It’s a matter of time…
In my former life as an admissions director, we had accepted Alex into our program for September. Alex’s parents were concerned that he had no summer plans and had been “experimenting” with alcohol and possibly drugs. Rather than act they decided to give him the summer to “snap out of it”, only to find that when September rolled around, he was no longer eligible for admission as his behaviors had escalated to the point where the program could no longer meet his needs. In just a short time, the best laid plans had fallen to pieces. The family was left not knowing where to turn, but knowing that they had missed out on an amazing opportunity.
Time, what does it mean? Well, the meaning of time is quite different for the adolescent/young adult from what it is for an adult. As we head into summer it is sometimes the case that parents of troubled teens want to give them the summer to wait and see what happens. Putting the burden on a struggling teen to “snap out of it” when his or her development is being hindered can only exacerbate the problem.
So, what’s the worst that can happen in three months? As an adult we can and do cope with major life crisis and forge our way through with the skill set we have created over time. An adolescent/young adult can be led astray by things such as depression, anxiety or drug use. They often do not have the skill set and resilience to move forward. Furthermore they are missing out on major milestones through which they should naturally be progressing. These milestones are necessary to mature and without them they will be less equipped to deal with life’s trials and tribulations. As a parent it is often difficult to know when it is okay to “wait and see what happens” or necessary to take action to prevent that loss of time. When in doubt it is always best to err on the side of caution to ensure that time IS on your side.
I am sure you have heard the new terminology for our current group of young adults: from “failure to launch,” to “30 is the new 20”, etc. The biggest question is: why is this happening now? What is so different from before? I will go back a bit in the history of therapeutic programs and the sociological paths of these young adults over the years and maybe this will help explain.
Therapeutic programming first started about 35 or so years ago with a few emotional growth schools geared toward adolescents who were rebelling outward more than inward. The adolescents stayed in each program for 2 ½ years and were either in California or Idaho and were loosely based on the Synanon movement from the 60s where there were lengthy “raps” or seemingly unending group therapy sessions. After a number of years, managed care kept hospital stays shorter and the psychiatric long term stays were getting scarcer. However teens continued to need help and as the stays grew shorter and more and more costly, parents began to postpone therapeutic support until right before or into the adult age of 18. This brought about the need for programs based on the young adult who had to agree to go given the age of majority, and many had to be treatment specific to be able to help these less mature and clinically needy young adults.
In addition to parents’ postponing needed treatment, the adolescents were getting more and more complex in their clinical needs and parents, many of whom were both working full time or busy with other parts of their lives would more often than ever acquiesce to their children’s wants rather than their needs to keep the peace in the home. Unfortunately this also has led to the demise of the mature young adult who is ready to take on the independent world of college, work, and life. Many are caught up with the Internet, whether it be gaming or social networking, few are able to hold jobs or remain in college. Unfortunately, parents are at this point unable to help not for lack of trying but rather for not having a clue how to get this young adult child to launch. Some statistics actually show that adolescence is now lasting until age 30!
The good news is that there are many choices for whatever the issues are: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, internet addiction, learning and cognitive issues, personality disorders, trauma, and of course family issues. We do our due diligence to make sure the needs of the young adult match the offerings of the particular program and therapist, thereby ensuring as much success as possible regardless of the age.
It’s worth a call to us to make sure your young adult isn’t living in your basement at age 30, 35, or 40!!!
Leslie S. Goldberg, M.Ed., CEP was interviewed on LA Talk Radio. In the discussion, she outlined why someone would need an educational consultant. She also spoke about her role as an Advisor to Saving Teens in Crisis Collaborative, a non-profit dedicated to helping families manage the financial burden of assisting a struggling teenager.
Click here or on the image below for the archived audio file:
One of the compromises I have learned to make is that sometimes face to face meeting are not as effective as, or as valued by, younger generations. One of many examples I could give is that while most people would probably still agree that it is rude to stop by someone’s home without calling first, today I find that many younger people consider it rude to call someone without texting them first. I am not trying to be critical of anyone, quite the opposite. I have started to realize that in order for me to work with many of today’s students I need to, within reason, adjust myself to understanding their methods of communication. Over time I have really learned to value their perspective.
