Parenting Younger Siblings of Addicted Teens
As with any family-related trauma, the person at the heart of the concern gets the most attention. When adolescent mental health or substance abuse issues arise, the siblings of the substance abuser may be overlooked or neglected.
Parents focus on the child with the drug addiction. Grandparents provide support for the parents. Extended family members become educated about substance abuse. Faith communities are asked to pray for the child involved with illegal substances.
It’s expected, or at least hoped, that the siblings of the substance abuser will maintain their “good” status and allow everyone to focus on the child with the issues.
This single-focused attention may put the siblings in stressful situations. They get less one on one time with mom or dad. They might take on additional household responsibilities. They may be required to provide extra caretaking for younger siblings. And, siblings themselves may become at risk for various behavioral, mental health, or substance abuse issues.
As parents begin to create a plan to address the issues of the adolescent with substance abuse problems, they must also create a plan for the other children in the family.
- Siblings still need one on one time with mom and dad. And, if the usual amount of time needs to be reduced, parents need to address it directly rather than assuming that the child “will understand.”
- Parents should not neglect attending sports events, plays, concerts, and other recognition events for siblings.
- Opportunities should be provided for expending physical energy. Whether the activities help to minimize issues of possible depression, or provide an outlet for negative emotions, the chance to run, play a sport, walk, or swim need to be easily available.
- Provide positive feedback for the kids who are not substance abusers. It’s easy to emphasize the negative when under stress. Compliment the children when they are required to go above and beyond their usual responsibilities.
- Create a schedule that allows siblings to continue extra curricular, community, or church and synagogue participation, whenever possible. This involvement provides stability, as well as a diversion from the emotionally charged home life.
- Even if all members of the family are attending family therapy sessions, it may be beneficial for siblings to have additional one on one therapy. This might be with the family therapist, or a completely different counselor.
- Parents and therapists mustn’t forget that when one child becomes a substance abuser, the other children in the family are also at risk. A study published by the University of Queensland and the University of Washington, in January 2006 (www.researchaustralia.com.au), showed that younger siblings’ use of alcohol and tobacco increases by three to five times when older siblings are already involved. They suggest that prevention programs, which usually focus on parent-child interactions, need to shift the focus to sibling influences.
When struggling to parent a child with issues of addiction, don’t let the other children “fly under the radar screen.” Attempt to provide even-handed guidance to all of the children in the family, even when only one of them has the addiction issue.
The National Resource Center can help.
Call Toll-Free: 866.870.4979