Other Problems that Affect Children and Families

Substance Abuse

Many children experiment with drugs and alcohol. They do it for a variety of reasons: to be accepted by their peers, to feel grown up, because they are curious, to relieve stress, or to mask the symptoms of a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. Not all children who experiment with drugs or alcohol will develop a problem or become dependent. Some will try it a few times, and stop, while others will go on to develop serious problems.

If you believe your child is using drugs or alcohol, talk openly to your child. Let her know your concerns and reassure her of your love and care. Many times, all it takes is a parent’s acknowledgement of the problem. If nothing else, it will open up the lines of communication between you and your child. If your concerns continue, you may want to have your child evaluated by a mental health or substance abuse professional.

There are a variety of treatments that work to help people overcome a substance abuse problem. Your child should first be evaluated for a co-occurring disorder such as depression or anxiety. Many youngsters use drugs or alcohol to mask the symptoms of other mental illnesses. Medication may be prescribed to treat the symptoms of co-occurring disorders. Other treatment approaches may include one to one therapy, family therapy, residential recovery programs, self-help and support groups and 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tips For Parents

  • Encourage and support your child throughout the recovery process. Becoming clean and sober is more than just giving up drugs. It is a life-style change that may require your child to change friends, activities, and maybe even schools. These kinds of changes take time and relapse is possible. Relapse is not a failure, merely a side-step on the road to recovery.

  • Set appropriate consequences and follow-through with them.

  • Bullying, humiliating and bargaining probably don’t work. By the same token, telling a child to "snap out of it" won’t work either.

  • Get support for yourself. Programs such as Alanon help families deal with the problems associated with drug and alcohol addiction. Your parent support group can also help.

  • Once your child is in recovery, help your child to get involved in different activities. Extracurricular sports, a part-time job or interesting hobbies can fill the void that drugs once filled.

  • Be a role model. If your or other members of your family are abusing drugs or alcohol, get help.

Gay and Lesbian Youth

This is included in this section, not because it is a mental disorder in and of itself, but rather, because being Gay or Lesbian in our culture is not often tolerated by others. This intolerance, and sometimes even hatred and violence, can cause serious problems for children with sexual identity issues.

Part of growing up is learning how to express yourself sexually. Many teens experiment sexually. They may do it with someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex. This experimentation does not mean someone is gay or lesbian. Being gay or lesbian means that a person has a continual desire to become emotionally or sexually involved with people of the same sex.

Homosexuality is not something new to the twentieth century. It has been a part of humankind for thousands of years and across countless cultures. Many cultures, in fact, accept homosexuality as a normal part of the range of human experiences. In our culture, homosexuality is less tolerated. Because of this intolerance, gay or lesbian children feel different than their peers, worry about the reaction from family members and loved ones, face uncertainty about their futures, and are afraid of being humiliated or attacked. In fact, these kinds of problems have lead to a very high suicide rate among young people who are gay or lesbian.

As a parent, it is important to understand that no one chooses to be gay or lesbian. It happens, just like blue eyes. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Your child deserves the same love and respect as she has always had.

Tips For Parents

  • Counseling may help your child, not to get her to change sexual orientation, but to help her accept who she is and to help with self-esteem issues.

  • Never force your child into a program that is designed to change a child’s sexual orientation. They don’t work, and may even harm your child.

  • Respect her privacy. Let her make the decision about who to tell and when to tell it.

  • Network with other families and friends of gays and lesbians.

  • Your love and acceptance is extremely important to your child. If you are having a hard time accepting your child’s sexuality, get counseling or join a support group to help you come to terms.

Gangs

As teens struggle with finding their own identity, they may reject the values and behavior of their family, and adopt new behavior that reflects that of their peer group. When kids come home with blue hair, piercings, or strange clothes, this may alarm parents. But some rebellion and resistance to adult standards of behavior is developmentally normal. It is a sign of the child’s struggle to become an individual.

This is where the group comes in. The group serves an important purpose in helping your child reach these developmental milestones. The group helps teenagers separate from their parents. This separation is a very important part of becoming an independent adult. The groups also provide self esteem, make the child feel good about him or herself, and gives them an identity they feel comfortable with. It also provides a protective factor where group members take care of each other. Groups span a wide range, from church sponsored teen groups and fraternities to street gangs and satanic cults. Outwardly, they look different, but they still serve the same purpose for the child.

While most groups, even the ones that promote odd dress, are fairly harmless, some groups, such as street gangs and cults, can cause long-term problems for the teen. Some gangs engage in illegal and dangerous behavior. Others, such as cults, prey on vulnerable children and can subject children to mental and physical abuse. If you suspect your child is involved in such a group, you should intervene. Contact a mental health professional for an evaluation. Some youth become involved with gangs as a way to deal with the symptoms of other disorders such as depression or anxiety. Even if your child is not suffering from a mental health disorder, a mental health professional may be able to help your family with counseling or refer you to a therapist who specialize in gang or cult intervention.

Tips For Parents

  • Spend time, talk with and listen to your child. Some children use the group as a way to feel special and accepted. Try to make your child feel special and accepted at home.

  • Let your child know you value education and help him do his best in school. Do everything possible to keep your child from dropping out.

  • Find positive activities for your child to get involved with. Help him identify positive role models. Be a positive role model yourself.

  • Assure your child that you see him as special. Let him know you love him and will do what it takes to help him be successful.