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Our Teen Son Is Getting Angry As We Step Back

mother watches son walk away with walkman

Allies member Hopefulin2018 continues to find her Loved One angry, accusing his parents of being hostile when they are practicing the CRAFT method of stepping back when they see use. Is the method backfiring? We have such limited opportunities to interact with him…

Thanks for your follow up. Our son is a senior. This year he only needs 1-1/2 credits to graduate, but his quarter isn't looking so good for him. He's failing all of his classes and we got a letter from the school last week warning that if he misses too much more school he may not graduate and we'll have to go to a pre-court hearing.

Tonight our son walked in the kitchen while I'm making dinner and says he doesn't feel like eating dinner with us. I reminded him he knows we have family dinner on Sundays, but he said "there's no use faking a family dinner when things have been so hostile.” He's interpreting our stepping away as being hostile towards him and he's blaming his outburst on us because of this “hostility," and he doesn't want to "pretend" that things are okay. Is CRAFT backfiring on us or is this typical?  Read the full comment here.

Your son is reacting to your “chill” when he is high by getting upset. Ah, he feels a shift in his family patterns. You are stepping back when you see use. I’m reasonably sure he is just responding to the change. He is used to having his family act in a predictable fashion and you are shaking this up. Just chilling a little when you see use can have quite an effect. Perhaps he’s thinking: “What’s happening to my comfy, nagging family. Why are they behaving differently? What’s happening? I don’t like it. I’ve had mom in my pocket forever. Where is she going?”

Let him get upset. You are not being angry or mean, just quiet. Leave it that Sunday dinner is always open to him when he chooses to return to it.

A young man is unlikely to have a lot of insight as to why things are shifting. Your son knows it has something to do with his pot use, I would guess, but beyond that he isn’t understanding the new pattern yet. That’s okay. Keep it up.

Stay away from all the serious topics – school, flunking, where to next..?  Just stick with rewards and the chill. It is working.

When you have done this for a while, I believe your son will look for moments to be sober so that you’ll pay him some attention. He will feel things softening between you, and within himself.

Continue on course. Reflective listening isn’t easy. Keep trying. I’m sure it’s no fun to have an angry teen in the house, passing you by.

If he avoids you, there is less CRAFT possible. But you’re under the same roof. You’re bound to have some times together. Remember, keep it light.

Just give it a while. There’s a lot going on for him. Let the problems sit on his shoulders. Visit Learning Module 8 now so that you are best prepared when he does approach you for help with something. This is the Change Talk we want to be ready for – what we call the “wish or dip.”  Until then, we lay the groundwork. Work on shifting communication, devote time to self-care, keep up with the reward and chill.

On the topic of school: what would the school do if he doesn’t complete the 1.5 credits? Would they flunk him and deny him graduation? Let him address what is going on. Talk to the school and let them know you are pushing responsibility onto him as much as possible. Is there a way for him to go alone before school officials to deal with missing credits?

Thank you for writing in as you experience the CRAFT work. It is helpful for us to hear your thoughts and respond as you keep moving forward. This is the work of CRAFT – this nitty gritty space where the dynamic shifts, moment by moment. Your posts are helpful to others as well.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I am grateful to AIR for helping me see more clearly the obstacles I used to throw in the way of communicating and connecting with my son. I’m recognizing more and more where I was trying to control things I can’t control, which always led to frustration, hurt, and anger. Now, I feel more compassionate towards my son than anger. CRAFT reminds me to look for the positives, which makes such a difference in how I perceive things and how I’m relating to my son. I’m getting the hang of rewarding the positives and chilling.

    However, now I’m finding that I’m hesitant to talk to my son about his use, which has worsened since he started hanging out with this new kid. I think I’m afraid of ruining the little traction I’ve gained in connecting with him since using CRAFT. It’s like his use and this new kid are the elephant in the room and we’re avoiding discussing it.

