiled as he went up to the kitchen staff  and thanked them for their hard work preparing a yummy lunch for 100 students and parents.  Plus, he informed me that he has decided to continue to play basketball and was excited about it.  As each of these events occurred, I smiled, praised him, and thought we are making progress.  The young man I know and raised is starting to emerge again.

On the way home, I reflected on these little victories and had a new appreciation for them.  So often we focus on the large celebrations of our children.  During this journey I can’t sit and wonder why me, why our family. I can’t focus on how hard it has been for all of us to have him struggle and gone. I know there are going to be steps backward in this process, but I need to get off the daily roller coaster of the ups and downs and make a conscious effort on focusing on the path forward and celebrate the tiny victories.  This is allowing me to take joy in him finding himself, the light, and his path again.