Wit’s End is a prescriptive book with a story of how to research residential therapy programs.
After struggling with my own teenage daughter, I had to resolve myself to the fact I couldn’t do this alone. I needed outside help.
When you finally reach your wit’s end you have to understand that this is not a blame game, it is not about bad parenting, it isn’t even about having a bad child — today’s society can be challenging. We are facing a digitally-driven world combined with peer pressure and the fact many teens feel an overwhelming sense of entitlement.
Good kids making bad choices, that is what I consider it.
By Sue Scheff
Introduction (free chapter)
Perhaps you picked up this book because you are in a time of great stress and confusion over the state of your relationship with your teenaged son or daughter, and you can physically feel yourself being driven to the point of being at ‘wit’s end.’ It is a feeling of hopelessness, helplessness, and complete isolation. You feel as though no one can possibly understand what you are going through. What happened to that happy-go-lucky, smiling, pleasant, athletic, joyful child you raised? Your teen is now acting out in ways you have always assumed only other people’s teens act. ‘Not my child! You don’t understand, my teen is so smart. I mean, very intelligent, and usually not like this. It is the other kids, not mine. Trust me, my kid doesn’t do drugs.’ Yeah, I said that, too. ‘Oh, well, she only experimented once.’ You really want to make yourself believe it.
Has your teen become someone you don’t recognize anymore? Is he or she controlling your household and causing you to feel held hostage to their behavior? Is your teen out-of-control, defiant, angry, rebellious, hateful, physically or verbally abusive, disrespectful, or more? Being a parent in denial can only make matters worse, while being an educated parent can help you recover the happy and innocent child you once knew. Seeking out this book is a great indication that you have already moved from denial to empowering yourself with the knowledge you need to save you and your child.
This book is divided into two sections and can be read in two different ways, according to your needs. You can, of course, read this book in the traditional way, from front to back. However, if the ‘frenzy’ is upon you (and it is, if you understand the term), then you may turn first to Section Two, where you can focus upon the decisions that must be made about your child’s immediate future and the options available for your making them. As soon as you have worked through that section, please return to Section One and follow my journey from desperation, helplessness, and hopelessness to learning the hard way what to do in the face of fighting for my child’s life. I guarantee you, the more you become aware of the pitfalls that caught me, the more you will be prepared to avoid them yourself. You will save time, money, and emotional stress—enough to make a genuine difference for the better in your family’s life.
After all, when parents or guardians are coping with an extreme case of uncontrollable behavior from a minor child, they are in a real predicament. In my and my daughter’s case, our relationship had spiraled into something that I didn’t even recognize. It went from parent caring for child to parent fearing her child, with an even greater fear that there was no way to turn back. I panicked. I had never experienced this type of defiance from her, and it was a new area of parenting for me. I couldn’t find a parenting strategy for belligerence or a plan for diffusing her rebellion and verbal abuse. Add to that the fact that I was ashamed and embarrassed to share the stories of violence and unadulterated rage that my daughter was administering to me on a daily basis. I didn’t know how to parent an oppositional, potentially dangerous child. But what I did know was that she was my child, and she deserved better than walking around in an explosive and obviously depressed haze. We all did.
As many do, I started with local resources to find the right therapist for my teen and me. However, as you read our story, you will see that we climbed many mountains before we landed on solid ground. One of the first was learning to effectively navigate the new relationship that had evolved between us. For instance, for most of a child’s life, the family has been rearing a young, more passive, and thus more guidable person. Now the family feels abruptly presented with a child whose uncontrollable anger propels them into violent or criminal actions. With the coming of the midteen years, a parent also faces a child who has recently become a capable physical adversary. It is during these teen years that a parent feels the time running out for an opportunity to use any genuine authority in guiding that child’s life. Like me, you may not know where to turn to realign yourself and your child. I have learned the hard way how to do so, and through this book, I will share with you all that I’ve learned.
Residential Therapy: A Viable Option
You should know right away that I strongly take the position—as controversial as some people find it to be—that when there is a serious crisis of teenaged behavior at home, then there is a positive place in society for Residential Therapy.
