Insider’s Guide: List of (Almost All) Therapeutic Boarding Schools

I get loads of calls and emails every month for advice on how to find the best therapeutic boarding school. Unfortunately, there is no one-stop shopping list of schools so I’ve done my best to list them all out below. I’m sure I’ve missed some. By the time this is posted, there will probably be a few new ones that pop up, a few that changed their name or got gobbled up by a big company. If you have updates, feel free to email me and I’ll post the new info here. This is not meant to be an endorsement of these programs, just a list. As I visit schools that do great work, I generally will do a blog post about what I’ve found and why I like what they’re doing.

Academy at Sisters

62895 Hamby Rd Bend, OR 97701
Female Only, High School, Junior High School, Licensed


60 Hicksville Rd. Cromwell, CT 06416
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen, Religious

Alabama Institute for Deaf and…

1209 Fort Lashley Ave. Talladega, AL 35160-2339
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Allendale Association

600 W Grand Ave, Lake Villa, IL 60046
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen


97 Whitney Avenue New Haven, CT 06510
34 Russo Place Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Kids Peace – Graham Lake Campus

16 Kidspeace Way Ellsworth, ME 04605
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Kids Peace – Orefield, PA

5300 KidsPeace Drive Orefield, PA 18069
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

King’s Daughter School

412 West 9th Street Columbia, TN 38401
Coed, College Prep, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

La Amistad

1650 Park Avenue North Maitland, Florida 32751
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Lake Mary Center

100 Lakemary Drive Paola, KS 66071
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen

Laurel Ridge Facility

17720 Corporate Woods Drive, San Antonio, TX 78259
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Learning Clinic, The

473 Pomfret Rd, Brooklyn, CT 06234
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen, Wilderness Program

Liahona Academy

325 W 600 N, Hurricane, UT 84737
High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Male Only, Pre-Teen

Life Development Institute

18001 North 79th Ave. Glendale, AZ 85308
Coed, College Prep, High School, Licensed

Little Keswick School

500 Little Keswick Lane, Keswick, VA 22947
High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Male Only, Pre-Teen

Logan River Academy

1683 S. HWY 89/91 Logan UT 84321
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Luther Hall RTC

3911 20th Ave. S. Fargo, ND 58103
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen, Religious

Main Place Youth

1111 North Main Street Kingman, KS 67068
Female Only, High School, Junior High School, Religious

Marsh Foundation

1229 Lincoln Highway Van Wert, Ohio 45891
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Matheny School

65 Highland Ave Peapack, NJ 07977
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

May Center for Child Development

511 Main St, West Springfield, MA 01089
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen


2600 Wayland Road Berwyn, PA 19312
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Menninger Residential Treatment Program

12301 Main Street Houston, TX 77035
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Meridell Achievement Center

12550 W Hwy 29 Liberty Hill, TX 78642
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Mid-Pacific Institute

2445 Kaala Street Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
Coed, College Prep, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen

Midwest Center for Youth and Families

1012 W. Indiana Street Kouts, IN 46347
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Monarch School

2815 Rosefield Dr. Houston, TX 77080
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

New Haven

228 West 400 North, Saratoga Springs, UT 84045
College Prep, Female Only, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

New Leaf Academy

63050 Dickey Rd, Bend, OR 97701
Female Only, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Newport Academy

Conneticut, California, Pennsylvania
Coed, College Prep, High School

Northwest Academy

1130 SW Main Street Portland, OR 97205-2047
Coed, College Prep, High School

Northwest Academy

139 Success Lane Naples, ID 83847
Coed, College Prep, Middle School, High School

Northwest Children’s Home

602 13th St, Lewiston, ID 83501

Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Oaklawn, the Children’s Campus

