You are not alone

When parents have teenagers that are struggling, many times we feel alone and very often contend with feelings of failure and shame.

First, let me assure you that you are not alone. We have 5,000 families that call us each year, looking for hope and help for their teenagers. And we have over 80,000 people who visit our website for the same reason.

DSC 9302 300x200 You are not alonePerhaps, never at any time in history, has parenting been more challenging than it is today. It used to be that a teen with serious behavioral and emotional problems came from an obviously troubled family with serious dysfunction and brokenness, or the teen themselves had suffered some significant trauma or abuse. However, this is not always the case any longer.   Many of the teens in our program come from stable, loving, two-parent homes. Teens in our program often come from great families, with parents who have been active in their lives, taken them to church on Sunday, and worked hard at being good parents.

In fact, I think that most of the parents that place their children in our program are exemplary. They don’t have their heads in the sand regarding their teens’ behavioral and emotional condition.   On the contrary, they have been actively trying to address their concerns for their teens’ issues for months.   And by the time they get to the place of considering residential treatment for their teen, they have typically already spent countless hours in prayer, discussion, worry, and counseling.

IMG 4242 300x200 You are not aloneParents consistently tell us that leaving their teen at a residential program is the most difficult thing they have ever done.   They often feel like they have failed as parents and that they have failed their child.   However, this decision is actually one of the most courageous things that parents can do for their child.   It takes deep humility for a mom or dad to acknowledge when they need help in dealing with the behavioral and emotional development of their teen.

I find it interesting that none of us has difficulty going to a medical doctor for help when we need treatment for the physical development of our child. If our teen has something wrong physically, there is no shame in taking them to the doctor. Yet, when there is something wrong in the emotional or behavioral development of our children, many of us find it very difficult to ask for help.

For this reason, those parents who make the decision to place their child at Shelterwood are heroes in my estimation. They have been wise enough to know they need help. They have been humble enough to ask for help. And they have been courageous enough to take the steps necessary to get help.

Jim Subers
Shelterwood CEO

Are your Expectations too High?

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 3.35.12 PM 300x49 Are your Expectations too High?The theme of this week’s blog is Schechter’s Equation for Life: S=R-E, or Satisfaction equals Reality minus Expectations. It tells us that for you to be satisfied, reality has to exceed your expectations. Simply put…when expectations are high, reality has to be higher still for you to be satisfied.

This leads us to discuss therapy and the idea of getting help. When crisis hits, people look to others for help: a church, a friend, a school program, or even a counselor. Even though many participants attend unwillingly, parents are still hopeful that these experts can and will help. After all, it is hard not to hold out high levels of hope for our children. We so desperately want to see growth and change that we are often willing to make great sacrifices to ensure the best care that we can find.

With these high investments, it is almost impossible not to have high expectations and believe that change is inevitable. Subtract those very high expectations from the reality that unmotivated teens struggle to create change in their lives, and Schechter’s Equation for Life tells us that, barring big changes, the intervention will result in negative satisfaction. So what might change? How can a counseling experience produce positive satisfaction?

The key is recognizing that, in Schechter’s Equation, satisfaction is affected by both reality and expectations. In this case, the teen is struggling with something real and tangible. So let’s focus on properly aligning expectations with what has the potential to be a difficult reality.

How do we do this? Start by acknowledging that the problem is a long-term issue. Say up front, “Attendance in this program alone is not going to fix the problem.” Go on to say, “Instead, this program is going to kick off a strategic planning process by addressing a fundamental question: Where are we?

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 3.39.03 PM1 300x207 Are your Expectations too High?The core of any strategic plan explores three basic questions: Where am I? Where do I want to be? How will I get there? Sounds simple, but it’s often not. Too often the strategic planning process gets derailed when we skip ahead to questions two and three without first truly understanding where we are.

It sure is easy to get lost when you don’t know where you are to begin with. When you visit a mall and look at the display map that highlights all the stores, the first thing you look for is the little sticker that says, “You Are Here.” Even if you know your destination beforehand, it’s hard to move forward in any logical way until you make this determination. Sadly, many parents simply want a counselor to get their teen to the exit of adulthood on the other side of the building. Without understanding the reality of their teen, the expectation of growth and health are almost unreasonable. Making assumptions about their current location and the destination will always lead to a teen becoming more lost, which leads to unsatisfied parents.

