Rita went through hell with her teenage daughter. Tough love, a program for parents, helped her through. She is now the co-ordinator of Tough Love on the Coast
Rita went through hell with her teenage daughter. Tough love, a program for parents, helped her through. She is now the co-ordinator of Tough Love on the Coast Warren Lynam

MUM'S JOURNEY: When your teen turns to drugs and crime

HER precious daughter started 'misbehaving' and getting suspended from school when she was 13.

By 15, she was taking drugs and moved out the family home to live with her boyfriend.

She dropped out of school, she was arrested and she made life a nightmare for the family who loved her.

Her mum, who only wished to be identified by her first name, Rita, had no idea what to do or where to go for help when her own flesh-and-blood turned against her and the rest of the world.

Rita was part of a stereotypical family, mum, dad and two kids, and no one had involved been involved in drugs. Until then.

When her daughter returned home from living with her boyfriend at 16, "she was on ice" and she was in constant trouble with the law.

Rita felt embarrassed and she felt alone.

Then she discovered Tough Love, an organisation which supports parents experiencing problems with unacceptable behaviour from their teenagers.

It didn't just give her hope, it gave her a strategy to cope.

She started setting rules around behaviour she could change.

She stopped picking her daughter up at 2am when she phoned home, pleading for help.

It was hard. But it was important.

"I had to stop enabling her," she said.

"I had to accept things like I couldn't control if she spent her money on drugs, but I could control how much money I gave her.

"I also had to stop driving them to places and giving a bus pass.

"It is hard to say 'no', but it is also empowering."

And when she was 21 and it seemed the family was getting nowhere, she told her daughter to leave the family home.

Psychologists told the family they "spoilt her when she was young and did this and that".

"This was not much help," she said.

"It is not our fault, it is not anyone's fault. No one is to blame.

"It is the way it is and it has its roots in our culture, that's what we are fighting against.

Rita said the schools tried to be "supportive" when her daughter started being in trouble at 13.

"They had no answers other than suspension. She was wagging school so they could suspend her.

"There was no answers to her behaviour. But Tough Love was good, it gave me answers and it gave me a plan."

Rita would travel once a week to Brisbane to engage in the program there.

"I was feeling like failure and feeling helpless," she said.

"We tried psychologists and child youth and mental health, but she wasn't supportive.

"Tough Love was the best thing as it gave me a plan. Instead of blaming myself, I had to find answers why.

"The first thing was keeping yourself safe. You had to say this is 'my house, and this not what you do here.

"You can't control what they do out there."

Rita couldn't put a finger on a trigger that caused her daughter's behaviour.

"Teenage stuff, low self-esteem and peer group pressure," she said.

"Some people handle drugs better than other, she had psychotic episodes."

A decade later and Rita's daughter has had a complete turnaround. She's employed and living in another state and her and her mum are "very close".

She has also been "drug free for three years".

And one year ago, in a watershed moment, she apologised to her mum for the grief she caused during her teenage years.

Rita didn't know what could have made a difference to her daughter in those years.

"I don't know what we could have done that would have changed it.

"Overseas they have programs that put resources into helping teenagers instead of into catching and stopping drugs.

"The courts here are very lenient, I wrote to them a few times and asked for her to put in rehab, but this never happened.

"They would just give her fines she didn't pay. She had no respect for it at that stage."

Now Rita runs the Tough Love program on the Sunshine Coast and she encouraged other parents struggling through this time to get involved.

"I only wished I had discovered Tough Love sooner," she said. If you need help, visit the website toughlove.org.au.

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