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Defiant Kids: Is There a Good Alternative to Military School?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

When we were kids, if my older brother acted out, invariably he’d get the, “If you don’t shape up, I’m going to send you to military school” speech from my dad. It’s a classic parenting response, (and a fate my brother narrowly escaped) but also an option that many parents consider every day. If you have a defiant, acting out teen or pre-teen, chances are you’re looking for an effective way to get your child back on track — and the thought of a military academy might have started to sound good.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s never an easy decision to send your child away or to entrust their care to someone else. If military school is something you’re considering, there are a few things to keep in mind before making that commitment. For example, when I did a little research on the topic, I was surprised to learn that many schools won’t accept openly defiant, out-of-control teens. Also, realize ahead of time that if you send your son or daughter to a military academy and they drop out — or are asked to leave by the school — you will lose the tuition you have paid for that semester or that year. This is something to take into account before you send a teen or pre-teen to a school they might not be motivated to attend in the first place!

If you decide to go this route, another thing that counselors, teachers, and school administrators agree upon: have a plan in place when your child gets home. Make structure and accountability priorities in your house, so your child doesn’t slide back into his or her old habits.

One alternative to military schools can actually be that structured plan or program. I personally like the concepts behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based programs best, because they focus on changing your child’s behavior  and thought processes first, rather than just on his or her emotions.

Check out what James Lehman, MSW has to say on the topic of emotions vs. behavior — this was one of those parenting “Aha moments” for me: “Many parents try to deal with their child’s emotions first because they believe that’s where the bad behavior is coming from. This focuses on the emotion, not the child’s thinking behind the behavior, which is what you really need to address.” (For more on this, read: Angry Child? Fix the Behavior, Not the Feelings” in EP.)

I’d like to hear from any parents out there who are considering — or who have sent their child — to military school. If you are considering it, why? How do you keep structure in place when they come home? And if not, what alternatives to military school have you tried so far?


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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