When we were stuck in the muck of substance abuse, anger, belligerence and failed probation with our son, I didn’t know where to turn. Other parents who were also struggling didn’t want to share. There didn’t seem to be a clearinghouse of information or resources, yet I knew there had to be help and information available. But where? Luckily, there are professionals who can guide you through the process of finding a program to help your child and provide relief to you.
The person who held the key to unlock the door to healing for our family was an educational consultant, an individual with a background in education and experience working with hurting and angry teens. Many of these individuals have had personal experience with a family member with the same problems; it was their pilgrimage in search of help that equipped them to help others.
Here is our story, along with steps we took towards a solution. Perhaps you will see some of your own story in the following words, taken from my book, Winning the Drug War at Home.
It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but it felt like I had already crammed a day’s worth of events into the hours since I had forced myself out of bed. Seated in the high school office around a table that sagged from overuse, I joined my husband, Howie, our son Matt who was in eleventh grade, his guidance counselor and his probation officer.
The scene was familiar but just as difficult as ever. We were gathered to review Matt’s probation performance. Matt had made his choices, so we sat in silence as we waited for the probation officer to offer her recommendations. This morning her words were swift and decisive.
“Matt, I’ve had it with you.” Frustration and annoyance were evident in her voice. “We’ve given you every opportunity to straighten yourself out, and you’re not doing it. You’ve lied to me and to your parents, and I’m fed up. I’ve spoken to my chief and we are court-ordering you out of your home. I’m recommending you go to Boot Camp.”
Silence followed. Boot Camp. The image was clear in my mind — a place where arsonists, burglars, sex offenders, and violent kids were discarded and locked up.
The universal silence continued, but represented different thoughts for all of us at the table. Howie and I waited, chilled and sobered by the thought of Matt spending time in such negative company. Disbelief and shock spread slowly across Matt’s face. It had been clear that he felt he was immune from the rules and standards that applied to everyone else. But now, slowly, the realization that he couldn’t slide through without consequences caught up with him and seemed to be registering. The guidance counselor remained silent while the probation officer waited for her words to sink in and for Matt to speak.
“You’ve got to be kidding me” was all he could muster in response.
“Matt,” she said, as just a hint of sarcasm worked its way into her voice, “Why would you think I’m kidding? You’ve blown me off, violated probation several times, and I’ve had it. You’ve had lots of chances and you’ve wasted every single one.”
Matt’s shoulders sagged and his entire body deflated, acknowledging imminent defeat.
I broke my silence and asked if it would be possible to consider a therapeutic alternative to Boot Camp. I wanted Matt to grow and heal from his poor choices, not be immersed in a setting where he would learn more bad habits from kids experienced in ways of beating the system. I wanted him in a positive environment that would have a strong therapeutic role. His dad and I asked if the court would consider sending him to a therapeutic wilderness program in place of boot camp.
How had we gotten to this place? What were the options? How did I even know that such a thing as a therapeutic wilderness program existed?
What you can do:
- Find an educational consultant. An excellent resource for locating these individuals and other information about hurting teens can be found in The Woodbury Reports. A wealth of information can be found at their web site at: www.strugglingteens.com.
- We worked with an educational consultant who runs an educational consulting service.
- It is critical to line yourself up with someone who you feel you can trust and with whom you can communicate. These kids don’t come with an owner’s manual that have a section on how to handle these issues, so it is important to work with people who are experienced and know what they are doing.
- Depending on how much time you have, it is a good idea to check out two or three different consultants. In many ways it is like choosing a primary care physician. The educational consultant acts as a liaison between the child, family and therapeutic program identifying one that is best able to meet the individual family’s needs, and often can achieve placement for the child in a program more quickly than if you were working alone. They have relationships with the program directors, have visited the programs and have a network of parent references available to talk to you.
- They, and the programs they represent, are not cheap. Insurance may cover some of the cost; there are also some programs that operate on a sliding scale fee. I have noticed that many of the program web sites have payment support options listed. Although not cheap, it is priceless. You cannot place a price on your child’s life.
- Having said that, it is critical that if you elect to work with a consultant and place your teen in a therapeutic program that you follow through on all their recommendations and parent together with your spouse if they are in the picture. If you don’t follow their (often tough, very tough) recommendations to the letter, you may be throwing your money out the window.
- Surround yourself with support. The forum on this web site is one such resource. And never give up!
(This excerpt from Winning the Drug War at Home was used with the publisher’s permission.)