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Teens and Their Struggles

By Anke Swart

I’m so often asked by parents of children of various ages, how they can avoid the pitfalls of addiction in their children. Unfortunately, I have not yet come across solid evidence that there are any sure-fire ways to prevent issues like addiction in our kids. And I also cannot answer the other question I so often get, which is what the common denominator is in the teenagers in our care at the Healing Wings Youth Center. The statistical truth apparently is, that there is no clear denominator, no evident, blatant set of circumstances which create the perfect environment for substance abuse or addiction in a youngster.

But if pressed for a little insight, I would certainly highlight the following three factors to anyone who asks me.


For a little while, each parent is god. A little mini-us is constantly in admiration & awe of our every move, and falls utterly apart the second there appears to be any distance between our mini-us and her god. But gradually, our little person grows from complete dependence to co-dependence. And then, all too soon, independence starts to niggle and gnaw at her soul, as she itches to take what was good from her parents, and create her own identity and definitions of life.

And so, where our parents (like all parents, ever, since forever) are lacking, unsound, or not sufficiently mature to withstand our questions and skirmishes, we are often unable to effectively distinguish the behavioural tools we want to take with us from those we want to leave behind. As teens, we are also not always sufficiently safe to explore independence and (hopefully) find our answers in interdependence, because the adults around us have problems and ambitions of their own. Our peers are meant to become a source of inspiration and teach us that others (outside the family) are also trustworthy. But again, we fail each other here too, and so, deep hurts occur.

But to me, who we are, and the worth attached to that knowledge, is a key component of the mindset that either assists us to make good choices for our lives, or takes out of the frying pan into the fire. Basic truths like the difference between fault and responsibility, or the link between self-worth and honest achievement are perhaps old school, but critical in adolescence.


Humans want to have sex, it’s no secret. And adolescent youngsters most especially so, it seems. Which is why it’s likely best to engage youngsters in this topic often and openly in ways they find agreeable, rather than to shy away from it or, worse still, to create strict and solid barriers which communicate forbidden terrain, as these often play into the sense that such talk and activity is taboo. Most teenagers aren’t confused about what they do and don’t want when it comes to sex. What they often struggle with, however, is how to gauge what is normal and healthy, and how to secure good, safe sexual attitudes (and eventually relationships), for themselves.  


Being both present, and available-while-present, must be the toughest ask of most of us in the modern world today. Never mind a parent, who is already giving all he or she is, to raise and provide adequately for his or her children. And I know, we hear this over and again… but it cannot be understated: engaging fully and frequently, for a decent amount of time, is at the core of any relationship that stands the tests of this life. Our kids deserve our dedicated interest in their lives, our undivided attention to know and share in that which is important to them, and our love, expressed in the way each adolescent will best receive it as love. They don’t only need the actions we believe they should experience as love, such as safety and security, but the expressions dear to their individual hearts, that assure them of their importance, abilities and worth. Too often we assume that quality time trumps quantity of time together, but sadly, in my line of work I’ve come to believe that the best deal is quality time in vast quantities.


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