When parents enroll their child into a wilderness therapy program or an emotional growth/therapeutic school or program, it is important that the child not bring in tools of his or her self-destructive behavior. Items such as weapons, cutting implements, gang colors, posters representing fear and anger, and/or anything associated with their negative behaviors must be screened out. Consequently, the studentís luggage and personal items will be screened.
This is a necessary chore based on several factors: getting an accurate inventory of the studentís items, marking the studentís items with the name for easy identification and, lastly, to ensure safety, contraband, weapons and valuables are not to be brought on to the property. This is usually done in the studentís presence to keep things open, honest, and above-board.
Whether the child is enrolling into a therapeutic boarding school, emotional growth boarding school, residential treatment center or outdoor therapeutic program, three main agreements exist:
- No drugs (includes alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other illegal drugs, music CDís and drug image clothing).
- Nothing representing violence (knives, gang colors- depicted through clothing, bandanas and hats, guns and music (via hard core CDís).
- Nothing associated with sex (this can often be portrayed through provocative clothing, explicit magazines or posters, condoms and music CDís)
It is important to note that these items your child so dearly loved were not working for them at home, so removing them from this new environment gets rid of the distraction these items create. Banning these items from the schools/programs creates a safe environment for the child, staff, visitors and parents, and starts the process of helping the real child to shine through without the image they try to portray or emulate.
The concept behind removing these items is to get the students out of their comfort zone and puts everyone on equal footingó no division of groups by images such as skaters, druggies, Goth, Emo or gangster; and there is no division by socio-economic images such as the ďbestĒ name brands of clothing, shoes or gear.
It is amazing what some students have tried to bring into the schools and the associations the student make with these items. These are usually not items left out in plain sight, but they can have very powerful but subtle associations, like ripped clothing (of course the latest trends), or posters depicting some of their favorite bands (picture in your mind Marilyn Manson, Eminem, 50 Cent or Metallica). In addition, contraband might include a bevy of CDís and magazines, cell phones, game boys, IPods, jewelry and assorted bling- bling, cigarettes, lighters and money. You name it, staff has seen it, and has learned the negative associations the students might have with items often overlooked or thought not important by a person who is not keyed into the thought processes of a self-destructive teen.
The real trick in clothing checks and move-ins is looking for the unexpected in unexpected places. Here are some examples:
- Money hidden behind the labels in jeans and pants
- Alcohol swapped out for mouthwash
- Pills buried under the mints in Altoid tins or in tic tac boxes or inside empty candy wrapper bags like Skittles and M&Mís, inside CD cases, pencil cases, eyeglass cases, soap boxes, inside make-up cases, in fake lipstick tubes or empty compact cases, inside over the counter medicine containers like Tylenol bottles, inside books that have the pages cut out, buried in the dirt of potted plants, or dropped onto such things as envelope flaps, stamps or shoe laces
In conducting searches, I have taken apart standard Bic pens and found powdered drugs hidden inside. Iíve also known students who use the aerosol spray cans of deodorant to huff, found razor blades hidden in diaries for those who cut on themselves, safety pins that students have used to pierce their ears, noses and belly buttons, and the list goes on and on.
Depending on the circumstances, and how the child arrives at the program, it is ALWAYS easier to have the staff weed items out of the studentís luggage than it is for parents to have to go to battle with their child over such items. It also allows the staff to set guidelines in place and lets the child know up front what is acceptable at the school/program and what is not. A child will do anything to hold on to old self-destructive and negative emotions. The first step in healing is for the staff to understand what is going on in the mind of the enrolling student and remove the crutches that foster the negativity.
As a former staff member, I know that it was sometimes difficult for parents to understand why some clothing items were ďunacceptableĒ or why their child was not allowed to keep certain items. It came down to the agreements of the program and getting the children ďback to basics,Ē which meant taking away the props they had used to personify a certain image because they feared their authentic selves were not acceptable or good enough and they would not fit in without them.
About the Author:
Laura Morton currently works for Woodbury Reports, Inc. Prior to working here, she worked in programs in this network over 20 years, both as a team leader and a counselor.