    I’m tracking him on his phone and find that he’s going to places he has no connection to. I suspect he’s buying, or maybe even selling with this kid. I’m not sure, but I know it’s not good. I did send him a text saying, that I know he’s hanging out with new people and that he’s using pot, but that I hope to God he NEVER tries anything else no matter what anyone tells him. I said it’s not worth it, he deserves better, and I don’t want to see him robbed of his future. I reminded him we love him. Of course he didn’t respond, but the next morning I did ask him if he saw the text, he said he did, then I reiterated the gist of the text again. That day I found a very small empty baggy in his room – though I don’t know for certain, common sense and my instinct tells me it had drugs in it, something other than pot in it. I keep in mind to use it as information rather than punishment.

    We are doing our best to chill and reward, and although it has calmed things down here, my son has no life outside of being with kids that use, particularly this new kid who seems to be replacing the old friends he’s used with. Outside of not driving, he’s not feeling the scrapes of life because it doesn’t seem like he cares about anything else. The natural consequences he’s going to have to face are largely outside of our control and further down the road, such as whether he graduates or not or whether he submits his college application. I can see down the road we will have a conversation around the conditions for us to pay for college or him continuing to live here after he turns 18, but I hesitate bringing those things up now because he’ll interpret it as us trying to bribe him into not using. He simply does not want to stop using and refuses to see/admit how its damaging and stunting his life. His use is worsening and I’m frightened he’s heading down a rabbit hole that is deeper and darker than where he’s been before. He’s used other drugs in the past.

    I wrote before about whether we should support him in going to the basketball tournament, and we’ve decided to pull him out. His efforts to go to practices are minimal, and they were the condition for him to go. We also feel that by sending him there we are basically sending him to party all weekend, which is why he wanted to go in the first place, and he will do so recklessly. I was hoping that by supporting him in going, he would reconnect with some of the kids, but he doesn’t care about basketball, nor is he invested in the team, and he certainly doesn’t care about these friendships at the moment.

    How do we address his use? When is the time appropriate? It’s difficult to find times he’s not used, and when he has moments of non/reduced use, I’m rewarding, so I’m not sure where to find that balance. If I address it when he’s not/reducing his use, doesn’t that counteract the rewards?

    1. There are very few times when it is effective to talk about the drug or alcohol use. See Learning Module 8. Families can sound like a broken record on this topic. Your son has long had instincts when he hears you start in about drugs to shut down and stop listening. He has become a master at this. So don’t give him any extra practice.

      Talking about the drug use is done when the moment is right. When you hear your Loved One voice a Wish or a Dip: “I want something” or “I can’t stand this about me,” it’s time to bring it up. If this doesn’t happen after 8-12 weeks of laying the groundwork as you have been doing, it may be time for a planned talk. This is also described in Learning Module 8. A nice time for the planned talk could be a quiet moment around the kitchen table, when your Loved One isn’t glaringly high, and when you are each in a relatively good mood.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response here:

    2. Hopefulin18,
      I hope your well today. I agree with the wisdom already shared with you from Dominique and others. I believe in responding to bad “acting out” with ignorance aka ‘chill’. This is taking a vertically attuned response aka emotion ‘chill’ for emotion ‘acting out negative emotion’. I also believe that true love is beyond words and the only thing that causes my LO pain is when my LO wants to share a sense of love and yet can’t tell if its “registering” with anyone in a true and kind connection. I also believe that the deepest level of love my LO wants cannot be expressed in words since love is ultimately beyond words. So my LO must “act out” emotions and I can respond before the acting out goes to the dark side by non-verbal things, hugs, sympathetic glances, acts of kindness (bringing a glass of water), and other miming skills(watch Charlie Chaplin and master those skills). I also realize now that an adolescent seeks adult skills that are beyond words and the teaching in first and secondary school teachers repertoire at times for the special needs of a few of the most sensitive humans. I have some thoughts I care to share.

