Best Way to Help Troubled Teen Change
“If somebody had told me two years ago we’d be in this situation, I never would have believed it. To have come back so far is truly remarkable.”
This family agreed to share the story of their troubled teen if we would agree not to disclose the family’s identity. Their son, B., struggled with grief, anger and anxiety. He eventually turned to drugs as he tried to make sense of his life.
B’s parents divorced when he was younger and when his mother passed away he went to live with his father and step mom. His father, HB, says that at first his son seemed to be handling the situation well. But as time went on B. became angry and defiant.
We had him in various counseling situations over three years and he didn’t respond very well his father recalls.We changed schools but as his grades declined so did his self image and he eventually fell in with the wrong crowd. This led to a decline in self image and motivation and led to more bad decisions. His grades went from A’s to failing. We attempted military school and tried mandatory counseling but he wasn’t receptive and just shut down which did not help him get any better.
A mental health evaluation at a local hospital indicated B. suffered from depression and anxiety. The family decided a wilderness program might be appropriate and arranged to send B. to an east coast program.
While B. was in wilderness therapy his counselor recommended B needed more time and therapy and that he not be returned to his former environment. Immediately his parents began looking for the next therapy step. They hired a local educational consultant who worked with the family and B’s wilderness program to helped them better wade through the reams of information and make sense of what the options were. Their educational consultant then recommended five or six programs that met B’s immediate next step needs and that they should consider. B’s father started researching and contacting the programs. Eventually, his parents. narrowed their search to three programs, which B’s father visited personally.
Of the 3 programs, Discovery Ranch he said, felt to me like it was the best fit for our situation.
You have to picture your child being there without you, B’s parents advise other parents to visualize. Could you picture them being here? Growing and learning here? Being taken care of here? He said making sure the people trusted with your child actually care about them is as important as making sure the problems your child struggles with will be properly addressed. Is there good, caring staff and safe surroundings? he asks.” Do they connect with you on a personal level?” “Do your research to be sure….know the facts, but in the end a balance of analysis and heart is required for peace of mind.”
HB said he didn’t realize how important that part was until he was actually visiting the ranch. He felt B. needed a caring environment that would also stimulate his curiosity about the world around him “ one that could also provide a more natural, wholesome, teenage life for a year.
That was the criteria I had in the back of my mind, he recalls.
He also had high academic expectations. He was hoping B. could make up more than a semester of high school so that he could graduate and enter college on time. HB admits he was skeptical about a self-paced academic program like the one offered at DR.
Most of the teachers are part time so I thought there would be a lower quality of education, he recalls. The whole process of self-paced didn’t feel quite right to me. It didn’t seem it was designed to really develop the kids.
What he found was just the opposite. B’s parents feel the self-paced approach helped B. to develop more independent study habits. His dad says, In my mind, that prepared him more for college than a traditional classroom approach would have by spoon feeding him.
B. made up his lost semester and also began taking advanced coursework. If parents choose, they can pay an additional fee for local college students to tutor their child. HB. says he’d prefer DR just raise tuition by $200 and include the tutoring as part of the academic program at the Ranch. He did use tutors however, to reinforce preparation, provide content and help B build self confidence. The tutors were very valuable. Not just academically, but as role models and just sounding boards! he said.
B’s parents also appreciated the fact there was good communication between the therapy team and the academic team. They were on the same page, he says. In fact, residential staff, teachers and therapists met once a week to discuss B’s progress and needs in all three areas. HB says The information sharing was good.
After 14 months and again with the help of their educational consultant and a similar process, B. was transitioned to a boarding school where he is on the honor roll and a member of the National Honor Society. He applied to eleven diverse universities both public and private. He has been accepted to nine of the eleven with scholarships to the majority of them. He is in the process of making his final decision.
HB. says it wasn’t solely the depth of therapy alone but the experiential program as a whole that helped his son get back on track. And he has some advice for other parents of troubled teens:
Look at a variety of options. It will make you feel better about the decision that you eventually make. Stay involved but you have to let go too. Let these people do what they do best. We do understand that this is a journey and there are challenges ahead. But, we feel we are all better aware and equipped to confront them head on and support B as he grows and matures