1411 Lincolnway W, Mishawaka, IN 46544

Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Oliverian School

28 Becket Drive Pike, NH 03780

Coed, College Prep, High School

Paradise School – Catholic

6156 West Canal Road Abbottstown, PA 17301-8982
Coed, Junior High School, Pre-Teen, Religious


662 Scotia Rd, Newport, WA 99156
Coed, College Prep, High School

Providence Pass Girls Academy

866.738.2785 Orlando, Fl, 32836
High School, Female Only, Religious

Red Rock Canyon School

747 E St George Blvd St. George, UT 84770
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

S.A.I.L. at Ferncliff Manor

1154 Saw Mill River Road Yonkers, NY 10710
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Saint Francis Center at Salina

5097 West Cloud Salina, KS 67401
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

San Marcos Treatment Center

120 Bert Brown Road, San Marcos, Texas 78666
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Secret Harbor School

225 N. Walnut St., Burlington, Washington, 98233
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen

Shelterwood Academy

3205 N Twyman Rd, Independence, MO 64058
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen, Religious

Shortridge Academy

619 Governors Rd, Milton, NH 03851
Coed, College Prep, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School

6245 S. Ingleside Avenue Chicago, IL 60637
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Spaulding Youth Center

72 Spaulding Road Northfield, New Hampshire 03726
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Spring Mountain Treatment Center

7000 West Spring Mountain Rd. Las Vegas, NV 89117
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Spring Ridge Academy

13690 S. Burton Rd. Mayer, AZ 86333
Female Only, High School


105 Campus Drive Oneonta, NY 13820
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen, Religious

Stetson High School

455 South Street, Barre, MA 01005
High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Male Only, Pre-Teen

Stewart Home School

4200 Lawrenceburg Road Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen

Summit Preparatory

1605 Danielson Road Kalispell, MT 59901
Coed, College Prep, High School, Licensed

Summit School at Nyack

339 North Broadway Upper Nyack, NY 10960
Coed, College Prep, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Sunrise Girl’s Home/Academy

65 N 1150 W, Hurricane, UT 84737
Female Only, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen

Sunrise School

13130 Burbank Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91401
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Pre-Teen, Autism, Developmental Disabilities

Uinta Academy

3746 South 4800 West Wellsville, UT 84339
Female Only, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

United Methodist Children’s Home

2002 S. Fillmore St., Little Rock
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen, Religious

Villa Maria

2300 Dulaney Valley Road, Lutherville-Timonium, MD
Coed, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen, Religious

Villa Santa Maria

19 Cirguela Rd, Cedar Crest, NM 87008
Coed, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen, Attachment Issues

Visions Adolescent Treatment Program

33335 Mulholland Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Wediko Children’s Services

11 Bobcat Blvd., Windsor, NH 03244
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed

Wellspring Foundation, Inc.

21 Arch Bridge Road Bethlehem, CT 06751
College Prep, Female Only, High School, Licensed

Wildwood School

2995 Curry Road Extension, Schenectady, NY 12303
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Willow Springs Center

690 Edison Way, Reno, NV 89502
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Woods Services Mollie Woods Program

40 Martin Gross Dr, Langhorne, PA 19047
Coed, High School, Junior High School, Licensed, Pre-Teen

Insider’s Guide: Review of “The Sneaky Way Colleges Try To Sell Students Health Insurance”

This is a review from the article The Sneaky Way Colleges Try To Sell Students Health Insurance
by Ann Brenoff at the Huffington Post from October 10, 2017. Here are the Highlights:

