Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens

For parents of a troubled teen, there often comes a point when problem behaviors are getting worse or affecting not only the teen’s family life, but also academic life. These problem behaviors can include issues such as:

  • Defiance and authority issues
  • Conflicts with parents or siblings
  • Anger issues
  • Legal problems
  • Failure in school
  • Poor choice of friends
  • Mental health issues, such as depression, substance abuse, ADD/ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

The parents may then consider a boarding school for troubled teens. While this term is often used interchangeably with treatment centers, camps or other programs for teens, there are definite differences involved with a boarding school for troubled teens (which also may be referred to as a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment school).

Traditionally boarding schools have existed to provide academic curriculum to children and teenagers in an away-from-home residential living facility. However, while a boarding school for troubled teens does provide academic curriculum, their focus is in working with teens who are defiant, disrespectful or out of control in their behavior, and in facilitating behavioral change and helping the teen to become a better and more functional person in the end.

In addition to academics, the boarding school will also work to teach students emotional and social skills that go beyond those offered in a traditional boarding school setting. The school will provide therapy to the residents, including individual and often group counseling by trained professionals that will help to set behavioral goals that will be monitored and worked towards. The school will also have additional specialized staff that goes beyond the classroom teachers and counselors to include residential advisors that live in the dormitories and help to monitor and change the behaviors away from classes.

The school will have many of the same components of a “regular” boarding school such as meals served in cafeterias, a school library onsite, and even extracurricular activities that students may participate in. However, these will generally be privileges that must be earned through good behavior and change, rather than available to all as a traditional boarding school would be.

A typical day for the student will often include a schedule something like:

  • Get up early, get dressed and eat breakfast
  • Complete a chore or task in the residence hall
  • Attend classes with a lunch break
  • Go to individual therapy and/or group sessions
  • Complete homework, have free time, participate in extracurricular activities (if permitted), and socialize with other students
  • Eat dinner together
  • Finish any homework, do additional activities together and prepare for bed

The teens may be allowed to go home for school break periods or this may be restricted depending on behavior and the family’s living situation. In the earlier stages of the teen attending the school, communication between the parent and teen will often be limited in order to give the school time to assist the teen in becoming adjusted to the structure of the school and to being away from their family.

Like a traditional boarding school, families will be responsible for paying for the teen to attend. Scholarships may be available in some cases, but families need to realize that a boarding school will have financial costs that must be handled.

There are also different types of boarding schools for troubled teens that a family must evaluate and determine which best meets the needs of their teenager. There are some that work with under-motivated teens, some for those with mental health or learning disability issues, or those that are defiant and resist authority. The school should have an admissions representative that the family can speak with to learn the focus and mission of the particular school in order to find one that best meets their particular challenges.

Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens will generally accept students at any time during the year, rather than only at the beginning of the traditional school year, particularly since educational classes and objectives may be individualized depending on where the teen has left off in their previous educational institutions. The admissions process will often include both educational placement tests, as well as psychological tests to highlight any issues that the counselors and teachers will need to work with the teen on.

The school will also offer classes and workshops for parents as well on an ongoing basis to help change the family dynamics and offer ways in which the parents can help to support the teen’s success while at the school. There will also be a transition program that will help the family when the teen has completed the program and is returning home.

While there are many similarities between a traditional boarding school and that of a school for troubled teens, as you can see, the latter goes beyond the academic focus and instead looks at changing the teen emotionally, socially and behaviorally, and in helping them to become a better person that is able to function in society.

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