(The following is a story shared with me by a mother who had gone through the trauma of having to place her daughter in a parent-choice residential program)
It was a familiar story. The mother said her daughter had been dating a nice boy who was doing well in school, was well dressed, and as parents, they initially approved of the relationship. However, as the relationship developed, the parents began to see that things were not right. They discovered that their daughter and the boy were taking drugs together and later learned that both were doing various kinds of self-mutilation including their daughter cutting on herself. The parents were very confused and questioned why their daughter, who had come from a loving family that was financially comfortable, was now showing signs of feeling real pain and emotional distress. The answer was the relationship had become very toxic. Thus, the parents and the professionals working with them insisted the daughter break off what had become a very destructive and dangerous relationship. She complied, and the boyfriend made an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
His attempted suicide was the final wakeup call for the girl's parents. They realized how dangerous a place their daughter was in and placed her in a detox center the next day, followed by a long-term therapeutic boarding school. After admittedly avoiding this action for some time, the parents had finally realized they could not protect her from the demons that had filled every aspect of her life. For the first time since she was born, they felt helpless to provide a safe haven for their daughter because she was rebelling against every aspect of their lives. The financial security, love and stability of the family were not enough to save her from the emotional and behavioral problems she and her boyfriend shared.
Although it is natural for parents to want to help their child overcome his/her problems, sometimes it is difficult for them to see how deeply troubled their child is. Because the decision to send a child to a residential treatment center is extremely difficult, parents may hold on to the hope that local professionals can solve the emotional and/or behavioral issues just as effectively with the child remaining in the home.
Local resources available to these parents were insufficient to resolve their daughter's problems so they chose the path of hiring a professional educational consultant to help them find the appropriate private parent-choice residential placement to help their child overcome her drug use and deal with the underlying emotional and behavioral issues.
The latest update about the daughter is that she successfully graduated from her therapeutic boarding school, is doing very well in college and has left her demons behind. So far, to those of us working in this industry, this sounds like a typical success story that we hear all the time.
However, the mother continued with what Paul Harvey might say is the rest of the story…
Immediately after placing their daughter in a detox center, her parents impressed upon the boy's parents how dangerous the couple's decisions had been, and that they needed to do something similar with their son. However, the boy's parents chose another path and declined to place their son in a residential program. They kept him at home instead with local counseling as their intervention of choice.
Perhaps they didn't realize how troubled their son was and how much pain he was feeling. Perhaps they had read stories of abuse at residential programs in the media or on the internet and feared residential placement would make him even worse. Perhaps they feared the possible criticism all too prevalent in our society, the criticism parents often hear when "sending their child away." We will probably never know what his parents were thinking, but it is obvious they were doing what they thought was the best way to help him.
When he was 21 years old, he broke up with another girlfriend and three days later overdosed and died. The daughter who went to a therapeutic boarding school was shocked when she heard the news but was certain that it was a suicide because of his attempted suicide after she had broken up with him years before. It was obvious that years later, despite the best efforts of his parents and local professionals, the boy was still tormented by his old demons.
What a tragedy, not only to his parents but also to everyone who had known and cared for him. My heart goes out to his parents and those who knew him.
In the parent-choice residential industry, we often talk about how we are dealing in life and death decisions every day. Many graduates of residential programs claim that if their parents had not intervened with a residential program they would have wound up in the gutter or dead. This story just underscores how true this prediction is sometimes.
When children descend into an inexplicable hell of their own making, modern day parents are faced with an agonizing decision. There are two paths they can choose, and both are difficult and dangerous. In this story, two young people were in as close to the same situation as possible, that of sharing a descent into drugs and self-destruction. The parents chose two different paths in their attempts to help their children, and it appears that the parents' choice of intervention did make a life or death difference.
(Names of the people in this story have not been used to protect their privacy. However, the name of the mother reporting this story and the obituary of the young man are on file at Woodbury Reports Inc.)