10 Things to do When Choosing a Troubled Teen Boarding School
1) Ask about the boarding school’s success rates. A quality program should have a systematic way of measuring success and should be able to provide information to interested parents about that success. If a school is reluctant about telling you their success rates or can only provide anecdotal evidence of program effectiveness, this is a fairly good indicator that the results aren’t too impressive. If you are quoted a statistic, be sure you understand what the number means. Some schools define success in very loose terms. Often “success” actually means “lack of failure,” or simply that a graduate hasn’t been arrested since leaving the program.
2) Talk with some parents with a teen in the program. Talking with a parent who has had direct experience with a program will ensure that you don’t get swindled by a fast-talking salesperson. If a school is confident about the service they are delivering to their current clients, they should be happy to allow you to speak with them. If they make excuses or claim that they want to protect the anonymity of their clients, you can rest assured they are bluffing. If a program works, it will have plenty of support from parents who have had a good experience with it.
3) Take a tour of the troubled teen programs you are considering. This will give you an opportunity to assess the adequacy of the facilities, the professionalism and competency of the staff, and most importantly, the contrast between new students and soon-to-be graduates. When viewing the facilities, remember that you don’t want a hotel (your child needs a reason to want to come home) but you don’t want rundown buildings either. Something that is basic yet clean and tolerable is a good balance. Try to get a sense of the program’s philosophy of change when talking with the staff and also watch to see how the staff members interact with the students. The soon-to-be graduates can provide a good example of what the program is capable of helping their students create.
4) Don’t base your decision on either pure emotion or logic. Avoid the tendency to overreact to an emotional situation. If your teen’s behavior represents a consistent problem, now may be the time to act. However, make that determination when you have returned to a stable state of mind. On the other hand, choosing a program for a teen requires more than simply weighing the pros and cons. Choose a program that makes sense that you can also feel good about.
5) Don’t tell yourself that ignoring the problem will make it go away. Although some problems may go away on their own with time, serious behavioral and emotional problems in adolescents may appear dormant for a time, but will always resurface if allowed to continue unresolved. If the voice inside you is telling you it’s time to stop pretending that your child doesn’t have a problem, you should probably listen.
6) If it isn’t working, stop doing it! If it has become clear that your attempts to control your child’s behavior are not working, it’s time to stop and reevaluate the situation. We’ve all heard it before, but doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Stop banging your head against a wall and get help.
7) Understand that you don’t always get what you pay for. Although typically true for most consumer products, price does not always reflect quality in the troubled teen help industry. Make sure you understand what you are paying for. Many high quality programs are in the range of $3,000-$4,000/month. Paying thousands more per month isn’t necessarily going to change your child’s behavior any better or faster. You may be making someone else rich however and paying for services that fuel your teen’s sense of entitlement. On the other hand, if you’ve found a program that claims to offer services similar to more expensive facilities for under $2,500/month, it’s probably too good to be true.
8) Look for a program that involves the whole family. A family is a system. When one part of a system has a problem, it affects other parts in the system. In fact, most problems within a system involve the interaction of two or more parts. The family is no different. It is vital that parents and even siblings where possible get involved in the change process. If your child comes home to a broken system, the changes they have made, however significant, will probably be short-lived. Be willing to accept that you may be part of the problem and be willing to make the changes you need to in your own life. A successful program should offer services that allow family members to work on individual issues as well as relationship problems. This might be accomplished through parenting courses, family therapy, seminars, etc.
9) Don’t tell your child you are going to put them in a treatment program—unless of course you enjoy inviting unnecessary drama into your life. If you have made a decision to place your child in a treatment program, or even if you are only considering doing so, it’s best to keep it to yourself. Very few teens will be in favor of such a decision, so breaking the news early just makes your life miserable since you now have created a situation where your teen feels it is necessary to manipulate you into changing your mind. Your teen should not be part of the decision making process since he or she is already demonstrating the inability to make responsible choices. Discussing this decision with your teen may also encourage your child to run away or “live it up” like the end of the world has been announced.
10) Remember that just because you have a troubled teen doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent. Children don’t come with a manual and each is unique in the challenges they bring to parenting. Yes, you probably made some mistakes along the way, but dwelling on your guilt for the way your child is behaving is senseless and will not help solve the problem. Shift your focus to what you can learn in order to bring your child back, and never stop loving them. Your love and commitment to your child is ultimately the key to helping them reverse their self-destructive lifestyle.