  1. Students must have insurance to be in school. Not only do students need insurance, they need insurance that meets the school’s minimum coverage standards. This standard is different from school to school.
  2. College health plans are often already on the tuition bill. This is a classic aggressive marketing technique of forcing a customer to opt-out rather than opting in. Students must request a waiver if they have insurance that already meets the school’s requirements. A request is just an application, not a guarantee the student will be granted the waiver.
  3. Waiver’s must be requested every year. That’s right folks, not only do you have to opt-out from insurance, you have to opt-out each year.
  4. Premiums vary from campus to campus and can inflate the cost of going to college significantly. There is no standard for premiums. The average cost is $1,500 and $2,500 per year.
  5. There is often little choice. Schools often have one or very few health plans and often have health centers who do not accept anything other than the insurance they sell.
  6. Rules for waivers vary. Some schools want to see low in-network deductibles while others want to ensure there are adequate in-network providers in the school’s area.
  7. Students can take out loans (or use scholarship money) for insurance. Since insurance is a line item right next to tuition, loans and scholarships are fair game for paying for insurance.
  8. Big impact on students if the Affordable Healthcare Act changes. If the employer mandate or the coverage for kids 26 and younger is removed, the burden of insurance will pass from the large employers to the students and their families.

My opinion of the article and it’s focus is that students should definitely be mandated to have insurance while at school but there should be government oversight for what insurance is offered, how it’s disclosed to students and what provider options exist in the school’s area. Right now college insurance seems like the unregulated wild west and most families don’t even realize it. When we pay for something, we should have a right to know what we’re paying for and not be forced to opt-out. Often, this insurance payment is in addition to a ‘Health Fee’ which covers minor health and wellness interventions. For example, here at Indiana University’s counseling center (CAPS), there is a $30 fee for each session during each semester after the first two ‘free’ sessions. IU does not accept insurance and offers to provide an itemized invoice that can be sent to a student’s insurance company so the family can be reimbursed.

I recommend that if you have a kid that’s heading off to college next Fall and will likely need healthcare support for medical or mental health, do your homework to find out whether their health centers accept your insurance. Research how to complete the waiver and make sure you know how much out of pocket healthcare expenses could be.

Addiction Industry Gets Exposed…Finally.

For years I’ve been talking about the unethical and illegal means by which mental health and substance abuse treatment centers advertise to and treat clients. And now, finally, in one of the most accurate portrals of the industry, The Verge published a fantastic piece on the aweful practices large addiction treatment centers. From the manipulative call centers to terrible and dangerous clinical work, Cat Ferguson (freelance reporter based in California) exposed the seedy underbelly of this mostly hidden industry, predominantly in Florida. She focuses on Aid in Recovery, a sketchy hotline with a bazillion different phone numbers and websites (all of which are owned by a parent company Treatment Management Company) that funnel prospective clients (with good insurance!) to one of their affiliated treatment centers around the country. AIR is not unique. Hundreds of huge companies fight, cheat and steel every day for referrals. My one critique is that Cat didn’t pull in examples from the mental health treatment centers which are as aggressive and sketchy. Same bad actors engaging in greedy behavior to get clients.

The article reaffirms why it’s so important to work with a therapeutic placement consultant or educational consultant who knows what to avoid and how to find the most effective treatment. Not a sales pitch – just a fact that a good consultant can sniff out the industry bullshit from a mile away.

Anxiety and 7 Ways to Help Your Struggling College Kid

As excited freshman or experienced sophomores, juniors and seniors settle in for another Fall semester around the country, I wanted to put together a quick list of 7 things parents can do to hep their college kid suffering from anxiety. It’s scary to put so much freedom and responsibility into the hands of your son or daughter when you know worry and fear is always lurking around social, academic or career decisions. Before I discuss what to do about anxiety, I think it’s important to review some details about anxiety.

Everyone feels uneasy or anxious occasionally like when we are running late for a meeting or got caught doing something we’re not supposed to. It’s a normal.

Anxiety disorders are different than regular, situational anxiousness. They are a group of mental illnesses that are characterized by intensity, duration, origin and how they impact life domains like work/school, relationships, and health.

For people who have an anxiety disorder, worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be disabling. With the correct treatment, most can overcome the anxiety disorder and lead a fulfilling life.

