December 07, 2017 —

Are your kids getting in trouble? Are their grades slipping? Do you notice changes in their behavior?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, don’t panic, there are solutions. Although I’m not a parent, I am the product of two loving parents who had to try their best to raise a problem child. That child was me.

I was a kid who seemed happy, good-natured, funny, and polite, but the second you turned around, I was raising havoc. I got a sick thrill out of performing mischievous acts. It started with ding-dong ditching (ringing doorbells and running away) and shoplifting. It eventually became recreational drug and alcohol use.

At first my actions slid under the radar. I was the middle child and my parents focused on my brother and sister. I did whatever I wanted and got away with it. My life was all peaches and cream until my sister and I were caught getting high together. I was a freshman in high school and my sister was a junior. Mom and Dad were furious and punished us.

This was the start of a rocky road. My parents grounded us, took away the car keys, and didn’t allow us to see our friends. Worst of all, we had to attend a youth outpatient rehab center. Our parents scolded and disciplined us. They told me that if I continued to get high, they would send me away. The empty threats and punishment didn’t do anything but force me to be slyer with my behavior.

My teenage years followed a pattern. I would get high or drunk, get caught, go to outpatient rehab, stay clean for about two weeks, and then do it all over until I was caught once again. For years my house was filled with screaming battles, empty threats, and lies. I lied to my parents and everyone else. Drugs and alcohol were a problem. When I was about sixteen, I couldn’t stop using.

At this point, my parents went to extreme measures. They kicked me out of the house, took away my phone, and stopped giving me money. None of these tactics stopped me, nothing could get between me and drugs.

The toughest times were yet to come. By college, I was a full-blown addict. I couldn’t stop popping prescription pills, smoking weed, and drinking. After two months, I ended up in a dark place that led to me getting sober. It was a long time coming, but I asked for help. The second I did, my family was there. They helped me find treatment and I’ve been sober ever since.

Some of my parents’ actions were successful and others weren’t. My experiences helped me compile this list of ways to deal with a troubled child:

  • Embrace honesty. Don’t scold your kids for being honest about their actions. Instead, treat your kids like adults and work through your problems.
  • Offer help. I knew that whatever struggles I faced, I wasn’t alone. There are resources available for any problem. Make that known and provide a helping hand.
  • Detach with love (if necessary). This is a worst-case scenario, but it led to my sobriety. My parents separated themselves from me. They didn’t abandon me, but said, “Only contact me when you are ready to get help.” That dark, cold, isolated feeling was exactly what I needed to seek help and get sober.
  • Never abandon hope. Love your child and hate the addiction. Although it may be difficult, always keep the faith that help is available and NEVER stop loving your child.


Ben Emerling enjoys writing, playing basketball, working out and most importantly helping young people achieve sobriety. He currently works for Addiction Network.