When we think of addiction, many of us immediately imagine the scariest end of the spectrum: Drugs. But the reality is that many youth experience addictive patterns in much more subtle ways. It’s difficult as a parent to navigate this issue, because there are so many things that teens these days develop unhealthy relationships to. Things like social media, technology, food, alcohol, sex, porn – things that are inherently a part of the world we live in, and therefore impossible to enforce teens to “stay away” from if we feel they are having a negative impact.  

So what is an addictive pattern, and how can we tell if our child is engaged in one? The issue is not whether or not they are doing things that we think are destructive or unhelpful, it’s WHY they are doing these things.

We can tell if there is an unhealthy pattern when it is something a teen feels they MUST do/have, or CANNOT live without. This signals that they are using this activity/substance as a method for avoiding their feelings.

We live in a world that deems all feelings of sadness, loneliness, fear, shame etc as “negative” and so all of us have a desire to escape these feelings. 

But the problem with this approach is that we become a SLAVE to our feelings because every time they arise we are consumed with the panic of NEEDING something to get us away from our current reality. 

The purpose of feelings is to guide us in knowing what is true and untrue for us, what we like and what we don’t like, and to point us in helpful directions – a bit like a compass. But in our culture we’re taught to fear our feelings because they’re uncomfortable, and so we cut off from them. We use addictions, work, relationships, and all sorts of drama to help us avoid what are actually very useful signposts. 

The way to help your child shift addictive patterns is to help them lean into their feelings rather than avoiding them.

When they do this, they will start to KNOW what’s good for them and not good for them, which leads to making healthy, empowered choices. 

Here are some tips you can follow that will help your child implement this learning in their life:

If you can encourage your child to relate to their feelings in all of these ways, so much of the angst of being a teenager can simply pass by in waves of learning and growth, rather than fuelling lifelong patterns of addiction and reaction.