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Am I Enabling My Teen?

April 4, 2016

Am I Enabling My Teen? | Teen Treatment Center


This blog is written by one of our family therapists, Justine Johnson, RMFTI, RMHCI.

Do you feel like you are trying to help, but everything appears to be getting worse? Have you been called an enabler, but don’t know what that means? When dealing with a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse, mental health or behavioral issues, it can be very easy to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is natural to want to care for and protect your teenager when they are unable to do it themselves, but these actions can do more harm than good. 

An enabler is defined as a person who allows another to persist in self-destructive behavior (such as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior, often unknowingly. If you want to help your teen get back on the right track, learning how to recognize and eliminate enabling behaviors is essential.

Examples of enabling include

  • Giving money to your teen even though you’re aware they will use it to buy substances 
  • Purchasing alcohol or drugs for your teen 
  • Taking over your teen’s neglected chores due to their substance use
  • Have found yourself lying or making excuses to friends and family in order to hide your teen’s substance use
  • Using substances with your teen or in their presence 
  • Borrowing money to pay bills caused by your teen’s substance use
  • Changing or canceling family plans or social activities because your teen was under the influence or hung over
  • Asking the police, a judge, a lawyer or other professional to help get your teen out of legal issues related to their substance use
  • Making empty threats to your teen about the consequences of their substance abuse such as calling the cops or abandoning them (but never following through)
  • Paying your teen’s lawyer or court fees, or bailing them out of jail due to a substance use or drug-related offense
  • Asking or encouraging family members to ignore or be silent about your teen’s substance use
  • Helping to conceal your teen’s substance use from teachers, employers, etc.
  • Coaxing your teen to get up in the morning to go to school when they were hung over
  • Making excuses to others for your teen’s impaired behavior when they were using substances
  • Lying or telling half-truths to a physician, counselor, probation officer, judge, police officer, etc. about your teen’s substance use or participation in treatment programs
  • Choosing not to seek treatment for your teen’s substance use due to your own fear of losing love from them

By partaking in enabling behaviors such as the above, you are actually allowing your teen to continue their substance use and detrimental behavior. When someone does not suffer their natural consequences, they do not have the ability to recognize how self-destructive their behavior is. 

Tips for Ending Your Enabling Behaviors:

Self Care: This can look different for each person. Think about the types of activities that you enjoy such as journaling, physical exercise, reading, taking a spa day and listening to music. In addition, setting healthy boundaries and practicing mindfulness are important pieces of self care. 

Therapy: Both individual therapy sessions and family therapy sessions will help you reconnect with your teen, set boundaries and begin living happier, healthier lives together. 

Support Groups: Having a place to discuss what you’re going through with others who are in similar circumstances is highly beneficial. Teen Treatment Center offers virtual Family Support Groups every other Wednesday from 6-7pm EST. In addition, finding local Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings to attend is a great way to begin building your support system.

Parents of our teen alumni are invited to join us on Wednesday, April 27th to learn more about this topic in our Family Support Group. If you are interested in attending, please email your family therapist.

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