Should my son go to an adolescent residential treatment center?

Parents are often confronted with difficult choices at different points in a child’s life, but few are more difficult than the types of decisions that must be made when that child is suffering from substance abuse or other severe behavioral problems. Yes, there are a wide range of options available to treat these children, ranging from outpatient services to more intensive inpatient programs. Sometimes, though, all those wonderful treatment options fail to help the child overcome his issues. So, what do you do when none of those treatment methods have worked for your child? It may be time to ask yourself the one question no parent ever wants to consider: “Should my son go into an adolescent residential treatment center?”

Why Would You Send a Child to a Adolescent Residential Treatment Center?

For many parents, it’s difficult to imagine ever sending their kids to one of these facilities. Sometimes, however, there is such a breakdown in the family structure that there are few other viable options for ensuring the child’s wellbeing. For instance, serious substance abuse problems can often only be resolved by separating the child from his current environment and lifestyle patterns. The same can hold true in cases where your son is suicidal, habitually skips school, or engages in promiscuous or other dangerous behavior.

The problem is that most parents consider this option an admission that they’ve failed in their role within the family. Others worry about how outsiders will view the decision, fearful that they’ll be judged as unfit to raise their own children if they seek professional help of that kind. At the end of the day, though, the real question always comes down to the most important issue facing any parent: can you keep your child safe without exercising the residential treatment facility option?

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Understanding the Signs

Before you make the decision to pursue this option, it’s important to evaluate the situation in an objective way. That, of course, can be difficult to do, so you may want to bring in a dispassionate outsider to help provide some balance to your analysis. There are certain warning signs that can serve as indicators that an adolescent residential treatment center may be your best option:

Does your son seem to have little interest in the ramifications of his choices? While a certain amount of apparent apathy can be normal for teenagers, there is a point at which that lack of interest and care can be dangerous. Children who act without concern for the consequences are inherently dangerous to themselves and those around them.

Do your son’s actions place him at risk for physical, mental, or emotional harm? As a parent, you have an obligation to do all that you can to protect your children from harm. If your son is engaged in behavior that literally puts his life or health at risk, you may need to act.

Is your son doing things that could potentially harm others? Again, you have a responsibility to ensure that your child isn’t posing a risk to other people – whether it’s his siblings, friends, teachers, or others. If his behavior is so reckless that it could cause others injury or death, you need to consider your options.

Is your son’s behavior impacting other children in your family? If his conduct is creating trauma for other children, or anyone else, you may have to take drastic measures to limit the damage. That may require separating him from his siblings for a time, and a residential facility can be one of the best options for accomplishing that goal.

Has your son shown no signs of a willingness to correct the behavior? As painful as it might be, there are instances in which children simply refuse to alter their chosen path. As parents, it is important to recognize when normal pleas and corrective measures are no longer enough to correct these types of problems.

Finally, you should consider the child’s personality. Some people have personalities that are prone to addiction, and resistant to simple corrective measures. If your son has demonstrated addictive tendencies – excessive video gaming, alcohol or drug use, promiscuity, etc., and meets any of the criteria detailed above, then you may need the type of intervention that a residential facility can provide.

A Painful Decision

It is perfectly natural to feel a deep sense of reluctance when your child needs help of this kind. None of us ever want to feel like failures, or accept the perceived social stigma that often accompanies these situations. At the same time, however, it is vital to recognize that your son’s interests must come first. If that means that he needs to be placed in a setting where he can get more intensive help than is typically found in most treatment centers, then so be it.

To qualify for placement in an adolescent residential treatment center, your child will need to meet certain requirements. These can include known addiction problems that have been untreatable through other means, problems with the law, substance abuse-related hospitalizations, and similar problems. Often, you will need to have a doctor make a formal referral for placement, with the final decision then being made by a competent mental health professional after a proper assessment of need. 

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It’s also important to understand that there are no guarantees. Your son could spend anywhere from three to twelve months in the facility, receiving a variety of treatments to help with mental health, addiction, and other concerns. Even with this more intensive level of treatment, his chances of a successful return to a normal life may be the rough equivalent of a coin flip.

Still, parents often have few other options – and no options at all if they’re committed to trying everything they can to help their children regain control over their lives. In the end, you will need to decide whether there are other valid options to help your child. If you ultimately decide that no other type of treatment can work, then your son’s only real chance at a normal life may rely on his placement in an adolescent residential treatment center.

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