How to Stop Parental Codependency and Practice “Tough Love”

It is no exaggeration that behind every instance of teen addiction, there are sure signs of a lack of parental oversight and even codependency. Addressing codependency is a parent’s responsibility because even after the issue of substance addiction is resolved, sooner or later, the same kind of enabling may lead the child to relapse or repeat the behaviors.

Parents need to examine their own behavior and figure out how their way of parenting has led to this place. It may be a wake-up call to re-examine the family dynamic and re-adjust to make the home a more recovery-supportive environment.

What Is Wrong With Codependency if Children Need to Depend on Parents?

It is natural and good for parents to provide everything for their children, but codependency happens when a parent forms an unhealthy attachment to the child and tries to use either control or enticement over the child’s life. This often happens to teens and adolescents who are in the developmental stage of seeking independence and self-determination.

Codependent parents like to hold onto control. Their sense of self depends on the parent-child relationship. This shows up in over-involvement, inappropriate caretaking, and over-indulging children. Codependent parents may also manipulate their children’s emotions into compliance. They can be either authoritarian or permissive in terms of parenting styles. At the core of the problem is the lack of healthy boundaries.

Why Are Healthy Boundaries Important?

Parenting is about setting up boundaries. They determine certain behaviors to be acceptable and normative and others not. Children, including teens and adolescents, need healthy boundaries to grow in the right direction. Risky behaviors such as substance addiction do not happen overnight—they happen because healthy boundaries were trespassed without parents noticing or intervening. Codependent parenting tends to produce unhealthy boundaries that lead to such behaviors.

Take money, for example. Codependent parents enable addiction if they always yield to their teen begging for money to fund the addictive habit. Even after a teen completes treatment and recovers from substance addiction, parental codependency may again pave the way for relapse. If the person in treatment is working on recovery while family members are making no change, it can be very challenging for teens who live in the home environment.

How Does Parental Codependency Hurt Young People?

Parent-child codependency can have negative effects on a young person’s emotional and mental health. As they develop their own personality, a teen tends to demonstrate low self-esteem because his or her sense of self-identity has largely been determined by an external force—parental approval.

Parental codependency robs the child of an important chance to build their sense of self-identity on the choices and commitments they make. Furthermore, because codependent parents are often poor role models for taking up responsibilities, teens and adolescents naturally pick up on their parents’ behaviors, including patterns of codependency.

Misplaced attachment and a distorted sense of control can set a young person’s social life in chaos. Because they grow up without healthy boundaries, some young people raised by codependent parents tend to gravitate towards toxic relationships later in life. For example, they might extend the attachment to friends who use substances.

What Can Be Done to Change Parental Codependency?

The first step is always acknowledgment of the problem. Denial will not get you anywhere. In fact, parenting is a perpetual struggle and ongoing learning journey to test where boundaries have shifted and should be adjusted. There are common and proven techniques for this, such as coaching youth responsibility and disallowing risky behaviors.

Parents should practice “tough love” principles that prioritize healthy boundaries over satisfying every need of their teenager. Parents should be aware of their own behavior and avoid enabling risky behaviors. They also need to realize that teens need respect for their boundaries in life. Treating your teenager as an independent individual with a growing sense of responsibility means that you should step back and play a supportive role.

What Else Should Parents Do to Reverse the Cycle of Codependency and Teen Addiction?

Treating teen addiction is a complicated task. Parents need a lot of education and support. It is better to consider working with professional interventionists who help identify signs of codependency and coach parents to improve in practicing tough love. Professional interventionists often use a multi-layered approach, including the following:

  • Communicating between the teen and parents to make sure they are on the same page with regard to ongoing goals, expectations, and progress.
  • Coaching parents to re-establish healthy boundaries in family relationships.
  • Counseling the family on challenging relationship issues with the purpose of supporting a young person’s recovery progress.
  • Designing a relapse prevention plan with healthy parenting guidelines and ongoing coaching.

Have you re-examined your parenting style to see if there are any enabling patterns leading to your child's substance use problem? Admitting that you are a codependent parent can be difficult, but it is the first step towards your child's recovery and healing of your relationship. You do not need to walk this journey alone. There are ways to turn things around. It is time to work with an interventionist. At South Florida Intervention, our professionally-trained interventionists have helped many teens and young adults achieve sobriety and restore family relationships. We coach parents to modify their past codependent behaviors and make the home a long-term recovery-supportive environment. We want to walk alongside you, and you can count on us. South Florida Intervention offers a range of services, from recovery coaching and parent coaching to sober escort and case management services. We are here to help. Call us today at (202) 390-2273 to learn more.