First, know that it was a difficult decision for your friend to make. And it was a brave one. Sending a child away to a specialized boarding school is often the last resort when he or she is causing disruption in class or home, grades are failing, and the whole family is suffering. But it’s not an admission of failure or something to be embarrassed about. It’s a positive step toward setting a teen back on the right track.
So what your friend needs right now isn’t tsk-tsking, but whole-hearted support from you. Sometimes it’s tough being a parent and it’s sure tough being a teenager these days. The world is moving faster than ever, and influences flow in from all sides twenty-four hours a day, bombarding kids with more pressure than some of them can handle. Everything coming in from outside can lead to or exacerbate personal challenges a teen is experiencing, like ADD/ADHD, a learning disability, behavior or emotional disorders, addictions, or just raging hormones.
A therapeutic facility provides a re-boot in a fresh new and restorative environment away from the triggers of old behavior while it combines counseling and personalized instruction to focus a teen on realizing his or her full potential. In a setting like Diamond Ranch Academy in Utah, for example, kids have the benefit of continuing their academic studies while learning new skills and exploring new aspects of themselves.
Educators like Diamond Ranch high school teachers and those at other boarding schools around the country are adept at engaging reluctant students in traditional subjects and re-training kids in how to learn. Outside of the classroom, the days are filled out with sports, creative arts, and other activities that foster the kind of interpersonal skills that are so important as a teen matures to go to college and out into the workplace and the greater community.
So what do you say when your friend’s teen has gone off to a therapeutic boarding school? Here are some suggestions:
“How Are You Doing?”
Respect the fact that some people don’t talk easily about what’s going on in their private lives, but for many, it’s a great relief to have someone to talk to. Let your friend know you understand that things are different at her house these days and that you’re available to lend an ear. Don’t approach it mournfully like something shameful has happened in the family, because it hasn’t.
“How Is Your Child Doing?”
Ignoring the question doesn’t make it go away. You might think that poking at the issue is going to bring up difficult emotions and remind your friend that her son or daughter has had problems serious enough to be away from home because of them. Don’t kid yourself. There’s not a minute of the day that she’s not aware of it. Express your genuine interest in the process and be encouraging about every bit of progress she reports.
If your own teen has just made the honor roll and been elected president of the junior class, this probably isn’t the time to humble brag. If your friend knows about and mentions it, though, you can certainly acknowledge that you’re pleased. But you could also acknowledge that all kids are different and take their own paths to becoming successful adults. As much as it might seem like it at times, it really isn’t a contest, and the finish line is way far down a road no one can predict.
“Let’s Go Have Some Fun.”
Your friend is probably wrestling with feelings of guilt, either because she feels deep down that she failed her child somehow or just because it doesn’t seem right not to have her son or daughter at home with her. She might feel even worse, actually, if all she’s feeling is relief. What she might be really grateful for is a carefree morning at a flea market or an afternoon at a spa (your treat if you can manage it.)
The need for a fun break extends to your friend’s spouse and other kids, too. If it’s been the usual thing for your families to get together, don’t stop now. Siblings can have a hard time adjusting when one of them is away, and it helps everyone to keep things feeling normal.
To give yourself some background on therapeutic boarding schools, go to the website of the one your friend’s teen is at, or read a bit here.