      This is the heart of the matter it seems to me. There is less Peer pressure when the pressure to find one’s way to adulthood isn’t placed on peers. This is where a “sponsor in AA or Al Anon” or mentor or coach or even “detached from fear w/love” parent, comes in. Adolescents all are looking to find their place in this ever changing world that requires tangible and material things from them. They don’t know what they don’t know. They must be empowered yet in synergy with control. Difficult to empower a child in balance and synergy with control functions of their newly formed “adult” brains. Power and control. Power is a skill of the spirit where if they have it they must control their power with their critical thinking. Once they get this synergy they can empower themselves within their own control and like themselves in every situation, yet…

      Autonomy. Participation and thus harmony in the adult world. Connection. I experience joy when I feel value in my presence in situations with others and pain when I don’t. Yet we need to feel we are of value, in order to have the courage to “barge into situations” and participate in the first place–empowerment–control. Peers don’t teach this to each other. Peers either have it or they get bullied by the peers that want them to “fit in” yet don’t have the skill to mentor timid peers to participate. Peer pressure is a cold world without a sponsor or mentor. A mentor not in the same peer group is needed and this could be anyone that truly has liberated oneself from adolescent angst. Yet adult pressure is real as peer pressure. An adult that can connect and say “this pain is normal”, “I can help you through this because I’ve been there and can get you through this” “the most sensitive or creative, need extra help to find our place in this ever changing world”, yet we can’t rely on peers that are searching themselves. That puts too much pressure on peers. That is called ‘peer pressure’”. “Learning to be what’s lacking in any situation is an adult skill that needs to be mentored”.

      I can attack my own addictive behavior from the highest cause; a spiritual need to be of value relevant to changing conditions. To be the difference I seek in the world takes a spiritual guide; a mentor; coach; or possibly an parent that has learned special needs skills. They don’t teach this in school and it seems this bright young man refuses to graduate until he gets all the education he is fighting for, needs and deserves. I know you can do this!

  2. I love you Dominique! That approach clings to the pretext of love and communication beyond comprehension. I sense peer pressure coerces us to “believe” we have to express our “chill” with words yet love is a pretext that words cannot convey. We should find a way to help our loved one that matches their mode of communicating the need for help. I love the book, “Escaping the Endless Adolescence”. I recommend it simply because it points to a primary need that adolescents seek, to be accepted as an adult, while clearly lacking adult skills. Paradox!

    Communication skills usually are picked up from parents that often lack them on the level that Dominique is enlightening us to. We seem to forget that a loving connection is needed beforehand to discuss hard facts. we must learn to mature and survive with morals through adult life in our world of chaos, noise, confusion and limits of time and space. A loving connection means giving the most precious gift a human can give because it is finite: time and intimacy. I remember my father sticking facts in my face with expediency devoid of compassion. Me: “I want to play basketball in college” Him: “you’re only on the B team” It was like he was in a hurry to protect me from disappointment without the gift of giving me his time to explore my dreams and options for the future with me. It sent a message “I will not give you the time nor closeness of my mentorship that you need to aspire beyond your current ability.” This sent a message to me, “I am not important enough.” My mother sent the exact same message because she stood by and supported him by doing nothing to bring him to me. I hope this helps heal all our children.

    I then had to turn to peers for support and that is a cold climate since they were competing with me to make the “A” team. It taught me to be an animal in the jungle and that my father was too. I turned to a member of the “A” team in a plea of support and he punched me in the stomach. It actually knocked my breath out and yet worse it demoralized me deeply because it taught me that the significant male in my life didn’t find me as important as others things competing with ME for HIS time. I was dumbfounded for decades to understand the meaning of all of this and the false beliefs it all created that guided my future thinking. My father, upon hindsight, spent the remainder of his life with me scrambling to undo the damage his false priorities caused. I believe it lead to the disease he suffered later on after he no longer was distracted from the work that self-deception had told him was more important than me. This translated into my belief that I wasn’t worthy of a mentor that could help me achieve my goals that were a stretch. It taught me to settle for lesser goals and a cutthroat peer culture instead. The delusions of his self-deception cause me and him trauma. I see the love in his “scrambling” and I cry the tears of futility that heals him finally and heals me and heals my mother. The last words he spoke to me were, “heal me.” I did. It might sound crazy yet I trust it’s true.

