Sunday, June 10, 2007

Help for Distraught, Desperate Parents

Parents and Teens, Unite!
Isabelle Zehnder – Family and Life Coach
Article by Isabelle Zehnder
May 12, 2007

This article is written for parents who have, for one reason or another, found themselves at their wits’ end – many losing confidence to parent their own children and teens.

Often the idea of sending a teen or pre-teen away to a residential facility or program is tempting, especially when parents feel they are not being heard or when their child or teen is being defiant.

Parents who have succumbed to that temptation have shared with me that if they knew then what they know now they would never have sent their child or teen away.

While there are some extreme cases where outside intervention is necessary, most often times the answers lie within us – the parents.

After years of research and experience working with parents, teens, and pre-teens, I have learned that in nearly every situation the main issue is a lack of communication between parent and teen. While that conclusion may not sound profound, it is amazing how a lack of communication can destroy the parent/teen relationship.

Through my program Parents and Teens, Unite! I provide coaching for parents, teens, and pre-teens.

Coaching is a valuable experience that has a positive impact on the entire family. Parents and teens not only learn how to better communicate but they also feel more connected with one another.

I have helped parents regain the confidence they need to parent their own children and teens. I have helped teens understand the importance of taking responsibility for their own actions and being a productive member of their family.

Preying on desperate and distraught parents

Because of a lack of community services, a lack of relatives living close by, the rise in blended families that aren’t blending so well, and the rise of single-family homes, we have seen an increase in parents reaching out for help to raise their children and teens.

It did not take long for people to realize this need, and in their haste to get a piece of the pie, so to speak, many who were neither qualified, licensed, nor credentialed began opening programs and facilities for children and teens.

It wasn’t long before these programs began sprouting up all over the US, with some US-based companies opening programs outside the US in foreign countries such as Western Samoa, Mexico, the Chez Republic, Jamaica, and Costa Rica, to name a few.

The Child/Teen Help Industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar a year industry with no signs of slowing down. What is frightening is that currently there is no Federal oversight – I will go into that later in this article.

Thousands of websites flood the Internet promising to help parents. Parents have been convinced that the easiest way to deal with their children and teens is to send them to these programs away from home. Sadly, so many have found that their child did not receive the help that was promised and often their child or teen was abused and/or neglected – some have died.

If you are a parent who is desperate, distraught, and at your wits’ end this article was written for you. As you begin your search for help for your child or teen it is imperative that you understand it is a “Buyer Beware” market.

Many parents have regretted their decision to send their child or teen away and have encouraged me to write this article - it is their stories that have inspired me to share my knowledge with you. Their message – and mine - to parents is that just because someone tells you the only hope is to send your child or teen away does not mean it is in the best interest of your child.

Something worth thinking about – the perception that these programs are there to house out-of-control, strung out teens is incorrect. Most residential facilities and programs for children and teens will typically not accept these types of children, and most of these kids find their way into the juvenile justice system.

I believe that sometimes the answers lie within us – the parents – and that we lose confidence in our own parenting abilities. I work with parents to help them regain their confidence, to take a breath, and to make an informed decision. I encourage parents who are feeling pressured to sign their child into a program to take time to re-evaluate the situation.

More about the industry

In their quest to find respite and help for their teens tens of thousands of desperate parents have turned to the parent-choice, parent-pay Teen Help industry - a silently emerging multi-billion dollar per year industry - where many have found more than what they bargained for. Because of a lack in community services for families there has been a push by psychiatrists, psychologists, judges, school counselors, and others to send children and teens away to Residential Treatment Centers (RTC), Therapeutic Boarding Schools (TBS), Wilderness Programs, Christian-based Residential Programs, Boot Camps, Behavior Modification Programs, Positive Peer Culture programs, that have sprung up all over the US with some outside the US. The average length of stay at most of these programs is one and-a-half to two years or more.

What many people don’t know is that while there may be some good, safe, and therapeutic programs for children and teens, there is a dark side to this industry. I have researched this industry for the past four years (see and have learned that many of these facilities and programs are not licensed, they often hire untrained and non-credentialed staff, there is no Federal Governmental oversight, there is no governing body overseeing their operations, and the facilities are not regulated. And even those that are licensed are often not closely monitored and do not receive routine unannounced visits. In my opinion – this is a recipe for disaster. Many children who have been sent to these programs have reported they were abused or neglected, and some have died.

There are currently no statistics available to indicate if the industry is helping our children or causing more harm. Some parents have reported they were lulled into believing their child was receiving help when in reality they were being lied to and deceived. Some kids have been kept away from their families for up to five years or more. We have learned that in some states anyone can purchase a piece of property, put up a sign, and start taking in children and teens without any licensing or accreditation whatsoever.

