How to Know if You’re Enabling a Teen

It is difficult for parents when their teen is struggling with an addiction. They want to do everything they can to support their teen. But unfortunately, what the parents consider supporting their teen often means enabling. It’s not intentional, however, it doesn’t help the teen.

What Is Enabling

By definition, enabling means doing something for someone that they are capable of doing themselves. When parents allow a teen struggling with addiction to avoid or delay consequences of their behavior, it is defined as enabling. It is a tricky concept and has roots in substance abuse treatment, where this kind of behavior is commonly seen in the people who care about the individual or teen who is struggling with substance abuse.

What are the ramifications of enabling? When a parent continues to make excuses for their teen’s substance abuse, thus delaying any consequences for them, as well as taking away the teen’s motivation to stop their abuse of drugs or alcohol and start taking responsibility for their actions.

Examples of Enabling

A parent may be enabling their teen if they do any or all of the below:

  • Agreed to lie when their teen missed school or work, such as calling in sick on their behalf.
  • Let their teen return home after running away without any consequences.
  • Avoiding confrontation with their teen over unfinished chores due to concerns about their response.
  • Choosing to believe their teen’s stories about what they’re doing and turning a blind eye to the truth.
  • Not expressing concerns about their behavior to them.
  • Loaned them money knowing it will probably never be returned.
  • Ignored possible signs of teen drug use or self-harm.

The Dangers of Enabling

It is ironic that the parents’ enabling behavior comes from their good intentions to help their teen. If the parents have been enabling their teen, then it is important to note that the enabling behavior may be hurting the teen in the long run. It goes without saying that when the teen struggling with addiction doesn’t have to take responsibility for their actions or face consequences because their parents keep making things easier for them, then it’s going to take that much longer for the teen to recognize just how serious their problems are and want to make any real change.

Once the parents realize how harmful their own behavior is, they should start to back off and let their teen begin to deal with the consequences. Ultimately, this is what will help the teen struggling with the addiction to heal.


With a unique approach to adolescent care, Sustain Recovery provides long term residential solutions. Our programs offer a safe and structured environment wherein adolescents are able to maintain a meaningful, fun and substance free way of life.