Unfortunately, as much as we might talk about our kids and believe we know them, most teens are not very open and maintain many secrets. With a lack of knowledge we tend to rely on assumptions and predictions from our own past, but these memories rarely provide much insight. As weird as it sounds, we might not know that much about them. Their reality and our understanding of their reality might be completely different. Without first addressing these knowledge gaps, any plans we might make will be doomed to fail.

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 3.38.44 PM 300x119 Are your Expectations too High?So as a first step, the primary focus of this year with your teen should be considering what information you need to know about them and develop a plan to collect it on a regular basis. Do this, and reality and expectations will be aligned, thus creating satisfaction.

Good Intentions

Screen Shot 2015 03 03 at 11.53.18 AM Good IntentionsWell here I sit in the airport of Jackson Hole on my way home after a week long vacation. Sadly, instead of spending the week on the world-class slopes of the Jackson Hole ski hill, I spent the week in bed, watching television in tremendous pain from gout. Even a doctor’s visit to my room and a steroid shot in the arm was not enough to mitigate the pain and swelling. Depressed, frustrated and feeling like a failure, I am committed to whatever changes are necessary so that I never experience this pain again.

My motivation is sky high and with study I have learned some really useful tips that will help eliminate my risk of gout attacks in the future. I am going to take control of my life; I am going to get healthy, eat right and get my life in order. My confidence in myself is high until I remember that I said the same things to myself last year when I had the last attack.

My own experience with gout is sadly very similar to what I see in myself as a parent. So full of promise, I think through all of the things I want to do with my son and daughter that will deepen our relationships, but never seem to get on the calendar. As a counselor, I find that parents want all the information on how to end the arguments, cutting, or drug use, but rarely put it into action. Is that you? You, me, and almost everyone else on the planet has the same stupid way of doing this. We want to be done with the pain, so we run out there and learn everything we can about what to do, and then we actually do nothing!

My biggest challenge as a counselor and a gout sufferer is motivation and putting the knowledge that is readily available into action. Sadly, we all have such locked-in ways that our good intentions are never acted upon. That is why I still suffer from gout and maybe you continue to repeat old destructive patterns in your home, only to watch the symptoms of such behaviors come out in your kids.

I know you don’t want to watch your kids struggle just as I don’t want to keep experiencing the pain of gout. And as I sit in my hotel room watching happy people board the chair lift for another run it is hard not to feel like a victim…like this gout attack is happening to me and I have no control of my current situation. In families, this type of self-pity leads us toward even greater fractures in our relationships with our kids and or spouses.

I know I am not a victim of gout, but that I have actually unwittingly been giving myself to gout. Living a gout lifestyle. So what keeps me from changing those wicked gout-giving ways? Maybe the same thing that keeps your family in a bind: Inertia, momentum, misplaced intentions, and maybe a dash of good old-fashioned laziness. So let’s get off our butts and own our issues. Let’s take back control of our lives and make some changes before the intensity of the pain begins to fade into memory and we are tempted to fall back into old habits. I know that if I go back to drinking beer and eating beef I will be right back next year on the floor writhing in pain, crying for Mommy, and swearing that I would do anything to make the pain stop.

Is my teen ever going to change?

Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 4.31.29 PM 247x300 Is my teen ever going to change?

A Difficult Winter – Is my teen ever going to change?

For the majority of the country, this has been a particularly difficult winter. Temperatures are plummeting and snow is accumulating at record rates. While our patience may be wearing thin, there are still some cool things we can learn from winter.

We may not see it on the surface, but winter offers a lot of growth. Above the ground the leaves have all fallen off the trees long ago, but below the ground, growth has only intensified.

So often we want growth to look exactly like we planned it. When we can’t see obvious progress, it’s easy to get frustrated. But, let’s look at what growth means to a tree. When the leaves die in autumn, the tree is able to devote its energy to the roots. When the frost comes, the roots must become resilient to the cold and push deeper into the earth.