The simple truth is that very few students initially come to my office excited about meeting me. Often I represent one of the many professionals that they have been dragged to by their parents over the years. I can’t say that I blame them. More often than not my initial meeting with families has a lot of eggshells and takes a lot of ice breaking. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the parents and the child have argued during the car ride to my office. This familiar scene is not all that dissimilar from the decade I spent interviewing families when I worked in admissions. So...
...is there a solution to the problem? Not really... but lately I have found that using technology such as Skype, FaceTime, etc. has proven to be more effective in connecting with students and their families than I ever thought possible. I will often Skype with students while they are in the comfort of their own home. The fact that we are in different locations gives them a better sense of security and the feeling that we are on equal turf. In addition it is much easier to schedule a Skype meeting than a face-to-face meeting as we work with families from literally all over the world. It has taken time for me to adjust to this but it has proven to be very effective because the dialogue tends to be more productive and fluid.
As a parent living in the trenches with a struggling son or daughter you may be thrust into our world. This likely seems like an alien world which you did not choose to visit. It is a labyrinth of wilderness therapy programs, residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools, and much more. Emotions run the gamut.
Parents tell me they feel…
At a loss
At wit’s end
Battered and bruised
TALK TO US!
WE HEAR YOU!
WE GET IT!
If you see yourself in this blog, give us a call!
Leslie S. Goldberg, M.Ed., CEP was interviewed on the Faith Middleton Show on NPR last week. In the discussion, Leslie describes a couple of student cases and recounts her career journey as one of the pioneers in the educational consultanting field.
Here is the archived audio file - click the link for direct audio or the image for the full media page and make sure to fast forward to around the 31-32 minute mark (around 2/3 through the show) when it begins playing since the feature is in the latter segment of the 50 minute program:
Leslie Goldberg on NPR Audio Link 03 06 2012
One of the biggest disappointments I have experienced as an adult, and upon which I will ever be able to look back and laugh, is learning the hard and sad truth... that The Beatles were wrong. "Love is NOT all you need." The romantic in me wants to imagine that love can surpass and triumph over all. However, the sad reality is that love can blind us when it comes to effectively helping those in need. Love can make us enable. Love can make us rescue. Love... when used for our own needs can hurt those we care about the most.
Don't get me wrong - teens who are in need of intervention due to emotional/behavioral struggles, substance abuse and risky behavior need love and support. But, that alone falls drastically short of providing what they often need immediately: professional treatment administered by qualified professionals with compassion. As much as we want to believe that love can “treat” a teen, it can be used as vehicle to get that teen to treatment but it alone cannot heal. I am not suggesting for a moment that you "Hide Your Love Away.” Teens in treatment need to know that someone loves them but they also need a level of assistance that even the most caring and well intentioned family and friends cannot provide them.
As much as I shudder at the thought of disagreeing with John, Paul, George and Ringo, sometimes we need to realize that love can’t conquer all.
As educational consultants we work with many families whose children might be labeled “troubled teens” or have had issues with emotional problems, substance abuse, underachieving, or are simply oppositional. Many are very bright, college bound teenagers; they are good kids who have made poor choices. Some have had issues with computer games, texting, or bullying. One thing is for sure—it is far better for this to happen during the middle and high school years than after s/he turns 18. Really?
But what happens if he goes to a wilderness program? What will people say if she goes to a therapeutic boarding school? How on earth will he get into college, not mention a GOOD college? Who will want to accept her into their school? It’s hard enough to get into college these days without having been sent away to a special school or program!
Think about it—how will your son or daughter get into college doing what s/he is doing now? You could be the poor parents who lose their $40,000-$60,000 tuition if these problems aren’t handled now and your student goes off to college with no tools to handle the craziness of college life today. You won’t even know about it because with the privacy laws grades and disciplinary letters go to the student, not to the parent, even if you are the one who pays the tuition!