I know that many parents cringe at the thought of handing a child over to a group of hard-disciplined strangers. But I have personally witnessed many valid cases where such organizations have saved a teenaged minor from spiraling out of control and restored him or her to a productive personal life. At the time I was seeking outside assistance, I wish I had had the wherewithal and guidance to know that good places exist. Part of the reason I didn’t possess this knowledge was because there is a ‘hush-hush’ mentality parents take on in terms of whom they tell or share that they have lost control of their child. Ironically, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered that several people I had known had gone through the same thing with their teens, and had sought out and found qualified and effective help through Residential Therapy. Unfortunately, this is a subject parents seem to be ashamed to talk about, so we don’t know who to ask or who will admit they went through it, too. This is another reason I felt compelled to write this book: people need to share information to help others not to feel alone. How many news reports do we need to convince us that there is a disturbingly large segment of our youth population in desperate emotional and psychological need? Many are stuck in a loop of negative cause and effect because they lack the essential understandings of cooperation, fairness, and personal honor, which are offered and can be taught in Residential Therapy. This is the fundamental problem that must be fixed if they are to have a healthy life.
When you give birth to that precious bundle of joy, you would never dream in a million years that once adolescence hits, you will be considering sending them away. It just doesn’t feel natural. The love for this child is so deep, and in the end, you realize it is this love that helps you take drastic steps. As parents, we have a responsibility to do what is best for our children, not what makes us feel best.
When Residential Therapy is administered by qualified staff who work under open supervision, it can and does save lives. Residential Therapy varies in settings, i.e., ranches, single-family homes, farm homes, lodges, or traditional boarding schools. But, in all cases, the setting should induce emotional support, accredited academics (where credits are transferable back to the children’s schools), and a balanced combination of athletics, therapy, and social and life skills. In short, a qualified Residential Therapy program is one that takes children outside of their familiar setting and provides a positive, nurturing environment that helps children turn inward and receive a focus on emotional growth. In my work, I am less concerned about the type of physical setting that is chosen; it is the program and its people that matter most.
Saying ‘No’ to Blame
As I mentioned before, blame has no place here, as far as pointing fingers toward why your child is in trouble. Sometimes the cause and effect of it is fairly obvious, but most often it’s like trying to read tea leaves. I spent months, nights, days at the office, preoccupied and completely distraught over the ‘reasons’ for my daughter’s attitude and behavior. It must be the lack of a father. No, it’s my job. It is the friends she is hanging out with. She doesn’t like her school. She doesn’t like her teachers. She is depressed about a boy. I fed her the wrong foods as a child. I didn’t breastfeed.
For the purposes of this book, it simply does not matter why a child is in dire straits—whether you are responsible for any part of the child’s struggle, whether you inherited someone else’s problems, or whether the kid was just born under a witch’s curse at the full moon. I wish I would’ve known this back then, when I was losing my daughter. Whenever a concerned parent/guardian of a minor child has decided that it is time to get professional intervention, then all that matters is that the child has an adult in his or her corner who can make realistic decisions with confidence. Originally, I didn’t have confidence in the decisions I was making, so I want you to learn from my mistakes and discover what I now know about a parent’s innate ability to make confident, well-thought-out decisions. All it takes is information and the serenity to process it into knowledge, and I am grateful for this opportunity to tell you everything I know to help you find the right path for you and your family. Reading this far is already so much more than I had done, so you are certainly on your way to saving your child.
It has taken years of personal experience and research to be able to confidently express the positions that I take today. There is no mystery to my point of view. It is simply the product of my personal journey with my two children, principally with my daughter, coupled with my current work as a parent advocate. I have carefully researched and observed many Residential Therapy organizations by running the Internet-based Parent’s Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.) to create parent awareness and provide safe and qualified resources for parents. Our driving focus is always to monitor and explore programs especially as they relate to the physical health and safety of children.
Overcoming Fears of Residential Therapy Programs
It is the minor child’s essential safety that makes Residential Therapy a rational option for the responsible adult(s) in the household. Please notice that I use the term ‘Residential Therapy’ in this book solely to describe those truly responsible and well-regulated schools and programs whose practices are objectively monitored, rather than programs that falsely advertise what they are providing and have limited, if any, credentials to operate a school or program. I had no idea that I needed to ask certain questions that I took for granted. For example, if you are sending your child to a Therapeutic Boarding School, you would ‘assume’ their teachers are qualified and certified, wouldn’t you? You would ‘assume’ they have therapists. Unfortunately, you can’t assume, and it’s P.U.R.E.’s function to make aware to parents the programs that truly present valuable opportunities for families who are at risk of being shattered by the destructive behavior of a child in their home.