    The problem I see with confused “adult” notions is that we can see children as bullies for our time and closeness and the children then see us as caring less about them than other things in their life that can’t love them back. Isn’t that an addiction in the parent? Loving things that can’t love them back? Parenting is difficult yet impossible when we first don’t understand that having a drink or taking a drug isn’t good nor bad in and of itself. I had to learn that good doesn’t come with a halo over its head or in a neat package at a shopping mall or Santa.

    Good is only found in separating it from its confusion with impurity, inappropriateness and excess in terms of bounds. Too much and too little. Confusion in the world of substance use seems mainly to be about limits and inappropriate times and quantity. Such is life it seems as well. How can I truly parent a child that is so smart and sensitive and sees way beyond my BS? Good choices and bad choices are oversimplified in popular media and confused as being black and white instead of really about limits; too much and too little and very personal and appropriate only for “self-determination”–meaning know one can choose for another person yet merely empathize with compassion (perhaps words cannot express true compassion?). Eating one hamburger is good for a person weighing 100 lbs yet a 6′ 5″ person would die unless they eat two. Limits are personal and best left to the appropriate person eating the hamburger. Yet we think we know better as parents and forget to teach the children to be curious in regards to their personal limits as the options we all think we’re expert in decision making and choices.

    We see loved ones have “overworked” “overstepped” “overshopped” “overeaten” “overmedicated” “over consumed” that culture itself has “overemphasized” materialism and short term fixes with long term adverse consequences so when the beyond isn’t seen past all the quick fixes portrayed in popular media all we have in our face is a substance or material as a “fix” that actually breaks us in the long run. Materialism sucks us into being cold cowards towards loved ones instead of loving and warm. We are afraid they will suck our lives from us because we see our material resources as the only thing sustaining our life. I hate that. I love something a mentor that was like a second father said to me time and again. He said, “Its not your fault.” “Don’t take everything this world does to you personally” “Don’t love anything that can’t love you back” “Don’t sit back and let setbacks keep you from getting back to what accidents of random chaos in the world has cast away from you.” I think relationship with love and loved ones is what we all secretly always want most to get back. Things that get in the way of doing that include all the fears and existential anxiety around the cost in terms of finite resources such as time and quantities of money to deal with the destruction of addictions.

    The paradox is that when we turn our back on love, and loved ones in pain, because of our pain, resorting to confusion and destructive behavior, to conserve material, finite resources, this causes us and them even more unbearable pain, causing us to return back to either our trap of addiction unless love liberates us. More and more the context of the conditions we mirror take us away from love and reinforces the addiction and barriers to loving our loved ones that traps them and us in the addictive family cycle of it all. Love is the answer clearly yet how do we lose the plot? The answer seems difficult and simple. Roger Federer’s motto is “Bravery is rewarded.” If we grip in fear to acquire material signs of victory we choke back the power of trusting our faith in love. Loss of material resources needed to support or protect our life can kill us yet we’re going to die someday anyway. I can die with love or having cast it aside to grip with terror at material things. My choice. “Please will you give me be accountability to that?” is my question to any future mentor. I am curious if any of this resonates with anyone that can communicate this in a more concise and eloquent manner involving text.

  3. I can’t thank you enough for your support. To know that AIR is here is such a source of strength for me and my husband to stay the course and keep our hope alive.

    I keep track of the glimpses of positive behaviors I observe in the journal on this site. Doing this helps me remember that they exist and helps to shift my thinking when it starts getting negative. What a great tool you’ve included.

    I am committed to using CRAFT, thanks to your support. I’ve calmed down about sending him to treatment. Because we interact so little with him, I’m sending him brief texts letting him know I love him, I hope he has a good day, or even a poignant quote. This morning I sent him a couple of links from a site I found called, I Want to Change My Life, and prefaced it by saying that I love him and I’ll always be here for him. The links were to a brief video describing addiction, a page that briefly discusses how marijuana can be addictive, and a brief page discussing recovery.

    I’m starting to see how CRAFT is helping me break the cycle of arguing that’s been driving the wedge between us. Yesterday he missed his appointment with his psychiatrist because he was out with his using friend. I didn’t react like I used to. His text response to me when he realized he missed his appointment was, “Mom, seriously I completely spaced. I’m sorry you took work off.” I replied, “Yeah. That wasn’t great. Thanks for your apology.” He said, “Yeah, I know.” I left it at that. He actually apologized and showed empathy in his response. This is definitely a rare response from him. I chilled and didn’t let it ruin my evening.

