Are They the Right Choice for Your Troubled Teen?

Therapeutic Boarding Schools: When Going Away Is the Only Way

There's no question your teenage child is dealing with peer pressure. It goes with the territory. But peer pressure can take many forms, both positive and negative. Certainly, every parent fears the gang banger giving drugs to their child or the rebellious "cool kid" persuading their child to smoke, but peer pressure can also come in milder forms like wearing mismatched socks to imitate the popular girls or taking certain electives to be in class with friends. Because most peer pressure happens at school, it can be beyond a parent's immediate control.

Most experts advise that the best way for teens to deal with negative peer pressure is to walk away. But how can a child walk away if he still goes to the same school or lives in the same neighborhood as the bad influence? If you are worried about the impact of a negative peer group, sometimes getting your child in a safe educational environment away from home offers the best chance for change.

The Pressure to Belong

Whether your child is popular or unpopular, getting straight As or barely making Ds, adolescence is a time when kids want nothing more than to "fit in" or "belong" to a social group. Teens will do things they know are wrong because they don't want to be left out, lose friends, or get teased at school. Research shows that a child's desire to be accepted by his peers is one of the strongest motivating forces during adolescence. In one study, a student who knew the correct answer to a teacher's question gave the wrong answer just because everyone else in the class gave the wrong answer.

During adolescence, it is natural for teens to turn to their peers for recognition and support rather than their families. This brings them one step closer to independence. By the high school years, most teenagers report feeling closer to friends than parents. But the wrong group of friends can impair a child's good judgment and turn cautious teens into risk-takers. A child may risk being grounded, damaging her health, or even facing jail time just to fit in. Sometimes teens will change their values, the way they dress, or who they hang out with, depending on what is considered socially acceptable in their group. If your teen associates with people who are using drugs, ditching school, stealing, or otherwise acting out, there's a good chance your child is doing the same.

Teens that feel isolated or rejected by their peers or families are more likely to engage in risky behaviors in order to fit in. For example, teens with ADHD, Asperger's syndrome, or learning disabilities often are rejected by their peers because they are "different." They may experience low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness and depression, which may make them more likely to associate with negative peers. Moreover, research suggests peer rejection in childhood or adolescence is predictive of later life problems, such as dropping out of school, juvenile delinquency, and other behavioral problems.

Once under the influence of a negative peer group, teens may continue to slide deeper into problems with the law, substance abuse, failing grades, defiance of authority, gang involvement, and so on. It is a dangerous pattern that can be difficult to reverse. Friendships are an important part of life, but when peer pressure shifts your child's attention away from healthy activities and toward dangerous ones like drugs, drinking, smoking, or sex, sometimes parents have to intervene.

A Safe Environment for Struggling Teens

If your child has fallen into the wrong crowd or is acting out in order to fit in, it may be time to seek outside help. In many cases, removing your child from the negative social environment is the first step toward getting him on the right path. If a child's behavior is getting out of control, teens often respond better to positive peer influences away from home than to more parental oversight or more therapist visits at home. Although local private schools or day schools might help, the neighborhood peer group may still be a strong influence.

A therapeutic boarding school experience away from home offers struggling teens a fresh start. When teens go to boarding school, they must let go of their negative peer group and forge new friendships. Most boarding schools are far enough away from home that teens are taken out of their comfort zone. By being away from home and living with new peers and teachers in an unfamiliar environment, teens learn independence and self-sufficiency. They begin to take responsibility for their own actions, manage their finances, discern positive influences from negative ones, and create lifelong friendships. Until the negative peers are out of the picture, it is extremely difficult for a teen to set healthy goals and find his ambition.

Adolescents are driven by their need for peer acceptance, not the opinions of their parents or teachers. No matter what school a teen attends, she will be eager to establish friendships and "belong" to a group. At boarding school, teens are immersed in a positive peer culture that will impact their desire and willingness to do the right thing. Teens involved in sports, student politics, school newspaper, or even Spanish club, are being influenced by positive peer pressure. Instead of striving to fit in by rebelling, doing drugs, or running away, they can compete to score the most goals in the game, gather the most votes for class president, or get the highest grade in class.

At home, many parents work full-time and spend evenings and weekends running their children to and from various activities and trying to keep everything in order. Trying to provide around-the-clock supervision to a teen that is in with the wrong crowd may be impossible. To get the care and support they need to find positive influences and turn their life around, a therapeutic boarding school may be the best answer. Boarding schools offer 24-hour supervision and maintain formal, structured classes and lifestyles to promote mental and physical discipline. In this environment, teens learn how to follow rules while working toward independence.

When a troubled teen goes to boarding school, parents can re-focus their energies on work and regrouping as a family. Sometimes everyone in the family needs a short break to get back on track. In fact, studies show that parents get along better with their children after they have spent some time apart. During this time, the family can reevaluate how they interact with their child, secure in the knowledge that their child is safe and getting help. Most therapeutic boarding schools provide individual and group counseling sessions to students each week, while simultaneously offering courses and support to the family.

A negative peer group can put your child on a path of self-destruction. Sometimes a change in school environment is the best way to stop problem behaviors from getting worse. A therapeutic boarding school can safely distance your child from the distractions of his home environment and his damaging peer relationships, and provide him with the quality education and social skills he needs to live a productive life.

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