Many distraught parents have reported they were duped into sending their children and teens to programs and facilities away from home only to learn months or years down the road that their child or teen was abused and/or neglected, that the program did not offer their child the help he or she needed, that the educational component was lacking, and that the program was not what they were promised or what they paid for – to the tune of $40,000 to $100,000 or more per year!

Some facilities claim a 95% success rate, or more. However, there is no unbiased entity monitoring these claims. Some parents have informed me they had difficulties removing their own children from some programs, especially in divorce situations, and that in order to have their child returned to them they were forced to write positive things about the program – hence their high rate of success.

I believe that sometimes there is a need for outside intervention and that with careful planning and parents doing their homework they can find proper help for their children and teens.

Seeking help for your child or teen can be daunting and very confusing. I am offering a free 30-minute consultation for parents who would like to better understand the industry and to help provide you with options and resources.

It is my goal to help parents stop and take a breath before making one of the biggest decisions they will ever make for their child and for their family. Many parents have reported that marketing agents they find over the Internet have frightened them into thinking if they do not act immediately their child is in danger. When in reality only a very small number of children and teens fall into this category.

How did we get here?

Looking back to the 50’s, 60’s, and even the 70’s, most households consisted of mom, dad, and a few kids. Over time, we have seen a shift. In the 80’s the divorce rate began to skyrocket. By 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reported 37% and 38% divorces for the years 2004 and 2005 and since every divorce involves two people the numbers would be more accurate if they were doubled, meaning 75% of the married population divorced during those years.

Raising kids, especially teens, in today’s world is no easy task. The increase in blended families and single-family homes has brought with it a shift in the family unit and a host of new issues for parents and kids. Many parents have found themselves alone to raise their children, often unprepared to meet the challenges. Many are overworked, overstressed, and overwhelmed with the demands of raising children and teens. For those who find themselves parenting solo these demands are often magnified. Sometimes, things at home spiral out of control and parents find themselves in need of outside intervention.

The teen years have always been a transitional and often tumultuous time for families. Many teens have admitted that though they want their independence they also have a need to be a child and to feel cared for, loved, and safe. It does not take much to shake up their world and when a teen’s world is shaken everyone knows about it. They can become defiant, disobedient, they can experiment with drugs, sex, and alcohol, they can sneak out at night, and their school work typically suffers. That doesn’t mean their parent cannot help them – most often times they can.

When this happens parents often find themselves looking for help on the Internet. It is important for us all to remember that the Internet is filled with a vast amount of information and misinformation. We have found that like the sexual predator preying on innocent and vulnerable children there are those who prey on unsuspecting, vulnerable, and distraught parents claiming they have a program that can save their child.

Parents have reported they were unduly pressured into making a hasty decision for their child or teen, and that if they knew then what they know now they would have done things differently. Hindsight is always 20/20.

Whenever possible - slow down and take a breath

A distraught mother called me recently because her daughter was seeing a boy who she believed was abusive. She found “help” on the Internet. The pressure was on to enroll this child into a behavior modification program at the age of 17 – her last year of high school. The program was located in another state many miles from home and was under the umbrella of an organization named in a lawsuit where children were alleging they had been abused. All communication with friends and family would have been cut off, except weekly censored letters with her parents. This would have meant no prom, no high school graduation. I asked if her daughter was in any immediate danger and if she believed there was time to stop, take a breath, and think about this very big decision she was about to make.

She agreed with me that this was not the emergency the person she found on the Internet said it was. Her daughter’s life was not at risk. Rather than send her away, she asked me to speak with her daughter and with her. After several conversations I received a very promising e-mail from her indicating that her daughter had broken up with this abusive boy and that there was peace in their home once again. She is happy that she did not fall into the trap so many others have fallen into. We talked about how her daughter would have been transported to the program. She realized that having her daughter woken up in the middle of the night by two strangers who would then take her to a place she’d never seen before just didn’t make as much sense once she had time to really digest it and think it through.

Parents, if this is happening to you I urge that you do as this mother did (if you child is not in immediate danger) – stop, take a breath, reassess the situation.

It is my hope that this article will enlighten and inform you.

Another option – Parent and Teen/Pre-Teen Coaching

It is my goal to help parents regain control over their situation, to help them learn how they can better communicate with their teen, to restore their self-confidence as parents, and to bring peace back into the home.

Teens have always faced challenges. It is a time in their life when everything is changing and they are trying to figure out where they “fit” on this planet. They are faced with more challenges today than any other time in history – to think otherwise is naïve.

It is also my goal to help the teen understand his or her role in the family, how their behavior affects those around them, what they can do to diffuse situations, how they can better communicate their needs to their parents, and how they can be part of the solution.

If you would like more information, please contact me at to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. Also, please visit