It can be really difficult to wait for growth when it’s below the surface. It’s easy to become results-driven or to want proof that growth is happening. But, remember that growth often does not look the way we expect or want it to look. I can get so frustrated when I hear about my own son continuing in his anger. My immediate reaction is to jump in and fix things. I want him to grow and to show that he’s learning. It’s in these moments that I must remind myself that growth is continuing in his life as he processes through his difficult circumstances. Even when this growth is not easy for me to see and is happening below the surface, I remind myself that the deeper and stronger the roots, the more resilient and strong my son will become.Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 4.27.29 PM Is my teen ever going to change?

Waiting for the spring takes patience, trust and hope that growth is happening below the surface. But, in these times, take heart. It is in the most difficult of situations that our roots are strengthened. Growth is still taking place, just below the surface.

I Hate Boundaries

Screen Shot 2014 12 11 at 11.15.36 AM 300x199 I Hate BoundariesAm I the only person that hates limits, expectations and boundaries? I know they are important, but if I was honest with myself, I hate it when others want to place limits on how I believe, think or behave. Sure, it sounds good when counselors tell you to apply boundaries to your kids. After all, you are the boss and applying boundaries to someone else seems appropriate and fair. I sure don’t mind telling those that work for me what I expect and I am quick to stand up for myself when I feel miss understood by my spouse. But it can be hard to embrace boundaries imposed by others. I hate it when bosses reprimand me for being late or highlight poorly done work, or if my spouse expects me to be home and clean when I would rather be out golfing with friends. Very few of us are thankful for these guardrails on our own behavior.

Boundaries are limits, borders or guardrails that are placed around our behaviors. We can place them ourselves or they can be placed by others. When they need to be placed by others, it is often a sign that we are living a risky lifestyle. As adults we often recognize our need to mitigate risk by putting up guardrails. Married guys try not to go out for drinks alone with single women. We try to watch what we eat to avoid future health issues. Boundaries are completely necessary and help us function in society in a healthy way. Teens, however, don’t have the necessary experience to put guardrails up for themselves. They believe that they are capable of handling complete freedom.

If we chafe against boundaries being placed on us as adults and look for ways to negotiate our way through them, we can’t expect our kids to react much differently. After all, we find ways to play golf or be late to work for appropriate reasons in exchange for working harder or staying later on other days. Well, our kids are no different and actually want to find ways to live with the boundaries that we set. Note that I didn’t say ‘within’ the boundaries. They want to live with, or survive, the boundaries that they are experiencing within the home, which means that teens don’t often want to give in too much and are usually only interested in expanding the boundary. But you’ve gotta love them for trying.

So Mom and Dad, recognize the completely normal battle that occurs over maintaining this line. Smile as your teens try to expand their freedoms. Try not to take it personally when they violate your boundaries, but also don’t ignore it and give way. Boundaries provide structure, support and safety in our lives. Evaluate the lines that you have established in the home. As your child gets older, some of these boundaries can and should be expanded while others need to be firmly maintained. Talk with your teen, negotiate, and remember boundaries are there to bump against. Guardrails keep us from careening over the cliff. Don’t remove them in your life or in the lives of your teens.

The Power of Words

Screen Shot 2015 02 19 at 11.03.39 AM 300x242 The Power of WordsHave you ever thought about the power that your words have? In one description, words are like seeds planted in the soil of one’s heart that have the potential to produce life or death. What we say to people has consequences that can affect them in the short- or the long-term. These effects can be detrimental to one’s development emotionally, physically and spiritually. Your words have power.

Can you recall a word or a phrase that was said to you that left an imprint that has affected your actions, the way you think, or who you are today? Some of those words were empowering, while others were disabling. Some of those words were so hurtful that they robbed you of your potential for greatness in your life to where every opportunity of success seemed distant. You missed that interview on purpose or decided to turn down that opportunity because those negative words from the past are still being played in your head. The reality is that people from all walks of life have experienced words and their powerful effects. The power of words can be toxic and can produce hurts and hang-ups that can be passed on from one generation to the next.

