Troubled Teen Industry
These are some of the expressions floating around a great deal these days when discussing working with young people who struggle in the academic or social mainstream. Certainly many of us are aware of Paris Hilton’s Op-Ed piece she wrote recently detailing her horrific experience as a teen. Her words paint a vivid and scary picture of children being tormented and abused. No child should ever feel that way, and what happened to Ms. Hilton was at best reprehensible and at worst criminal.
Before we assume all treatment centers and programs are nothing more than unregulated and unlicensed glorified prisons, we must take into account the countless stories of families who were able to take advantage of the therapy, support and community that many of the programs across the country offer. These are stories of family reunification, of growth and of awareness. Katherine Weymouth’s Op-Ed piece speaking about her family’s treatment experiences is such a story.
With these contrasting accounts of the world of adolescent treatment out there, how are you, as parents of adolescents supposed to know what to do? How are you supposed to navigate the murky waters of parenting teens? How are you supposed to know what is right and what is wrong for your child who is struggling with behavioral and/or mental health struggles? The answers to these questions are as complicated as the issues themselves.
When I started in this field, I learned right away that there are people in it who are dedicated to helping, who are willing to learn and who are humble enough to know that they don’t know everything. These are the givers, the nurturers and the caretakers. I also learned that there are people in this field who are in it to simply make money. People who are willing to overpromise and under deliver, people who are all too willing to take people’s money and take advantage of a situation.
To be able to discern between the two it takes a well-trained eye, teamwork and belief in the process.
Where do I start?
Research, research, research. I would say at this point, and many might disagree, that breadth is more important than depth. In other words, find many sources for your information. Remember, anyone can put up a fancy and appealing website so resist being seduced by beautiful pictures and promises - look at everything with a discerning eye. Savvy marketers know that families are vulnerable, and their websites know exactly which buttons to push. If you start to feel you’re getting the hard push or it just doesn’t feel right, walk away; always trust your gut.
Similarly, don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole of negativity. It is very easy to smear, disparage and otherwise discredit highly qualified programs simply by creating a website or a Facebook page. Remember the adage, that satisfied customers tell one person their story, dissatisfied ones ten.
So where can you go to get unbiased facts? High-quality programs are accredited by regional or national accreditation agencies like The Joint Commission or CARF and will make their accreditation status public. Look into this, as the standards these agencies require are both thorough and high. In a similar vein, you can reach out to state agencies to see if there have been any substantiated claims of abuse or neglect at the programs. By using the accrediting and government agencies as the basis for your research, you have successfully gotten away from the reactionary world of marketers on one side and disgruntled families on the other.
Get professional help
A great way to complement the research you may do is to retain the services of an independent educational consultant. An IEC can be an invaluable asset in helping determine the right path for the family. As always, doing your research is paramount, and a great place to start is IECA. By going with an IECA consultant you can be assured that your consultant has pledged independence, is qualified, and has endorsed the IECA Principals of Good Practices. On the IECA website you will find a host of reading materials which will answer some of the questions you have, and it may help abate some of the fears you have about the field.
As always, trust your gut. You should speak to a few consultants, A good consultant will be open to questions and won’t make any promises. A good consultant also knows that they will be working with the entire family, not just the child and that the job is not about placement, rather it’s about reunification. Whether you choose an IECA member consultant or not, making sure that the consultant you retain is independent (i.e. works solely for you, and has no financial ties to any programs) is appropriately educated on the programs (i.e. has visited the programs) and is sufficiently trained on trends in the field are all good things to look into.
It’s ok to be scared
And as we all know, crisis doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is always more going on that what is seen on the surface, and even though it may not feel like it at the time, everyone has been through personal crisis. It takes a long time for things to get so unraveled that a family seeks support to this level, and it also takes a lot of courage to admit that you, as parents need help and support. While a tired phrase, and I one I vowed I’d stop using, these are indeed unprecedented times. Literally no parents alive today have had to go through what parents of today’s teens are going through, so it’s ok not to know all the answers, to depend on others and learn on the fly.
So if you’re in this struggle now, stop. Breathe. Take care of yourself, and know that as a team; you, your child, your program and your educational consultant will work together to find a new, healthier normal.
Bar Clarke has been working with families for 30 years. He uses his knowledge of family dynamics coupled with his own personal struggles to help families find a new path