Sunday, April 1, 2007

Parents of struggling teens: What every parent needs to know!

Changes and challenges

Looking back to the 50’s,60’s, and even the 70’s, most households consisted of mom, dad, and a few kids. Over time, we have seen a shift. In the 80’s the divorce rate began to skyrocket. By 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reported 37% and 38% divorces for the years 2004 and 2005 and since every divorce involves two people the numbers would be more accurate if they were doubled, meaning 75% of the population divorced during those years.

Raising kids, especially teens, in today’s world is no easy task. The increase in blended families and single-family homes has brought with it a shift in the family unit and a host of new issues for parents and kids.Many parents have found themselves alone to raise their children, often unprepared to meet the challenges. Many are overworked, overstressed, and overwhelmed with the demands of raising children and teens. For those who find themselves parenting solo these demands are often magnified. Sometimes, things at home spiral out of control and parents find themselves in need of outside intervention.

In their quest to find respite and help for their teens tens of thousands of parents have turned to the Teen Help industry - a silently emerging multi-billion dollar industry - where many have found more than what they bargained for. Because of the lack in community services for families there has been a push by psychiatrists, psychologists, judges, school counselors, and others to send children and teens away to Residential Treatment Centers (RTC), Therapeutic Boarding Schools (TBS), Wilderness Programs, Christian-based Residential Programs, Boot Camps, Behavior Modification Programs, Positive Peer Culture programs, that have sprung up all over the US with some outside the US. The average length of stay at most of these programs is one and-a-half to two years or more.

What many people don’t know is that while there are some good, safe, and therapeutic programs for children and teens, there is a dark side to this industry. We have learned that many of the facilities and programs are not licensed, they hire untrained and non-credentialed staff, there is no Federal Governmental oversight, there is no governing body overseeing its operations, and the facilities are not regulated. And even those that are licensed are often not closely monitored and do not receive routine unannounced visits. Many children who have been sent to these programs have reported they were abused, neglected, and some have died.

There are currently no statistics available to indicate if the industry is helping our children or causing more harm. Some families believe they were lulled into believing their child was receiving help when in reality they were being lied to and deceived. Some kids have been kept away from their families for up to five years or more. We have learned that in some states anyone can purchase a piece of property, put up a sign, and start taking in children and teens without any licensing or accreditation whatsoever. (See links below).

Many parents in your position reported they were duped into sending their children and teens to programs and facilities away from home only to learn months or years down the road that their child was abused and/or neglected, that the program did not offer their child the help he or she needed, that the educational component was lacking, and that the program was not what they were promised or what they paid for – to the tune of $40,000 to $100,000 or more per year!

It is my hope to enlighten you as to how this has occurred and how this can be avoided in the future. I believe that sometimes there is a need for outside intervention and that with careful planning and parents doing their homework they can find good, therapeutic programs for their children.

I also believe that sometimes the answers lie within us – the parents – and that we lose confidence in our own parenting abilities. I work with parents to help them regain their confidence, to take a breath, and to make an informed decision. I encourage parents who are feeling pressured to sign their child into a program to take time to re-evaluate the situation.

Help for parents struggling with their teens:

If you are a parent struggling with your pre-teen or teen and are feeling overwhelmed and at your wits’ end, this article was written for you.

The teen years have always been a transitional and often tumultuous time for families. The rise in single family homes and blended families has not made things easier and has contributed to an increase in family stress. Many teens have admitted that though they want their independence they also have a need to be a child and to feel cared for, loved, and safe. It does not take much to shake up their world and when a teen’s world is shaken everyone knows about it. They can become defiant, disobedient, they can experiment with drugs, sex, and alcohol, they can sneak out at night, and their school work typically suffers.

When this happens parents often find themselves looking for help on the Internet. It is important for us all to remember that the Internet is filled with a vast amount of information and misinformation. We have found that like the sexual predator preying on innocent and vulnerable children there are those who prey on unsuspecting, vulnerable, and distraught parents claiming they have a program that can save their child.

Parents have reported they were unduly pressured into making a hasty decision for their child or teen, and that if they knew then what they know now they would have done things differently. Hindsight is always 20/20.

A distraught mother called me recently because her daughter was seeing a boy who she believed was abusive. She found “help” on the Internet. The pressure was on to enroll this child into a behavior modification program at the age of 17 – her last year of high school. The program was located in another state many miles from home and was under the umbrella of an organization named in a lawsuit where children were alleging they had been abused. All communication with friends and family would have been cut off, except weekly censored letters with her parents. This would have meant no prom, no high school graduation. I asked if her daughter was in any immediate danger and if she believed there was time to stop, take a breath, and think about this very big decision she was about to make.

She agreed with me that this was not the emergency the person she found on the Internet said it was. Her daughter’s life was not at risk. I received a very promising e-mail the other day from the mother indicating that her daughter had broken up with this abusive boy and that there was peace in their home once again. She is happy that she did not fall into the trap so many others have fallen into. We talked about how her daughter would be transported to the program. She realized that having her daughter woken up in the middle of the night by two strangers who would then take her to a place she’d never seen before just didn’t make as much sense once she had time to really digest it and think it through.

Parents, if this is happening to you I urge that you do as this mother did (if you child is not in immediate danger) – stop, take a breath, reassess the situation.

It is my hope that this article will enlighten and inform you.

Further, if you are interested in exploring the option of parent and teen coaching, I offer that service to families, “Parents and Teens Unite”. My coaching method is a bit different than most in that I believe it is critical that I not only work with the parent but that whenever possible I work with the teen as well.

It is my goal to help parents regain control over their situation, to help them learn how they can better communicate with their teen, to restore their self-confidence as parents, and to bring peace back into the home.

Teens have always faced challenges. It is a time in their life when everything is changing and they are trying to figure out where they “fit” on this planet. They are faced with more challenges today than any other time in history – to think otherwise is naïve.

It is also my goal to help the teen understand his or her role in the family, how their behavior affects those around them, what they can do to diffuse situations, how they can better communicate their needs to their parents, and how they can be part of the solution.

If you would like more information, feel free to contact me at or (360) 903-3951 to schedule a free one-hour consultation.

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