When is it time for you to send your teenager away? Where should you send them? What do you do and where do you start?
It is time to send your teenager away when you no longer have any authority over him or her. When you tell your daughter she isn’t going out tonight and she walks right out the front door, you have a problem. When your teenager runs away on a regular basis, you’ve lost your authority. When your adolescent continues to harm himself despite your best efforts, it’s beyond your ability as a parent.
In these situations you always call for help. If your teenager runs away then you call the police. If your child is self-harming then you take him or her to the emergency room if you are certain they won’t jump out of your car. Otherwise you call 9-1-1 and let the paramedics and police provide the transport.
These scenarios are frightening and frustrating. You have set limits repeatedly. Your daughter or son has violated those limits repeatedly. The more they do this, the more they realize ultimately you are powerless to stop him or her. You can take his phone. You can tell her she’s grounded for the next 6 months. Most teenagers will obey you when you’re truly angry. However, some kids just won’t. It’s time for your teen to go to residential treatment because you no longer have authority.
How do you even do this? How do you send your teen to residential treatment, and where? There are hundreds of programs throughout the United States that claim to address these very issues. They help with everything ranging from intensely bad attitudes to drug addiction. The problem you face is that you’re about to spend thousands of dollars, and to send your own child into the care of strangers far away from home. The thought is literally terrifying. The thought of keeping your teenager at home is also terrifying. It’s a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
In these situations everyone wants to sell you on why their program is the best. You might talk to someone who claims to know all about several options, but they will only show you the facilities owned by their parent company. Remember, this is a business.
There are really two options left. You can either travel to several of the facilities you’re considering and take a tour, or you can hire an independent educational consultant. If you travel to the facilities make sure to ask a thousand questions including how your child will receive emergency medical treatment if it’s needed (many of these locations are quite remote). If you hire an independent educational consultant you pay a significant fee to gain access to discounts, scholarships, and someone who has toured a large number of programs. A good educational consultant ends up saving you more than your fee because they negotiate a better price for you with the facility. They also provide invaluable information when your child will transition back home. They are in charge of connecting you with a good therapist, helping your child re-enroll in school, and decide whether to send your teenager to boarding school, a specialized private school, or back into public school.
I realize this process is incredibly overwhelming. You’re not sure what you’re supposed to do anymore. Your adolescent is out of control and you feel powerless to stop it. You love this child with all your heart, but you’re tired of the constant fear and irritation. When it’s time to send your teen away you’ll know because you’ll feel like there’s no other choice. Sometimes doing the right thing is the most heartbreaking thing.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT