New Year’s Resolutions can be tricky. We make them with all the best intentions in the world, but the fact is, most of them fall by the wayside after a few weeks. We start out strong, but then real life happens: family commitments cut into exercise time. A hectic work schedule means those healthy lunches you planned for yourself are just not going to happen. You and your teenager make plans to repair your relationship, and do better in the new year – but then work and school kick in, and you’re back to the same old patterns.
While most New Year’s Resolutions are fairly superficial – and honestly the world won’t end if you don’t keep them – that last one is not superficial at all. It’s one worth making, worth fighting to honor, and most of all, worth every ounce of energy you put into it.
If you have an adolescent who’s struggling with behavioral problems, a mental health disorder, or an alcohol/substance use disorder, the New Year is a perfect time to make changes. And to make changes that stick, you need two things:
- The proper tools.
- A solid plan.
You’d never start building a deck without a saw, a level, and a drill. And you’d never start the project without a timeline you know is do-able. The same should be true when you address significant behavioral, emotional, or substance use problems with your teen: you can’t expect them to be successful unless they have effective coping mechanisms (tools) and the time to learn and use them (a solid plan).
How To Make Promises You Can Keep –
For You and Your Teen
The holiday season is an ideal time to plan big changes. Everyone is home. In your teen’s world, there’s no homework, no tests to study for, and no extracurricular activities keeping them busy from sunup to sundown. In your world, it’s likely work is on pause, and you have some vacation days coming your way, which means you can be home for more than breakfast and dinner. Ideally, you have the time and space to talk with your teen about what’s going on with them. If they’re having problems, you can find out what they need, find out how you can help, and lay the foundation to move forward and make the most of the year to come.
Perhaps your greatest wish is to restore harmony and balance to your family. That can be your resolution for this year. If your teen is the reason things are off kilter and your relationships feels broken, there are some practical things you can do to make sure your resolution lasts more than a few weeks.
Four Ways to Restore Harmony With Your Teen
- Talk things out. Take the time to find out what’s really going on in your teen’s world. Problems with friends? Romantic turbulence? School issues you don’t know about? Are they depressed? Anxious? Have they experience trauma you’re unaware of? Re-open the lines of communication you worked so hard to establish when they were younger. It may seem hard, but it’s possible.
- Get Professional Help. If, while talking things out, you uncover things you didn’t know about, such as depression, anxiety, or drinking/drugs, take this new information seriously. Make plans to see a mental health professional for a full assessment. You may be able to get it done over the holidays. Listen to their advice, and get your teen the help they need.
- Establish Clear Boundaries and Expectations. There may be no big issues at all. It might be that you and your teen have gotten off track through apathy, inertia, or poor communication. They’ve been breaking family rules and you’ve been letting it slide, simply because you didn’t have the energy to fight them. Now is the time to have an open and honest talk with your teenager. Re-establish the rules in your home. Collaborate with your teen on the consequences of breaking them – and when the new year comes, follow through. Your teenager needs your guidance now more than ever.
- Get Professional Help. No, that’s not a typo or a copy/paste error committed by a bad editor. Even if there are no significant issues in your teenager’s life, like addiction or serious mental health disorders, you and your teen might benefit from a few sessions with a family counselor. You’ve changed over the years. They’ve changed over the years. Maybe the new you and the new teen need help coming up with new communication strategies. A therapist can help – in fact, that’s what they’re trained to do. The stigma of getting therapy is – or very nearly – in the past. If you think getting help means weakness, it’s time to disabuse yourself of that notion. It could be the single best thing you do for your relationship with your teenager.
Make This the Year of Change
Every time you keep a promise to yourself, your self-esteem grows. You teach yourself you can count on yourself to follow through on things. Every time you keep a promise to a friend, loved one, or family member, that relationship grows. It gets stronger. They learn they can trust you to back up your words with actions.
If your teenager is struggling with an addiction or a mental health disorder, there’s a near one-hundred-percent certainty they’ve forgotten how to keep the promises they make to themselves. That’s because their new problems are much bigger than those they faced when they were little. They lack the emotional wherewithal to handle them – and that’s okay. They’ve also probably forgotten how to keep promises to friends and loved ones, since they’re overwhelmed by depression or the negative emotions of addiction. That’s okay, too. But that’s why their relationships are suffering – they no longer trust themselves to keep promises they make to others, and others are starting to believe they can’t be trusted to follow through.
All that can change.
This year, you can give your teenager the tools they need to re-establish that core of trust and self-reliance it takes to grow into a strong young adult. They need an upgrade on their emotional coping skills, and a reboot of their internal and external communication networks. You can make that happen by offering the tools, making a plan, and sticking to it. This doesn’t have to be another year of treading water with a troubled teen – this can be the year you both get back to living, loving, and thriving.
Vera Appleyard has worked in the adolescent behavioral health field for over twenty years. She has an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University.