As a pastor and licensed counselor, I have seen the power of words produce emotional hurt and total discord in families. There’s a popular saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The reality is that words DO hurt, and they can leave deep wounds that minimize peoples’ choices and devalue their self-worth. For example, I remember counseling a client who struggled with the hurt of being told by his ex-wife that he was a ‘loser’ and that he was ‘worthless.’ These words haunted him as he struggled with self-esteem and connection in other relationships. To diffuse his hurt, he turned to drinking alcohol. He finally lost his job and became very depressed. When he finally did get help, the affects of those words were set so deep that it took some time for him to expose the lies of those words. Words hurt, especially when someone you love speaks them, particularly when it comes to spouses or parents. Because you love them and value what they say, their words have more weight and can sink in deeper than words said by others that you don’t have an intimate relationship with.

Parents have a lot of power in how they influence their children. Children learn a lot through modeling and if we are modeling words of negativity, then we are teaching our children tools of destruction. When words are constantly spoken over our children, they learn to believe those words. Those words become ingrained in their minds, and then in their hearts, to where those words have set root and become automatic beliefs. For instance, a child can be called “stupid,” or “idiot,” or “incapable,” so many times that one day the belief is acted upon, and then parents act surprised when they see the power of their words acted out. I’m not placing blame, but pointing out a reality that happens in our homes. It is easy to create a culture that manifests a conditioning that can scar and trigger children to believe lies instead of the truth that everyone has potential for greatness. I know we as parents believe this and we want what’s best for our kids; yet, at times when we speak to them, we are not mindful enough of how our emotions, tone, and body language might communicate something that we don’t want our kids to internalize.

Screen Shot 2015 02 19 at 11.02.22 AM 266x300 The Power of WordsMany kids internalize words or ideas that have been said and will grow to believe them. Children from ages 1-5 years old are like sponges that soak up all that is modeled for them. If damaging behavior and speech towards them continues, those words can produce behavioral patterns that can later be devices leading to discord. I have seen this so many times in teenagers who devalue their parents thoughts and opinions because there were more words of destruction spoken in their homes than there were words of life. The outcome is that when these kids grow up, they can carry on the cycle to the next generation. How can we break this cycle? How can we use our words to bring life instead of destruction?

Consider this practice: speak LIFE. Speaking LIFE is a phrase to remember before speaking negatively. It takes some work because some us can be impulsive, but when rooted in love and a conscious effort to model success to your family and friends, the process becomes easier. Here are some practices to remember by using this acronym of L.O.V.E.:

L-ove – Speak out of Love, never out of hurt or negative emotions.

I-ll words – If you do speak hurtfully to someone, take ownership and commit to restore that relationship because you value that person.

F-orgive yourself – We make mistakes, but don’t stay there…break the cycle.

E-xemplify – Speak with control, love, and safety.

 

Watch — Students create their own video to express the change in their identity – watch the words change !!

 

Paul Po Ching,  MA
Admissions Counselor

School Distress Signals

images 8 School Distress SignalsWhat distress signal might your teen be sending?

You child’s school is a different world: relationships, victories, disappointments, troubles, tests, clubs, sports, bullies, and teachers. Sometimes it’s hard for adults to remember that the day-to-day world our kids face is a complex one.

How can we know that all is OK in their world? Our kids depend on us to support and protect them, even when we can’t be with them. Here are some school distress signals our kids might be sending to alert us when things are not alright:

  1. Evasion: Is your child evasive when asked about homework, grades or relationships? They could be hiding problems. Breaking eye contact, changing the subject and defensiveness are all evasive tactics kids can use to pull the spotlight off of trouble areas. Our job as parents is to compassionately press in during these times and seek to help. Lock in empathy, ask a lot of questions, and plan for follow up (letting them know you’ll be following up with teachers, etc.).
  1. Change in daily homework rhythms: Does it seem like your student is spending less time on homework? Does he give a consistent “no” when asked if he has any studying to do? This could be an indication that he is behind in a class. A quick check of online grade books, and/or an email to teachers can be easy ways to get to the bottom of things.
  1. Frequent “sick” days, or late to school: This could be an indication of social/peer issues. Navigating the complex social structure of school is difficult enough for students when there aren’t problems, but if a child is faced with bullying or hurtful gossip, it can overwhelm them. Don’t accept frequent sick days at face value. School attendance is important, and missing school will cause issues to compound (such as missing assignments, tests, coursework). Once again, engage in conversation, speak with teachers, and communicate with school counselors.
  1. Poor attitude at home: Kids tend to bring their problems home with them. If your child seems to have developed a terrible attitude, there might be something behind it. Conflicts at school often manifest themselves through talking back, using language that isn’t normal for your household, or sarcasm. This problem can be tough, as parents will many times address the symptom instead of the problem. Next time your child displays a poor attitude, try to respond by asking questions. “Is everything alright?” can open the door to a great conversation with your child. It may take work to get through the initial behavior, but keep at it!

