Having your teen in residential treatment is a significant and positive decision. At the same time, it can cause anxiety and concern not only for your child, but for yourself. Fortunately, the RTC industry is a mature and competent one, so those with good reputations, such as Compass Rose Academy, will provide a great healing and growth experience for your teen. At the same time, you may not know what your own role is or how you can partner with the process to accelerate the results you’d like to see in your teen’s behavior, emotions, relational choices and thought life. Here are a few tips that will help matters:
- Ask the program professionals. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Good RTCs have established parent/caretaker protocols that they will be happy to go over with you. These have worked for thousands of parents. If they send you a protocol with the information package, don’t just read it: Make a phone appointment with them and go over the points with a professional. You’ll gain a ton of information about what to do, and the earlier you do this, the better the process will be for you.
- Normalize early resistance and disengagement. The great majority of teens don’t choose an RTC. That decision is made for them, most of the time. They have lots of negative things to say in their first few weeks, but so would you! Nobody wants to be without home and friends for a spell. But don’t let that derail or discourage you or cause you to question your decision. Pretty soon, your child will make friends, get involved in the therapy and activities, and actually enjoy a new healthier way of life. Stay on track while this happens.
- Stay “for” your child, without colluding with her. Parents often feel a great deal of guilt when a child is in a RTC. When your child calls or writes you to express unhappiness or stress, it is easy to agree (collude) with her that the center is unfair, that the counselors are not nice and that the program isn’t working. If you end up colluding, the program can be handicapped in its effectiveness, and the entire investment of time and money hampered. Avoid statements such as, “They do sound really mean and I don’t think they understand you, but you have to be there for now.” Instead, be empathic and listen sympathetically. But finish up with something like, “I know it’s really difficult, but I am confident that this is the right growth environment for you at this time. Stick it out and work the program, and I’ll always be in touch.” That way, the teen feels your support but understands that she is there for a reason.
- Minimize conversations about family and personal struggles. Your teen is working very hard at learning to trust, be responsible, become healthy and own her life. That will take 100 percent of her time in an intensive environment. Stay away from talking about problems at home, such as marriage difficulties, severe illnesses, financial hardships and sibling problems, which can overwhelm her and cause her to be diverted into worrying about home instead of concentrating on healing. As much as you can, let her know that life is stable and OK at the Smith household, and things will be OK until she returns.
- Be interested and curious about her experience. Your teen is learning a whole new way to relate to others and manage herself. She has lots to share. Ask questions about how it’s going and what she’s learning. If you get two-word answers such as “It’s lame” or “It’s OK,” simply switch to asking about the week’s events, the way most families do at the dinner table. Sometimes an “event conversation” can lead to something deeper, such as learning about emotions, relationships and growth.
- As much as the program allows contact, do that, but don’t go overboard. Kids need whatever contact the RTC allows, because you are an anchor and a source of life to your teen. But don’t press for more visits or calls than they prescribe. They have set this structure up for a good reason. The parent who is around too much can actually cause a regression in the child, and the teen can then negate the program and just think about nothing but going home.
You are fortunate in that the science and technology of RTCs is well-researched and effective. It takes time and effort, but this could be the breakthrough-for-life that your child needs. Hang in there, and collaborate with the program.