This Director’s Spotlight blog post is by Mike Haarer, director of Compass Rose Academy. To learn more about Mike, click here.

For parents seeking help for their troubled teens, often years of struggle and turmoil culminate in selecting a wilderness program or boot camp to give their teens a dose of reality. For many, though, this is really the beginning of another journey. After a teen has experienced the wake-up call and rigid structure of boot camp, where can parents turn to deeply resolve underlying issues and transition their teen from the rigid strictness of boot camp to the normalcy of home life? Longer-term residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools are available to deeply address problematic issues at their root and provide a gradual transition back to the home environment.

Regardless of exactly what types of issues, troubles or temptations have marked their past, teenagers often develop a sense of invincibility that gives them the confidence that they will survive their teenage years no matter how dangerous their behavior becomes. Add to that a growing independent spirit and you may get a teenager who believes that all rules are beneath her — the rules in her home, the laws of society, and maybe even the laws of nature.  Boot camps provide an exaggerated and necessary strictness to break through this invincibility and give the teen a more realistic sense of herself in the world, acknowledging her limits and demanding expectations for her behavior.

Getting to the Root of the Issues

After teenagers experience this dose of reality, though, there is still work to be done. First, even though her perspective has changed and she has come to grips with her limits and expectations, this does not mean that the issues that gave rise to her symptoms (of anger, defiance, drug use, etc.) have been significantly resolved. Sadly, teenagers are much too likely to fall back into old habits, relationships and thought patterns if the deeper work is not done. Many wilderness programs or boot camps provide thorough assessments of behavioral and emotional problems that can direct parents in choosing a longer-term residential program to treat the issues at their source.

In our residential program, we have had a great deal of success helping teens identify the sources of their problems and then building in them the internal capacities that they need to meet the demands of life in light of their particular struggles. For some, maybe the root is that although they present like they are invincible, they actually feel completely inadequate compared to everyone else. Some take feelings of anger or rejection related to their biological parents and direct it all toward their adoptive parents. For others, maybe it is feeling that they are completely empty and alone, even when they are surrounded by friends and family. Whatever the particular root of their behavioral and emotional struggles, there is hope when the issues come to light within the context of safe, nurturing environment and high-quality clinical expertise.

Providing a Safe, Gradual Transition Home

Second, teenagers may also be more likely to fall back into old patterns if their transition home is like going from one extreme to the other, with little integration. After experiencing the extreme rigidity of boot camp and before going home to the normalcy of “real life,” teens need to experience some level of increased freedom to make choices while still in a safe, highly structured environment. The reality is that freedom is both an ingredient and aproduct of developing responsibility. In order to effectively build the capacity to make good choices responsibly, one has to experience the freedom to make good and bad choices — here, freedom is the ingredient. Once the ability to make good choices is displayed over time, freedom increases — here, increased freedom is the product of responsible choices. Residential programs offer a step-down from the boot camp environment where freedom and choice are highly limited, preparing teens for home, where freedom and choice are much more readily available.

Residential programs typically involve family members throughout the course of treatment with frequent phone calls, visitation and family therapy. A gradual transition plan should also include a series of home passes, starting with as little as a 24-hour pass and ending with a home pass of a week or more when possible. This series of home passes, and particularly the extended passes, allow both the teen and the family to gradually transition back to life in the home together. It also typically exposes relational or behavioral issues that need further work prior to release or structure that can be added to the home to improve the transition.

To learn more about how to help your teen have a positive post-boot camp transision, please contact Compass Rose Academy today.