Types of Disorders

Anxiety disorder is a broad category that includes:

  • Panic Disorder. Feeling overwhelming sense of terror or dread that seemingly strikes randomly. During a panic attack, the person may sweat, have chest pain, and feel unusually strong or irregular heartbeats. Sometimes they may feel like they’re choking or having a heart attack.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder. Also known as Social Phobia, this is when someone feels overwhelming worry or judgement while in social situations. They may obsess over others judgment or being embarrassed or ridiculed.
  • Specific Phobias. This is when someone has a very specific fear of something such as spiders, heights or flying. The fear goes beyond what’s appropriate based on actual risk and may cause them to avoid regular situations.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is what I see most when working with college students. They describe having excessive, unrealistic worry and tension with little or no reason.


Early signs of anxiety are super subtle and include distractability, avoidance and sleeplessness. Students with anxiety disorders often report to me that semesters generally start fine but as papers, tests and social pressures mount, their anxiety builds to the point where they start consider drastic changes like dropping out of school. Untreated anxiety can lead to depression, severe drug use and in some instance, suicide. Anxiety and depression seem to be best friends, often presenting together in college students I’ve worked with. 

What to Do

Though anxiety disorders can make someone feel hopeless, there are very effective treatments and interventions we can implement to get their life back on track. Here are the 7 I think are most important for parents to be aware of if they need help with their college kid.

1. Counseling

Right out of the gate, the first thing parents should do is link their child with a) campus health services (often called Counseling and Psychological Services or CAPS) and b) a therapist or counseling like me specializing in college student anxiety in the community close to campus. Ideally, find a therapist/counselor that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Waiting until the first big meltdown could be too late. Loads of freshman fail to share their struggles with their parents until Thanksgiving and Christmas which, by then, is too late in their minds and they end up not returning for their Spring semester. Invest the time on the front end.

2. Scheduling

Anxiety is fed by fear. Fear is often the by-product of lack of predictability about social events, academic outcomes, and career failures. One solution is increasing predictability. I accomplish this with students by teaching them to download the semester schedule onto their phone calendars before the semester starts. Next, after they’ve received their syllabi, I coach them to put in every single date for every single assignment/test possible. This also includes social events and any non-academic stuff they know about. This may sound like it could be overwhelming, but I’d rather have them feel a bit overwhelmed when looking at the calendars rather than anxious about remember when that next big thing is due.

3. Resources

Not the most used suggestion but one we have to put here – make sure your son or daughter has a list or access to resources that can help them reduce stressors or mitigate things when they’re already starting to spiral down. These resources could include the academic supports found at nearly every university or within the community. Universities have a vested interest in making sure your son or daughter doesn’t bail at semester’s end. Another form of ‘resource’ is the on-call list. Create a formal or informal list of people they can call/text when they are starting to feel overwhelmed. I am on-call for all of my clients and often receive texts from students the night before big tests asking for help in quiet their brains down. I call them or text back strategies and remind them to call if they want to talk through things in more detail. Just knowing there is a safety net and team of support can have a dramatic reduction effect on anxiety.

4. Medication

I am super conservative with medication use and recommendations for students I work with at Indiana University. But, with that said, we also recognize that some folks simply need a bit more support than what counseling and academic support can provide alone. If your college does not have a psychiatrist on staff, we highly recommend finding one in the local community. We rarely encourage use of primary care physicians or nurse practitioners for medication management since they are not specifically trained to diagnose and medically treat those suffering from anxiety. You also want your college kid to work with someone who genuinely understands the risk of some medications that have the potential for addiction. Good kids get hooked on meds the same as bad kids. It’s also important to avoid illegal or non-prescribed drugs (like the roommate’s Xanax).

5. Meditation

I recommend to nearly every client to start participating in weekly yoga, meditation or mindfullness classes. This is an evidence-based approach with only positive side-effects. Plus, every college offers these in their wellness programs for free so encourage your kid to take advantage and put it into the calendar. Meditation, counseling and medication are an incredibly complimentary approach to combating anxiety.