OK, so it sounds like getting some help sooner rather than later makes sense. But why should a college consider a kid with issues? Honestly, all colleges have students with unmet needs for therapy, medication, substance abuse treatment, and coping strategies. Admissions professionals love to read the essays about the growth and change of students and what has impacted them the most. They don’t need to hear the details of what went on before treatment; however these stories, if told without a “poor me” attitude, rather a story coming from strength and maturity, will make the admissions team sit up and take notice of such students. That said, there are many nuances to both the timing and strategies for getting a child the appropriate help, while maintaining a steady view of what possibilities lie ahead.
Educational consultants who provide both special needs guidance and college advising, are in a unique position to help you determine when and how to get your child back on track to college.
For well over a decade I have seen adolescents able to consider post-secondary options that would have not been possible in the past. We are fortunate to have made great strides within the mental health world, although we still have a long way to go! With increased awareness of mental health issues (early intervention, pharmacology, and counseling) paths and doors are now open for many students who would never have been able to succeed in this direction before. While in high school, under the watchful eye of their parents, many adolescents seem to be able to handle the academic and emotional rigors of college. Some parents, worried that cutting the umbilical cord will cause the child to fail, become codependent rather than instilling the confidence and engaging the support of others at the college to do what they perceived as their job.
The constant level of communication between parents and their children with cell phones, texting and emails was baffling to me in my last position in college admissions. In various workshops and conferences I attended, I was stunned how despite the increasing selective admissions process at colleges, more and more students were not able to function independently. In many cases, there were students who did not disclose to the colleges their history of depression, substance abuse or anxiety. Many parents were fearful their son or daughter would not be accepted if they disclosed these struggles. Even more shocking was how many students and their parents had somehow convinced themselves that the start of college was a new beginning and the struggles of the past would somehow disappear. Unfortunately, this wishful thinking rarely worked out in the end. More often than not the inability of the students to handle college was an enormous setback for the entire family and the letter, typically arriving around Christmas, would ask the student to pack up before the next semester began.
When I was working in higher education I was never privy to what these students did after their sudden and premature departure from college. It wasn’t until I became an educational consultant that I found myself once again working with these troubled young adults but in very different circumstances, many of them living at home with their parents with absolutely zero prospects for the future.
The sad truth of the matter is that many of these young adults were set up to fail. The idea that a college will relieve the emotional and temperamental setbacks these young adults have had in the past is wildly unrealistic. If anything college can exacerbate these issues and I can’t help wonder how much pain they would have been spared if they had been set on a more realistic path from the beginning.
Many colleges now have support systems in place to help students with a variety of struggles. Families need to take to take advantage of these opportunities in the selection process. It is imperative that a school know if the students have any special needs (academically and/or therapeutically). Knowing this will only help the school help the student stay afloat. The idea of not disclosing this information during admission process will only hurt the young adult in the end.
No, this blog is not about a new concept for a high school. Nor is it about getting intoxicated in the woods. “Wilderness high” is the incredible feeling that participants with a successful wilderness experience feel upon completion of a specialized outdoor therapeutic experience. The feelings of confidence and competence, the feelings of “can do” rather than “can’t do”, the feelings of excitement and optimism… the transformation is simply amazing for these students who had prior feelings of hopelessness and helplessness before participating.
As an educational consultant for 25 years, I have seen the growth and changes in the industry, but the power of this experience remains the same. There are some down sides, however, to this incredible sense of power when leaving such a program. Since wilderness cannot last forever, participants must necessarily move on to a longer term therapeutic program, a school, or home. Please don’t misunderstand; this is not a bad thing, but parents, adolescents and young adults must realize that they will be the “newbies” at the next step, whatever that looks like. For example, if it is a therapeutic program or a new school, the student will typically begin at the bottom of the social and academic ladders, having to gain respect and privileges all over again. If they are going back home or to a former school they will have to work doubly hard to “prove” themselves.
A barrier to success? Absolutely not! A challenge? Sure. This transition is actually a life skill that everyone will experience when entering a new job, school/college, or relationship. The most important lesson is that this occurrence is inevitable and the more preparation on the part of the student and the family, the better. There will be no surprises when the honeymoon period wears off and the reality may induce some brief regression and old behaviors. If we are all prepared for this, however, we can remind ourselves that this is, in fact, what we knew would occur and that it will be over quickly if we, the collective transition team (students with parents, educational consultants, therapists, etc.), handle it collaboratively and productively.