Therapy might not be enough to help your family if you have a teenager who is struggling. It wasn’t for us. The first time our daughter ran away, I realized very quickly we were out of our depth. My support search started with a Google search on “Christian boarding schools for teenage girls.” This search yielded so many unhelpful results that we were forced to dig through. During our investigation, I found myself learning a lot and flying a little bit by the seat of my pants.
When you find yourself in this situation, as we did, there are lines (or parameters) that you need to set fairly quickly. Some things are essential to you, and some things are not; there may be 3, there may be 5, but you have to have at least 1.
Though we didn’t know much, we did know three things:
- I needed her in a place she had to stay. Outpatient treatment wasn’t working, and I couldn’t live with her at home.
- I didn’t want it to be co-ed. That, frankly, was half our problem.
- I believed that it needed to be faith-based. If I’m really being honest with you, I don’t know why, but at that moment, I felt it needed to be rooted in more than just getting physically and mentally healthier.
Unfortunately, there are not a ton of “treatment programs for teenagers 101” resources online. We ended up searching through pages upon pages of testimonials from parents, pictures of happy teenagers, statements about changing lives, and applications to get pricing.
The hard to find pieces of information were things like the rules, the cost, the challenges, the policies, the hard statistics like how many kids relapse, don’t get out, fail the program, etc. We spent a significant amount of time weeding through what was available and got very lucky in its success. That said, there were a few things we learned quickly and others that took longer to realize.
Truth versus reality.
We directed our search around those three key points above but were bombarded by positive testimonials, scary reviews, and terrible websites. Our number one job during this process was to discern authentic, fake, trustworthy, or yielding. It was more than reading just one, two, or three testimonials on the websites or reviews through Google. It was about reading pages upon pages of these types of feedback. It is relatively easy to discern what comes from parents versus disgruntled teenagers who were angry about being in a treatment program. It is also important to note that the testimonials will only be from those who found success in the program.
Upfront, these stories will not speak to the hardships, failures, and tough situations they found themselves in throughout. To the same degree, nearly all the negative reviews you’ll find online are those written by the program participants who were unhappy and angry that they were even there.
Ultimately, though, you have to use your gut. Sources we referred to:
- Website testimonials
- Google Reviews
- Better Business Bureau Filings
Read all the testimonials and all the negative reviews. Usually, a pattern can be found rather quickly. If al the testimonials sound the same, it may be because they’re scripted. If all the reviews look like fifteen-year-olds wrote them, then they were probably written by 15-year-olds. But in all those pieces of content, you can usually weave out some beneficial points.
Faith-based versus secular.
If you chose to seek a faith-based program, I strongly encourage seeking advice from a spiritual advisor. If you are engaged in a religious community, there are folks within that community that can likely help point you to a support structure for your child. On occasion, their recommendation may be their own therapeutic services; in other cases, it may be something like Teen Challenge programs. We did not have our own spiritual infrastructure to obtain this perspective while deciding and wish we had.
We happened to find Teen Challenge* on our own, but after speaking with those in our church afterward, there was great familiarity with the program.
The reality, though, is that nearly all rehabilitation programs are grounded in faith. She needed to seek something more significant than her, and we knew it couldn’t hurt. Having gotten through the program, we didn’t realize that her faith would become a foundation for her life-long success and drive her not to end up back where she was.
Know your rights.
Lastly, understand your rights and the rights of your children. Any program like this is voluntary. Without legal bindings (e.g., a court order), you cannot mandate they attend/participate in a program unless your child is under eighteen. Also, when your child does turn eighteen, they gain the full right to leave the program.
That doesn’t mean that all hope should be lost if your child is older; I saw many parents place their children into programs at the age of seventeen or seventeen and a half. Sometimes, the kids made enough progress to stick it out and let the benefits outweigh; other times; the kids walked right out the door without a dollar in hand. Again, you can only control your decisions, not theirs. Remember, you’re smart. Your gut will lead you a long way, but so will some very tactical additional steps.
Do not walk blindly into a program.
Just like anything online, you cannot believe what you read. Every institution and program has the responsibility to market themselves, and they will do that in the most favorable light possible. Their websites and printed materials will rarely tell you anything but kind and promising information.
Some recommendations about steps you can take:
- Visit the facility. I learned that I was (likely) only one of two people who had ever visited the facility with their child before putting them there. You don’t need to bring your child, especially if they’re in such a place that even knowing they could be sent away would do more harm than good. However, you do need to find a way to visit the staff and facility yourself if possible.
- Talk to current or former families. This is much harder due to privacy laws, but the facility may have families on standby for these conversations. We were one of those families. If anyone, at any time, ever wanted to contact us, they had full right to.
- Before you apply, learn about the process. The program our daughter was entered into was an indefinite stay program. It worked based on levels. She would be there as long, or relatively little, as it took her to get her act together and recover. Some programs are only two or six-weeks in duration. Know what you’re signing up for and what relative outcome to expect.
This is your child.
I would strongly recommend against asking your peripheral family for their thoughts and opinions. Subconsciously, by engaging them, we’re looking for either validation or someone to tell us we don’t need to go this far. By peripheral family, I mean those you see once or twice a year on holidays. The ones who like every Facebook photo you post but do not see you in real-life for months at a time. If you’re already looking for this path, you know the right answer.