Open and frequent communication is the common ingredient to not only picking up on school distress, but also to help your child in his or her time of need.

Chad Smith
ELA Teacher/Academic Dean

Self-Advocating

One of THE Most Important Ingredients for Academic Success

student computer 300x205 Self AdvocatingOne of the most significant foundations for academic success, and becoming a successful adult, is self-advocating.

What does it mean for a student to advocate for himself in the classroom? Simply put, advocating is sticking up for something or someone. When a student advocates for himself, he is simply speaking up for his interests in the classroom or in any other setting.

Practically speaking, self-advocating looks like this:

  1. A student doesn’t understand the course material, and takes action as a result. He can ask questions, speak with the teacher outside of class, do extra work, and/or seek peer assistance, all of which would help him understand the content better.
  1. A student misses an assignment, and desires to make it up. This student can speak directly with the teacher, find out her options, and then do the work without missing a beat.
  1. A student struggles with peers in class. A self-advocating student will seek to repair relationships on her own, but if issues continue (bullying, gossip, etc), she will speak with the teacher, a school counselor or principal.
  1. A student has a learning difficulty or disability. This student can speak up for academic accommodation or adaptations in their educational program. When a student himself drives his academic services, he will receive more help.

No matter if a child is outgoing or shy, everyone can learn to speak up for themselves more effectively at school.

But what might happen if the students in the four examples above don’t advocate for themselves?

  1. A student who doesn’t advocate for himself will stay quiet when he doesn’t understand material. The problem compounds when he fails to master key building concepts and subsequent material becomes progressively more difficult. This may lead to a student believing he is “stupid” or incapable of learning.
  1. A student who is uncomfortable with speaking to teachers might let missing assignments go undone, simply so he doesn’t have to speak with the instructor. This may lend to failing grades and deeper level of anxiety in this student.
  1. Teenagers are notorious for remaining silent when they are experiencing peer trouble. The ones that don’t seek help may begin to skip school, do poorly academically, or (even worse) experience physical harm. They may fear being labeled as a “tattletale,” but they need to know that there are caring people who would love to help them if they would simply ask.
  1. Growth for a student with learning a learning disability begins with her becoming comfortable speaking with staff about her issues. If this student understands and utilizes the help that is offered, she stands a much better chance of success. If she can be actively involved in her accommodations, this will lead to improved confidence. She can then ask for help more readily and remind staff of the adaptations that are in place (such as extra time for homework or tests).

If your student is experiencing difficulties in school, encourage him or her to stick up for him/herself! It is a crucial first step on the road to success in school and in life.

Chad Smith
ELA Teacher/Academic Dean

How to find Success in School

Three things parents can do in January for a better May

student computer 300x205 How to find Success in SchoolJanuary spells the beginning of a new semester for most teens, but maybe things didn’t turn out so well the previous term. Now is the time to plan for success in school.

Too often kids who struggle or perform poorly in school are victims of their own poor habits. January is a great time to set them up for successfully completing the school year that is coming in May! Here are a few things parents can do to help:

1. Get to know the lay of the land. A new semester means a new schedule and perhaps a couple of new teachers. Contact the teachers to introduce yourself and ask questions like: (take out all dashes here and in between the questions) How much time per week can he expect to spend on homework for your course? Are there any large projects coming up during the semester?  How often do you update your grades online? Then sit down with your student and discuss what you find out!

2. Chart a course. Sunday evening, sit down with your student to discuss school. Talk to your teen about the weekly family schedule including the sports and activities done during the week, and the expected homework load. For example, if you expect that your student is going to average one hour of homework per night, when will that hour happen on Tuesday night? Figuring this out will help both of you start healthy time management patterns.

