If your teen or young adult has recently transitioned home from treatment, you may be anxious about the appropriate balance of structure and freedom. According to Dr. Gayle Jensen-Savoie, an executive director for the InnerChange family of therapeutic programs, it’s important to remember that the primary developmental task of young adulthood is to individuate.
Jensen-Savoie recommends that parents imitate—to the degree practicable—the structure of the program their child graduated from. This reduces the likelihood of a bumpy transition and gives parents a playbook to work from as they learn to construct their own home structure. She recommends that parents focus on a few complimentary approaches as they work toward a smooth transition from treatment back home.
Many parents confuse adult independence with absolute freedom. Your young adult needs structure (just as you do) and as long as your child is residing with you that structure should be acceptable to you. Creating a clear structure—e.g. curfew, household responsibilities, and work/play schedule—is a great opportunity to have an adult to adult discussion.
Establishing a mutually acceptable schedule creates a sense of predictability and accountability that will help you maintain a safe and nurturing home environment. There’s a fine line between managing your household and micromanaging your child and you want to favor the former over the latter. Program staff and/or transition specialists can help you effectively navigate this fine line in a way that leaves your young adult feeling respected but accountable.
In addition to a predictable schedule, randomize your interactions with your child. Occasionally knocking on her door after curfew, texting conversationally, spontaneously dropping in at work to take her out to lunch, dropping in on a TV watching session can all communicate that you’re paying attention and care.
Again, there’s a fine line between being a present, available parent and an invasive detective. Accountability within the context of a trusting, respectful relationship is the goal. If you can achieve this balance (a challenging, long-term process—so be patient), you and your young-adult child will benefit significantly.
Show (and Expect) Respect
Good treatment and transition programs honor the young person’s need to learn adult behaviors and responsibilities. To this end, treatment and dorm staff tend to engage students as fellow—if less experienced—adults. This means that your child is now accustomed to being engaged respectfully by adults but with the expectation of mutual respect.
Involving your teen or young adult in family decisions, explaining the reasoning behind your own decisions, and communicating with respect will help you benefit from the kind of trust-building that program staff members have hopefully achieved with your child.
“Trust fosters transparency,” says Jensen-Savoie, “and transparency is the most reliable and appropriate window into your into your young adult’s world.”