It is true that with some programs, there is a shock element. That is why the specific method is everything in a teen-help program. The places that P.U.R.E. recommends are all devoid of punishment-based structure. They are places of strict social and academic learning, within a framework of firm but fair restrictions that are placed upon all privileges unless cooperation is shown. They are not spas, but neither are they jails. They are places where all personal and social conduct is conducted under a firm set of rules based upon personal responsibility.
It is natural for any child who gets placed in an involuntary program to suffer initial feelings of shock and outrage once they realize where they are being taken. Most, however, will one day look back and see that they were in fact being thrown a last and best lifeline. And that it was a genuine act of loving concern, done by someone willing to fight to see that child make the transition into a young adult who can and will be a well-adjusted person, one who has a genuine chance of finding happiness in this life.
The worst cynics who comment on the topic of Residential Therapy tend to deride the parents who use it as being ‘too lazy or distracted to do the job of rearing a child.’ They portray such parents as using these programs for de facto teen-holding pens, and as a handy way to rationalize ridding the family of a thorny burden. As you will read later, I did question whether I was guilty of simply not being a ‘capable’ parent, but the more I research and visit facilities, the more I realize I made the right call, just not at the right program. It was not about getting rid of my daughter; it was about giving her a second opportunity to succeed. As parents, we are our children’s advocates. No one else is better qualified than us as their parents. As long as you remember this, there is no room for guilt. There is no time to question ourselves. Once we get past that, we can now help our children. Stop blaming yourself—and take action.
My years of experience have shown me that most parents who consider Residential Therapy are genuinely concerned people. There is nothing lazy or easy about the idea of sending one’s child away. Quite the contrary. The caring people with whom I speak are just frightened and confused about how to help their child.
Ironically, it is one of the parent’s bravest moments.
In worst-case scenarios, I say that if a parent or parents are so unfeeling as to actually utilize Residential Therapy as a way to ‘warehouse’ the child, then that child needs the program even more. There, at least, they will find more stability, more fairness, more acceptance of personal responsibility, and a deeper sense of personal value than they would ever experience otherwise.
Not All Programs Are Alike
However, Residential Therapy programs are also at the heart of a cautionary tale—there have been and continue to be appalling examples of profit-taking schemes that pose as disciplinary ‘camps’ or ‘schools.’ Such places do little more than dump troubled children under the supervision of inexpensive and inadequately trained labor. Then they take away all of the kids’ freedoms and their personal power, leaving them to languish under torturous conditions under the guise of ‘toughening them up.’ This leaves the already troubled child under the lash of whatever acts of abuse or foul temper the leaders choose to inflict. Since the child is the focus of the abuse, it is he or she who is most painfully aware of the fundamental injustice of their position. It’s my belief that such programs pose a risk that any child who goes in angry will come out enraged.
There is an aspect of human nature that makes it possible for just about anyone to become monstrous, if they are given unmonitored power over dehumanized individuals. We don’t have to go far to find it, not when an angry and frightened child is shoved into a plain wooden box and then left locked inside its stifling darkness over some meaningless infraction.
‘Problem’ kids who get stuck in such draconian places cannot only be expected to come back more troubled and angry but potentially also damaged in ways that may not be apparent on the surface. Such damage does not always reveal itself right away, either. They may, for a time, be frightened and beaten down into a state of compliance and submission that feels deceptively like good behavior to a parent or teacher. But the repressed rage will still be inside of the person holding it, and eventually it will make itself felt. As any victim of serious abuse already knows, people who are beaten into compliance may be passive and controllable for a while, but they are only biding their time to strike back, even if they don’t know it. I witnessed the demoralization of my daughter after I made a last-ditch effort to save her. I made mistakes, and my teen paid for them. Now my daughter and I are filled with the wisdom of hindsight that we hope you will be able to use in this critical time.
The Purpose of This Book
This knowledge I have gained through my experience with my daughter, as well as by talking with other parents of troubled teens and investigating treatment programs through P.U.R.E., has led to the wisdom you now hold in your hands. Wit’s End will show you that:
•there are many treatment options available.
• you can competently evaluate the safety and effectiveness of various treatment options.
• you are not alone in the struggles your family is facing.
• your situation is not hopeless—there are viable alternatives to help your teen and your family.
• you are a good parent, capable of making these very important decisions for your child.
Visit www.SueScheff.com for more information on parenting and Internet advocacy.