    We’ve spoken with the school. They know our situation and that we are getting out of the way of natural consequences. We are letting him navigate this, reminding him of our support.

    Thank you for your work and your words of encouragement. It’s nice to know I’m not alone and that I can ask my questions. Part of the spiral of despair I was feeling before finding AIR was the ping-ponging of ideas of what to do or not do. The whirlwind of confusion for how to help my son was overwhelming me. You’ve provided me a trusting and safe place to land. Thank you.

    1. I appreciate the detail in your comments. It is helpful when trying to be useful. I think the exchange over the psychiatrist was good. You back off and he comes towards you a little.

      Yes, the confusion and lack of framework was how things always appeared to me. That’s why I like CRAFT so much. Universal principles, scientifically tested…. principles you can apply to any situation. That doesn’t make it easy to do, but it does make you less frantic as you face your day and your Loved One.

      1. I am starting to feel the impact CRAFT, Dominique’s support, and the resources of AIR, is having on me personally, and this is making a huge difference in how I’ve responded to my son these last few days. As I’m learning through this fantastic site, I see how my feelings of fear and anxiety have led me to react rather than listen, confront rather than seek to understand, and try to control where I have none.

        I texted my son the other day about rescheduling his missed appointment. He ignored my texts – all day long. By 9 that evening, I tracked him on his phone which identified him being in a very sketchy part of town. I was on HIGH alert. I reminded myself his new “friend” collects scooters in town to recharge them and that’s probably what they were doing. Regardless, I know he uses with this friend every time he’s with him, and I am frightened about other things he may be introduced to by him. Knowing he’s with him is very disappointing. I just breathe.

        I immediately texted him, but instead of confronting him and sending a text that tried to control the situation (which never ends well), I tried to use the positive communication skills modeled on this site in the Modules and responses from Dominique. I also remembered that my goal is to support my son towards recovery, not drive him further away.

        Me: I don’t understand the silent treatment. I’m not the enemy. It seems like you want your space. That’s fine, everyone needs it now and then. I’m here when you’re ready to talk. I love you.

        Son: I just get irritated by the preachy websites you’re constantly sending me.

        Me: I’m sorry. I don’t mean for them to be preachy. They’re just sayings I like that I want to share with you. I don’t see you much and I haven’t been great at communicating with you so I thought I’d use someone else’s words. That’s all.

        Son: I’ve just been tying to distance myself because I don’t want to get angry and freak out again.

        Me: Fair enough. I miss you. I miss your light heartedness. I’m sorry things are rough at the moment. I hope we can figure things out.

        Son: It’s ok mom. I’ll always love you because you’re my mom. I’m just frustrated. (yes, I cried)

        Me: I know. Life can be frustrating and confusing. It happens to all of us. I sensed there’s a lot you’re dealing with and so I thought some of those quotes might help you sort some things out. It was my way of trying to communicate with you without frustrating you. Sorry it did.

        Son: It’s ok. I realize your intent now. But I’m doing ok.

        I don’t remember the last time we had an exchange like this. I feel like the ice is cracking. I hope I can break it open as I continue to use CRAFT.

        He was over an hour late for curfew, so I went to bed and didn’t see him when he came home. After school the next day, he was with this same “friend” and I was on high alert again, but I’m trying to be mindful about it. Yes he used, but he came home so he could go to his band practice. He stayed home when he returned from band practice – something I didn’t expect him to do. I stepped in and rewarded. I tracked my progress for the second time. It’s improving. This site is a God send. Thank you isn’t enough.

        1. You are building that bridge between you. Your son is opening to you. His communication is softening. He isn’t done using drugs but you can see how this type of exchange will lead him to open even more to you and, when ready, to talk to you about help and changes he wants to make in his life.

          I can also imagine how much better you feel by getting under the old style of communicating and having a more intimate, revealing, and connected conversation.

          Hurray for you.