6. Sleep

Not easy when kids have more freedom than ever away from home but we nonetheless push parents to encourage sleep. Not binge sleeping but a healthy 8 hours per night. The ideal for anxiety reduction is a steady sleep pattern so that bedtime and wake time are pretty standard every day. Staying up late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, sleeping in till 1:00pm and then dragging out of bed Monday morning for an 8:50am class is terrible for anxiety.  Sleep meds only make things worse and really should only be taken with the psychiatrists oversight.

7. Exercise

Encourage your kid to sign up for the intramural leagues, especially for sports where there is little standing around time. Distraction and flow experience are essential in helping him or her focus on non-academic activities. It’s also a great way for them to be social without needing a drink in their hand.

Ok folks. Hope this helps you figure out the best way to help that college kid who may be struggling as you’re getting through the fear of letting go. It’s an exciting time and, with the right strategies in the beginning, can be the start to a fantastic semester.

Insider’s Guide: How to Choose and Use Parent Control Apps for Kid’s Phone

By the time kids turn 18, they average over 10 hrs of device time per day. While that represents a huge chunk of time, not all of it is necessarily wasted time. Technology is more social than you realize; more pervasive than you realize; bigger problem than you realize. Technology is not good or bad. It’s a tool that needs to be used, limited and controlled.

Parental Control. Apps that control devices, apps that control other apps, device control (remote and local), monitoring devices before something bad happens lets you kid know you are watching. Parental-control apps for mobile devices work best when they’re part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online. That means talking to your kids about what they should and shouldn’t do with their mobile devices and clearly communicating how you expect them to act.

Tech solutions are great, but nothing can replace a relationship based on trust and boundaries. For that reason, I avoided apps that only run in stealth mode on your child’s phone. Products such as WebWatcher and mSpy both tout this capability. I also did not consider apps that offered the ability to record phone conversations, since state laws vary on the legality of recording someone without his or her consent.

Parent Control Apps

So your kids have somehow made it to adolescence. Now, it’s time to manage how they use devices. On the one hand, giving them free-reign over their swanky iPhone evokes the fear of God in you. But you also don’t have the time or interest in acting like the CIA/NSA and monitoring every bit of data that flows to and from their device.

The middleground is a reasonable parental control app or, at a minimum, parental controls within the settings of the device. While we are about a decade into the smartphone lifestyle, we are only a few years into parental controls that strike that balance between independence and oversight. Below, I’ve created a list of things to look for when researching parental control apps. New apps will come and old ones will disappear, but the list below of qualities to look for should stand the test of time. Here is a comprehensive list of what you’ll want to see in a good quality parental control app:

Installation. How easy is it to install and setup each app on a smartphone? How hard is it for your kid to uninstall?

App Management. Since most of the time spent on smartphones is within an app and not a browser, which program lets you review all the apps on a device and block or limit app usage? Does it control native apps (eg. iMessage for iPhones)?

Filtering. What tools does each app offer and how well did they do at restricting access to inappropriate content online?

Texting Management. With kids doing most of their communicating through texts these days, we looked at the features for monitoring messaging. Do the apps let you review the content of your child’s texts? Can you block a contact and be alerted when your child adds a new contact? Can you block messaging apps altogether?

Location tracking. Does the app keep a log of where your child has been — and more importantly — give you the ability to locate your child in an emergency?

Price. How much will the service cost annually? How many devices can you control? Does the app company upsell you later on?

Gaming. More social than you think, Needs to be limited (time), Needs to be viewed as privilege rather than right or default. Gaming, just like any other activity, should be limited. Gaming is definitely more addictive than sports or other socially acceptable interests. First of all, game designers hire psychologists and create a sticky environment – they make it really, really tough to walk away. Free gaming apps? Even worse since their business model is dependent upon eyeballs on ads and in-app purchases. Games for XBox have a different business model – give away (or sell cheaply) the game system and sell the expensive game. Then their are the in-game purchases. Secondary income stream.  

Social Media Monitoring/Control. Do the services allow users to monitor activity on social media. You either need to “root” a device – which is not recommended. It’s easier and healthier for your relationship to just have your child hand over his or her usernames and passwords.


