One of the most common questions I receive from professionals in the network of private parent-choice residential schools and programs for struggling teens is what the future holds for our work. My initial answer is usually rather flippant, mumbling something about the crystal ball being rather fuzzy. However, it is a serious question and deserves a serious answer.
I had the opportunity last week to help develop a serious answer through participating in a panel that addressed that very issue of social trends at the Annual Northwest Get-Together help in Naples Idaho, which is a very small town between Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint Idaho. Participating in that panel were myself, Kimball DeLemare from Interchange, and Brandi Elliott from Northwest Academy, calling the subject "Connecting with the Future."
I started off with a review of seven trends I see in society that will likely have some kind of impact on our network in the next few years for better or worse. Each is of course debatable but for sure something is changing in each of these.
- Parent Empowerment. The whole growth of our network is based on the willingness and ability of more and more parents with struggling teens to take matters into their own hands to find and enroll their child in a school or program that they think can help their child with behavioral and/or emotional problems. This parallels a similar trend for an increasing number of people taking more responsibility for their own health in insisting they make the final decision for health treatment instead of the traditional meekly accepting "doctor's orders," and as part of that by the increasing decision to diet and take diet supplements.
- Regulations. Everything seems to be coming under government attention, and regulations on both the state and federal level are constantly increasing. Many fear that if someone is working with a child without some regulatory agency looking over their shoulder that is a formula for abuse. In addition, more and more disapproved behaviors are being criminalized, requiring additional areas of regulation.
- Parenting Changes. Parents have increasingly acted to change and expand their understanding of the "protect and provide" role to include protecting their children from consequences from their own decisions. Risk aversion is increasingly the norm in custom and official policy with parents increasingly making decisions for their children from "play dates" to college and career decisions. In addition our children seem to be learning from their parents that the goal is to win at any cost.
- Therapeutic Nation. Psychological knowledge is rapidly increasing which can make professionals working with children with problems more effective. At the same time this knowledge is used by more people to justify claiming victim-hood status (Through no fault of my own) and using medication as quick-fix solutions for all kinds of problems.
- The Hurried Child. There is a push for increased adult rights and privileges for children at younger and younger ages. This includes things like beauty pageants for 5-year-olds, sleep-over's by members of the opposite sex, and children in effect running the family.
- Extended Adolescence. Through child labor laws, increasing minimum wages laws, mandatory school attendance laws and longer years of required schooling for job preparation, most children and young adults are not able to find employment to have the opportunity to make meaningful and purposeful contributions to society. Two of the results are a youth value system of looks over ability, and passing time playing and hanging out that lasts into adulthood.
- Relationships Changing. All service organizations are complaining about the difficulty in obtaining enough members and volunteers in community assistance. Part of what is happening is we are becoming isolated and detached from each other and our community, perhaps resulting in an apparent increasing fear of strangers and lack of trust of our neighbors. Feeding this is the growth of digital ways of entertaining ourselves instead of the traditional community involvement for entertainment.
These were boiled down by Brandi Elliott of Northwest Academy, into two basic ways of defining what is happening. The first is a question: - "Who's In Charge? - Kids, Parents or Regulators." In our work, we see many families where through manipulation or otherwise, the kids have been running the family with disastrous results. The desperate act of enrolling their child in a therapeutic school or program is part of the parents attempting to reassert their parenting responsibilities and regain control of their family. In the background behind these family dynamics, governmental regulators are being called on to take enough power to protect children even from their parents or force the parents to do what the regulators have determined is good parenting.
The second area is how as a profession we seem to be moving away from a child development process as a basis for intervention. Traditionally, many schools and programs work from the concept that a child moves progressively through stages as he/she grows up, and part of an intervention is to recreate those stages to help the child learn the lessons and maturity skills that might have been missed. A reduction in focusing on the child development process might inadvertently allow gaps in maturity skills to continue into adulthood. Those gaps might be more adults unable to exercise responsibility, build positive relationships or feel self-confident.
Kimball De Lemare pointed out that demographics are going to impact our profession in the next few years. We are moving into a time that will have decreasing percentages of the population being teenagers as today's teenagers move into young adulthood. The need for young adult programs will increase as the need for teen programs decreases.
Also, as increased knowledge is gained of sophisticated therapeutic interventions, there will be more "niche" type specialized school and program interventions. One of those would be children and young people who are "digitally impacted and socially impaired." In addition, addictive behavior will be seen in more areas.
In the discussion that followed, it was predicted that there will be an increase in community based services and more family system work instead of focusing on the problems of a single child or young adult.
Another suggestion was there will be a process of recreating the village in a new way with all the support that the old rural communities had and has been lost through urbanization. Part of that will be a process of teaching children to be better critics of culture instead of just passively accepting whatever seems to be the current fad or promotion.
So, there you have it - a review of an exploration of what the future will have for our work. All you have to do is consider the various trends, decide which ones make sense to you, and make your predictions.
One last thing….The crystal ball still seems to be rather fuzzy, doesn't it? :)