Praise Goes A Long Way

Written By: Christine Miller, ACS Clinical Intern, Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment and Community Counseling Programs

Too often teens feel like they are constantly being told “No” by their parents, teachers, coaches, or other adults, and that they do not hear “Great Job!” enough. Being a teen is hard enough. But, being a teen that has chosen to stop using drugs and alcohol is significantly harder. Peer pressure and the desire to belong create an atmosphere for teens to do whatever it takes to fit in, and all too often this includes using drugs and alcohol.  Additionally, some teens use drugs and alcohol to cope with their feelings or to mask problems they are experiencing. Whether teens have actively chosen to stop using drugs and alcohol for themselves, or are doing so because they are being told they have to, teens would benefit from more praise from those that are part of their support system.

Adolescence is a time for self-exploration and individuation. Our job as a community is to help support these teens in learning and exploring who they are and supporting them when they are struggling. It is easy to tell teens all of the things they are doing or could potentially do wrong, but how often do we praise them for doing something right? For teens that are struggling to stay clean and sober, even that one day of sobriety is worth a celebration.

During adolescence teens learn more about themselves and what makes them happy. Teens might benefit from using their strengths, such as athletics, cooking, art, singing, or music as a way to cope with their feelings of wanting to use drugs and alcohol. As a community, when we see these brave teens working hard to stay clean and sober participate in one of their strengths, we should praise them for making a good decision. It is hard to create a new social support system when all of your previous friends are using drugs and alcohol and you are not. When our teens make a healthy and positive decision to participate in a new sport or activity, either alone or with others, we should acknowledge their healthy choices and praise them for doing a great job. Recognition and encouragement of teens when they begin to make healthy decisions is a way that might help teens maintain their sobriety. Additionally, conversations about how teens are managing peer pressure are also very beneficial.

This idea of praising is easier said then done at times; but, it is not impossible. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the chaos of our day-to-day lives that we forget to recognize the good choices that we or others are making. Teens need as much support as they can get when they are trying to stay clean and sober, and that support can be as easy as saying “Great Job!”