3. Celebrate positive results and make a game plan for those times when you miss the target. You may find out during your Sunday evening sit-down that an Algebra test is coming up on Wednesday. Bring this up in conversation Monday and Tuesday nights, and then ask how he did on Wednesday. This engagement brings accountability, both to your teen and to you as the parent. Celebrate success! If your student did well, praise him! If the test didn’t go so well, process what went wrong.  Challenge your child to speak with his teacher and ask follow up questions, and then encourage him to commit to improvement. The key is to show your teen the skill-set of owning his success so he can take the guidance you give him and begin to apply it without your help.

Communication is key.  Parents who discuss goals, material from class, and time management with their teens will give struggling students more confidence in the classroom. These conversations are more effective when they start in January, instead of in early May when it’s too late.

Chad Smith

Academic Dean
Shelterwood

Mentoring Relationships

Susan Jekielek, M.A., Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., and Elizabeth C. Hair, Ph.D. (2002) have spent a great deal of time studying the effectiveness of mentoring relationships. They have found significant improvement in mentees:

  • Significant reductions in school absence
  • Higher college participation
  • Better school attitudes and behavior
  • Less drug and alcohol use
  • Less likelihood of hitting others
  • More positive attitudes toward their elders and toward helping
  • Improved parental relationships and support from peers

Jekielek and others found that higher-quality mentoring relationships were built upon structure and planning. Success was much more likely when there was an effort to provide pre- and post-match training and support with some direct supervision of the matched relationship. It was also important for the mentor/mentee interests to be considered during the matching process because shared social activities where critical to building trust.

couch reading sm 300x196 Mentoring RelationshipsEffective mentors should be willing to commit to a long-term relationship and make regular contact with their mentee, as well as participate in ongoing training and communication with program directors. Through an in-depth, nine-month study, Morrows and Style (1995) identified two main types of mentoring relationships and the outcomes they produce. “Developmental” volunteers were adult mentors who held expectations that varied over time in relation to their perception of the needs of the youth. In the beginning, the mentors devoted themselves to establishing a strong connection with the youth. They felt satisfied with their mentee’s progress and with the relationship overall; when doubts arose, they were more likely to consult caseworkers for reassurance or advice. The youth in these relationships reported feeling a considerable sense of support from their adult friend. Further, many of the youth in developmental relationships demonstrated a pattern of seeking help independently and voluntarily divulged difficulties in their school or personal lives, allowing the volunteer to provide guidance and advice.

Prescriptive” volunteers viewed their own goals for the match (usually these are “good” goals, e.g., academic achievement) as primary rather than the youth’s. Some prescriptive volunteers required the youth to take equal responsibility for maintaining the relationship and for providing feedback about its meaning. The prescriptive volunteers ultimately felt frustrated. The youth were similarly frustrated, dissatisfied with the relationship, and far less likely to regard their mentor as a source of consistent support. Often, these prescriptive relationships developed growing tension, which led, at least in part, to their frequent demise. Two-thirds of the prescriptive matches no longer met nine months after the first study interview, whereas only about ten percent of the developmental relationships had ended.

Grossman and Rhodes found that matches involving volunteer married persons 26-30 years old, were 86 percent more likely to terminate their relationship each month compared with matches with 18-25 year old volunteers, and far more likely than non-married 26-30 year olds (who were less likely to terminate relationships compared with 18-25 year old volunteers). At Shelterwood, we have also found that single mentors between the ages of 21 – 27 are incredibly committed to the task of mentoring and are less likely than all other age groups to end their relationship with students. While, society has deemed this age group as selfish and uncommitted, at our Academy we have found our mentors to be incredibly committed and trustworthy. They demonstrate an eagerness to learn and share their lives with younger students. This age group tends to be more open to supervision and training than older volunteers and they have the disposable time necessary to invest deeply into the lives of their mentees.

Good quality mentorship programs like Shelterwood use structure and planning to facilitate high levels of mentor-mentee interaction. In her research, Jekielek has found that those mentors who received more hours of training had longer-lasting matches. At Shelterwood, training and supervision is an ongoing part of our program as we bring teens into relationship with recent college graduates. This type of intensive mentor care has been part of the Shelterwood experience for over thirty-four years and often continues long after our students have graduated from our school. Avenues such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have allowed us to maintain a significant level of investment, even if the distance between the mentor and mentee expands over time.