The reason is simple. First and foremost, if they haven’t been living in it, they don’t see. In fact, all they’ve probably seen is your version of the happy existence you wish you lived through social media posts. Secondly, sending your child to a program is unfathomable to those living outside the bubble. Thirdly, everyone has opinions about how they could do it better, and if you just tried a little harder, it would be fine. Lastly, and most importantly, this is your child. Not their child.
You’re the grown-up here. It is your job to decide what is in their best interest and yours. It is up to you to know, based on the talents God gave you, to decide when enough is enough and when you have to give it to His control with the help of others. Hopefully, while your family has the best intentions in mind when they provide their feedback to you, it is based on their reality, not yours.
We have been fundamentally taught we should be able to parent our children without the proverbial village. But sometimes, in the darkest times, we can imagine, it has to be done. No one will ever understand that pain, and that decision point the way you must. And guess what, your child might hate you forever, but they’ll be alive. They’ll have been given every opportunity to understand it is their decisions that put them there and that this is their opportunity for saving grace. Here’s a secret, though: in all the success stories I’ve experienced, the children don’t end up hating the parents.
You may have some family you can rely on to help you get through this. Please remember, though, this isn’t an opportunity for you to be made to feel better about your decision. It is about asking for help in a decision you have likely already made. We asked my aunt, mom, and grandma for help because they were with me every way of our struggle in the fourteen years leading up to this moment. They trusted me, as a parent, to know when I needed to do what. Lean in on those people if it is safe to do so.
Hear the hard answers.
One of the hardest things about selecting a program is not asking the hard questions, but accepting the hard answers for what they are. We didn’t know all the hard questions to ask initially, but we compiled a list based on our experience. You may download it from here.
I have no doubt there are more questions than just the ones we have shared that you will want to be answered. Some of those questions will have pretty common, easy to consume answers; others will have really difficult to process answers. You will need to figure out what you are comfortable with and what you’re not and figure out what outweighs.
Proximity to where you live.
When I was attempting to research how to select a program, I found very little but did find one piece of content on one site that stuck with me; it was about how close the facility or program is to where you live. It was recommended to select a program that was not within close proximity to your home.
While it didn’t define “close proximity,” the statement intended to help parents avoid finding a location that would allow their children to access those things easily, really those people, that are of a negative influence within their lives. That said, during the stay in our program, we realized quickly that it is equally important for you to have quick accessibility to your child if and when needed.
When we were seeking a program for our family, there was a Teen Challenge in Kansas City. We quickly brushed over it because we believed it was too close based on the “close proximity” statement from above. Instead, we selected a Teen Challenge program that was located outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was approximately a three-and-one-half hour drive from us or, if we wanted, a quick 45-minute flight.
This distance ended up being valuable for us because we were allowed to visit her once a month during her program plus, because there were mandatory home times, we were able to pick her up without issue. Too often, we saw kids whose parents weren’t able to come to visit every month because the cost of flying or the distance was too great.
Be prepared for the cost.
These programs are expensive. Whether it is a two-week or a two-year program, it costs money. The money factor may feel like a huge barrier for you. What I will tell you, though, is there are so many resources at your disposal, you just have to look for them.
Here are a few things to think about as options:
- Health Insurance — some health insurance policies will cover long term treatment care, even if not its fullest percentage.
- Cash-out your 401K, IRA, or any other asset you can find — some asset programs, like 401K, will allow you to withdraw on hardship. We took advantage of this to cover two of the months within our program. It allowed us to take out cash on a no-interest loan basis and use my income to pay it back over time.
- Investigate a second mortgage — based on the equity in your home; you may qualify.
- Sell a car — if you can live on one car and have two, consider selling one of your cars for extra cash to support.
- Take a personal loan — while you may not qualify for a second mortgage, you may qualify for a personal loan to cover costs. We took advantage of this to cover two of the months for our program as well.
- Ask about scholarships. The program may have scholarship resources, as might your employer or even your place of faith. It is embarrassing and hard to ask for money; I get it. But if you don’t ask, you don’t know what is out there.
Through staff and other families over time, we learned all the different ways to get your child to a residential facility, even if they don’t want to go. We learned about the girl whose home life was so bad she checked herself in, pretending to be her parents until the program finally figured it out. I heard the story of the boy whose family hired a “transporter” to kidnap their child and take him to the facility legally. During this transport, the driver called to let the parents know he couldn’t imagine why this young man was being sent to a center. While he was on the phone, the kid took off. They found him a few hours later.
We told her we weren’t taking her at all, got her into the car, and locked the door for three and a half hours of driving. Whatever your situation, getting them there should be top of mind for you. You need to either be strong enough to do it, find someone to help you, or ask the facility to help you.
Now, the program starts.
You’ve now gotten through the reality of needing a program, finding it, finding a way to fund it, feeling the terror of doing it. I wish I could say this is the hardest part of your journey, but it won’t be. That said, you’ve made your first tough decision in what will be a string of hardship and heartache, but you did it. And you should be commended.