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Posted: Dec 20, 2010 09:02

BOUNDARIES

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by Margaret Oaks, MS, LMFT
Director of Admissions and Marketing
Logan River Academy, LLC
Logan, Utah
435-755-8400
moak@loganriver.com
www.loganriver.com

Look around you and you'll find evidences of boundaries in every area of the world. From a class syllabus to a job description, from acceptable behavior in a funeral to acceptable behavior at a rock concert, boundaries are everywhere. Some are black-and-white, others quite nebulous and difficult to pin down. One thing is clear…respect for boundaries are integral to personal effectiveness and success throughout the lifespan. Even boundaries we don't like or don't think are valid must be respected, whether they be established laws or simple social mores. Logan River Academy utilizes the Boundary Model to empower kids and give them tools to function effectively in the real world.

It's hard enough to navigate life's boundaries as an adult with a lifetime of experience and hindsight. Imagine trying to make your way through life's maze without the benefit of experience, and with the added challenges of behavioral, emotional, thinking, or learning difficulties. Our kids come to us with lives literally derailed by emotional instability, trauma, ineffective behaviors, family difficulties, substance use, and social struggles. Add to any one of these the inordinate obstacle presented by process-oriented thinking, and boundaries grow very fuzzy. Because we rarely encounter an outcome-oriented kid in our line of work, let's look at process orientation and how it shortcuts the ability to recognize and respect boundaries in greater detail.

Process-oriented kids think in black-and-white, all-or-nothing, win-or-lose terms. They are mostly blind to boundaries and they consider only the present. They struggle to recognize what consequences their current behavior will bring, and find satisfaction only in engaging an adult in an argument in the moment. From an efficiency standpoint, this behavior is highly effective in the short-term. It serves to deflect attention away from the youth's misdeeds and often distracts the adult with a flood of anger, guilt, and defensiveness.

What adult who interacts even casually with teens doesn't recognize this pattern? Consider two scenarios commonly found in the wake of an inappropriate deed which violates boundaries in one way or another: You approach the youth with the intention of using your hard-won wisdom and logic to take advantage of a glorious teaching opportunity, certain that the kid will mend his/her ways with a newfound respect for boundaries. Before you know it, you are sucked in to a vortex of verbal negativity, feeling stymied and wondering whether you had any right to try to talk sense to the kid at all. After all, the teen has pointed out accurate instances of your inconsistency and hypocrisy. In fact, maybe you should be apologizing to him!

Another common scenario includes physical or emotional acting out on the part of the teen, which serves to distract from the real issues and makes you think twice before approaching her again. Isn't it easier to let it slide just this once? Pick your battles? Meanwhile, effective boundaries are left in the dust as the focus turns to the battle of wills between you and the adolescent. Unfortunately, the long-term efficacy of either scenario is null, and only results in the increased inability to recognize and respect existing boundaries.

At Logan River Academy, consequences for disrespecting boundaries are designed to teach kids to be outcome oriented. Inappropriate behavior is confronted by dorm counselors when the student is asked to "take a chair", which allows the student to calm down and think things through. The behavior is processed, skills being learned in therapy are discussed, and alternative choices are explored. The way the behavior affected those around the student is validated and appropriate consequences are identified. These may include writing a letter of apology, completing a chore for the offended, teaching a dorm group on effective social skills, etc. If the student follows through with the agreed consequence, there is a 24 hour probation period during which privileges are restricted. If the student refuses to process or doesn't complete the consequence, she opts to spend a couple of hours in a supervised study hall environment. This may seem easier at first glance, but this second option has a 5 day probation period attached. Five days with few privileges affords quite a bit of time for quiet contemplation and reconsidering decisions. The probation period prompts kids into choosing the learning experience rather than removing themselves from greater society. And the learning experience instills the ability to recognize and respect boundaries.

Another way Logan River Academy prepares kids to function effectively in the real world is by taking many of life's boundaries and boiling them down to concrete objectives and outcomes. Some examples include: doing what is asked by dorm counselors, working hard on treatment goals, following the rules of LRA, showing positive peer relations, keeping a positive attitude, completing schoolwork on time, obeying classroom rules, staying on task during class, participating in dorm/program activities, participating in group therapy, following dress and grooming guidelines, laundry, hygiene, chores, work opportunities, earning money for activities, etc.

Students receive written feedback in each of these areas from their teachers, dorm counselors and therapists, and then this feedback becomes a topic of discussion in individual and family therapy. Because all students present their own backgrounds and challenges, treatment is different in each case. However, because society requires respect for its boundaries, students are encouraged to learn their issues and acquire skills to "run interference" for themselves in order to be effective in life.

As student's progress in therapy and this is reflected in their behavior, boundaries gradually grow less concrete. Students begin to generalize their understanding of how to navigate boundaries that are more oblique and less defined. By program completion, students understand ethical pillars such as Respect, Caring, Citizenship, Trustworthiness, Fairness, and Responsibility. They generalize these in a principle-based manner rather than worrying about obeying individual rules.

Every choice we make in life, no matter how small, either increases or decreases our freedom. The Boundary Model at Logan River Academy trains kids to identify and respect the world's boundaries and watch how life opens up before them.

Logan River Academy provides educational and therapeutic programming for a broad range of students by individualizing treatment plans and programming. They are located in Cache Valley, with ready access to Salt Lake City, and accept students who are in need of significant life changes. Logan River Academy serves co-ed students ages 13-17 who are having difficulties in home, community and school due to behavioral and emotional problems. The program emphasizes "a balance between a structured residential environment, therapy, and education."


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