Enrolling Your Teen in the School of Sobriety

What are the pros and cons of sending a teenager to a therapeutic boarding school?

Jim and Mary had done all they could for their son. They’d put Josh through two rehab programs, counseling, drug education classes and family therapy. He’d been suspended from school several times. He was even arrested once.

Through all of this, Josh continued to spiral out of control. His patterns of drug use, lying, and stealing were getting worse, not better. After looking into therapeutic boarding school, Jim and Mary decided the program offered a new ray of hope. The schools they researched were highly reputable; they helped teens just like Josh turn their lives around. Troubled kids entered the program completely out of control because of drug use, then left on a path of sobriety.

It was a tough decision, but Jim and Mary decided this would be best for Josh.

Making the Transition

Josh didn’t see things the same way. To Josh, being sent to therapeutic boarding school meant his parents were giving up on him - they were throwing him away. He was going to a scary new place where he knew no one. He decided they didn’t care what happened to him once he was there. All they cared about was getting him far away from them. He was hurt, angry and afraid.

Jim and Mary are making a tough decision. Like most teens trapped in substance abuse, Josh isn’t in a frame of mind to understand the decision (or know what’s best for him). If you find yourself in similar circumstances, there are several things you can do to help smooth your situation.

This process is never easy, but you can help make the transition to therapeutic boarding school as painless as possible.

As you prepare to get your child the help he needs, try the following:

  • Reassure Him of His Status
    Remind your teen that, just because he will be away from home, this doesn’t mean he’s no longer a part of the family. He will continue to be an important family member - one who will be greatly missed during his time at school.
  • Explain Future Contact
    Let your teen know you will remain in contact with him while he’s away. For many schools, this is part of the program. Parents may even receive counseling and homework assignments too. You will be in contact with your teen, along with his counselors and mentors. This process will allow you to stay in touch, monitor your teen’s progress and receive the tools you need to better assist him in the future.
  • Make a Plan
    It may be hard to plan for the future with so many unknown variables. However, part of your teen’s hurt and fear is probably based in their unknowns. Will he ever be welcomed back? Will he have to stay there forever? Speak with your child about your hopes for his future. Let him know what should happen after schooling is complete. For example, if he’s successful in the program, he can live with you while pursuing additional education. Give him some frame of reference for what to expect after he’s “sent away.”
  • Provide the Details
    It might be hard to get him to listen, but give your teen information about where he’s going. Let him know you have researched the school and are sure it is a reputable, helpful place, which you trust will be good for him. Share what you know about the program and what it will be like for him there. (Be discerning on these points. Sharing some aspects of the program may make him dread it even more. Don’t emphasize a program’s rigorous exercise program if you know he hates physical activity. Focus on the positives.)
  • Explain the Why
    Your teen probably won’t want to hear it (and may be even less likely to understand it at the time) but let him know why you made this decision. Since you’ve likely tried everything else by this point, your teen probably realizes (at some level) the reasons behind your decision. Still, communicating clearly how you all arrived at this crossroads is a good thing to cover before he leaves.

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