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TV Can Be A Tricky Reward

cartoon tv

thislifesucks brings up some particulars about applying CRAFT with the family TV. When her Loved One comes home high, she doesn’t want to remove rewards in a way that will have a negative impact on the rest of the family. Can she work out a compromise?

I know that my husband and I are supposed to disengage with my son when he comes home high — not sit and watch TV with him, minimal interaction. My question is, can we ask him to remove himself when he's high? My husband and I only get a couple of hours at night to catch up on our favorite programs, and I resent the idea that we should get up and give the TV over to our son. Could we do instead reward him if he seems sober, by asking if there's something we could all watch? And if he's clearly high, ask him to go to his room, so we don't have to see him in his current state? So far as we know, he's mainly using weed, but he can frequently seem slurry or slow, because he's so high.

Excellent question for a CRAFT nerd like me. A reward or the removal of a reward is always imbedded in a context. In this case:

The family is resenting what they have to do to remove the reward when their son is high. The parents enjoy watching TV together in the evening. They don’t want to go to their room and leave their son, when high, alone watching THEIR TV.

Perhaps being left alone watching TV isn’t much of a natural consequence for the son. He doesn’t much care whether his parents are there or not.

There are lots of little rewards/ removal of rewards that you can consider beyond the TV. You just need to apply them appropriately as you respond to whether or not your son is using. So perhaps the TV watching is too dear, and the family skips this one. Remember, rewards need to be palatable to the family members. If it is too big a reach to give or to take something away, then look for other rewards.

As the family, when you say “go to your room” it is no longer a natural consequence or the removal of a reward, it is a demand from the family. This isn’t CRAFT so much as it is top-down parenting. We strive to avoid this as it typically doesn’t help open up doors to communication, or soften communications in general. The goal is to re-align yourself as an ally in your Loved One’s recovery.

Also, it is worth remembering that CRAFT is designed to see change within 8-12 weeks. Your new ways of responding to your son create the conditions that improve the chances at a successful treatment intervention. So, even if you are opting to use the TV as a reward, it’s not forever that you would have to cede the couch to your son when he comes home high and plops down to watch TV.

In your case, perhaps for now you don’t leave the couch when he comes home high and sits down to watch your TV with you… But perhaps you don’t pepper him with loving remarks, you don’t make eye contact, you are neutral beyond belief. You make it short.

It is worth thinking these things through and coming down consistently on whatever strategy you decide to take. This may end up being a different process for different family members, but I’d encourage you to settle on a strategy that you can accept whole-heartedly. While you’re alone, and feeling calm and clear, take your time to consider what that might look like in in moment. Then you can lean back on the plan when it comes time to interacting with your son when he is using or not using.

Remember, the message you are trying to convey, through your actions, needs to be clear. It should be black or white, not mixed or blurred. Focus on getting rid of the grey areas in how you respond as best as you can. This clarity and consistency will amount to a substantial shift that he will feel and recognize, and will help move things along for the whole family.

Thank you for writing in, and for being there for your son. It’s fleshing out these kinds of details that help us see how we can make CRAFT work for each individual family.



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. Hi,
    I have reached out to this site before, and have found it helpful. There’s been a new twist in my son’s situation, and I’m seeking advice again.
    My son will be 18 at the end of October, and is just starting his senior year of HS.He was adopted through DCF, after his bio-mom’s rights were terminated. He’s been abusing marijuana for about a year and a half or so. He blew up in our house last December, causing hundreds of dollars of damage to the property, and we were able to have him removed to a psych hospital (HighPoint, in Middleboro. I was not impressed). From there, he was moved to a STARR bed, (which turned into about 145 days), and was diagnosed with SUD, in addition to his PTSD/ADHD/attachment/trauma issues. Eventually, he agreed to go into treatment at MYR for the substance abuse. He came out and immediately began smoking again, and refused to go back into treatment. We eventually told him that we understood that he was going to do what he feels he needs to, and we are as well. We told him that he’s always welcome at home when he’s sober; that if he wants to have dinner, he needs to be home by 8:30, or he can make himself pasta or something; if he’s not home by 11:00, we’d lock the house up for bed and leave his blanket and pillow on the (covered)deck. He stopped coming home altogether, and told us he was “living with a friend in Brighton”, but would be home for vacation. We let him know, calmly, that he would not be coming with us to the Cape, given the circumstances. While he’s technically still a minor, the agencies are making it clear that there’s nothing further we can do, as he’ll e 18 so soon. We’re sending him the message that we love him, and haven’t kicked him out, but have expectations if he’s going to continue to live with us, particularly once he’s 18.
    In the meantime, he’s been spending his weeks in Brighton (he missed most of summer school and was always late/frequently absent from a mentorship “job” that we’re paying for), and his weekends with birth mom, in New Bedford. We had reached out to her, to make her aware of my son’s struggles, hoping that time with her would get him away from his Brighton friends and curtail his smoking. We also expressed the hope that we could all work together to support my son as he transitions to adulthood. She took this as a passing of the torch, so to speak. She communicates nothing to us of his sobriety or substance use when he’s with her, and I just found out (via FB and our other son, his bio-sibling) that birth mom has relapsed to the extent that she smokes weed, smokes it with my son, and tried to get my older son to smoke it with her as well. (Thankfully, he wants nothing to do with her since then)
    We’ll be headed into court next Tuesday, for our open CRA, but it’s clear that we need to shift our thinking from “how can we get help for our son?” to “how can we repair or have a relationship with our son?” I’m struggling to figure out how much we’re willing to take on financially, both because he chose to take off and cut off communication with us, and because we want him to feel the consequences of his choices. Bio-mom, though, tells him that she loves him more than us, and plays into his narrative that we threw him out and that he’s doing everything in his life (school, job) that he’s supposed to; he just gets high sometimes.
    There is, of course, so much more detail to this than I can lay out here. I would really like some guidance for how much we should be willing to step in financially, and otherwise, in this situation.

    Thanks again for this site.

    1. Your son is struggling with many issues. He is close to 18, left home, and had been living with a friend though it sounds like he may have been asked to leave. You have tried hard to get his birth mother aligned with how you are parenting, but she continues to be unpredictable. She is smoking cannabis and encouraging both her sons to do the same.

      Your son is “dipping.” School has started, he lost his mentored job, and he may be in between couches. If it weren’t for his destructive anger, you might be able to respond differently. To me, it sounds like your son is banging around his world, pulling from every corner he can think of, using mom, friends, and his family. Poor thing. Our hearts go out to him. And to you. Transitioning to adulthood is difficult enough without all the cards he has stacked against him.

      Read Dominique Simon-Levine’s full response here:

  2. Thanks so much for your response! That makes perfect sense. As you said, I don’t think he much cares whether we’re watching TV with him or not, particularly if he’s high, so it truly felt like a punishment for us and a reward for him. By viewing our lack of communication and “cold-shoulder” as taking action, we no longer feel powerless.

    Thanks again for your response, and this site.