Let’s get to the good stuff – the apps and services that you can use to oversee your kid’s tech usage. I’m sure that by the time this is published there will be a million other ones, but for now, here are some top rated monitoring apps:

Other Interesting Apps

Not all apps or tech need to be about Orwellian parenting. The apps I’ve listed below provide varying degrees of reward and consequence to modify screen time or limit use of certain apps. The theme here is promoting non-screen time.

Pocket Points. Pocket Points is an app that middle school, high school and college students can download onto their phone or iPad. Once students open the Pocket Points app and lock their phone, they start to accumulate points. The longer their phone stays locked, the more points they can get. Points are also awarded based on how many people are on the app at a time. The app is free and only works on a campus that’s identified by Pocket Points. Students can redeem their points for free or discounted items from local vendors.

Offtime. This app helps students unplug by blocking distracting apps like Instagram and games and filtering communications. It provides data on how much they use their device. A more customized mode like Work, Family, or Me Time can be turned on to ensure that they have access to the necessary things apps, but aren’t distracted by the junk.

Moment. Moment tracks student’s phone usage and allows them to set daily limits; the app notifies them if exceeded. They can even use a setting that “forces” them off the phone by flooding the screen with annoying alerts when trying to extend screen time (what a cruel app). Moment can easily be used for families, with the option to track device use from a parent’s phone.

BreakFree. BreakFree has a usage tracker found in similar apps, but it differs in that it breaks down the information into a super simple addict score (yikes, that’s pretty harsh). It shows kids how often they unlock their screens, and logs every bit of their usage for the day. This app is a great option for students who like to set goals and challenge themselves. Ironically (maybe, intentionally…) it can be addictive to try to see how low students can get their addict score. Oh, the humanity.

Flipd. Can’t app developers spell things normal? Flipd is the poorly-spelled and dialed-up aggressive app for your kid if they are not so easily encouraged to curb device time. Flipd allows you to lock a phone for a set period of time, and once you do, there’s no going back. Even restarting their phone won’t disable the app, so it’s impossible for them to find a work-around. Flipd can even be used to remotely “flip off” one user from another user’s device, which is helpful for teams that want to keep one another on point. I’m thinking it would be helpful for parents to have this app for kids that just can’t say no and grades are dropping.

AppDetox. Is your kid a gamer? Are they addicted to checking Instagram? AppDetox can help them get their fixation under control if apps are too addictive, but their not quite ready to give them up. You and your above-average kid can set your own parameters on an app-by-app basis providing access when it’s not a potential disruption. Every time your kiddo breaks one of his or her own rules, the app reminds you to put down your phone. Could be helpful for students that are well-intentioned and need that extra reminder occasionally.

Stay on Task. How’s that for a blunt name? Stay on Task helps your productivity in a gentler way compared to some of the other aggressive time overlords. The app provides a gentle prompt, asking if you’re still on task at random times during your day. If your college student is someone who easily gets distracted, this app can be a great way to redirect their focus when another post popped up and their mind is wandering.

How to Handle Kid’s Pot Use: 6 Tips for Parents

Of all the issues parents bring to me needing help with, one of the more challenging is what to do about a kid who’s smoking pot. There are legal issues, family’s values, and the impact on academics and social group. It’s tempting to be black and white by having a strict policy at home, but things can get complicated to the point that binary thinking does not work. Here are some thoughts I have parents consider which can inform how to handle specific situations as well as bigger family value decisions:

1. Determine Risk: A kid who is generally doing well in school and seems pretty solid generally poses less risk for potential problems than a kid with a family history of substance abuse, depression or in the middle of a family chaos. If your son falls in the high risk category, get professional help from a therapits/counselor. If your son/daughter is really falling off the cliff, work with a therapeutic placement consultant or education consultant to find a residential treatment program.

2. Provide Reasonable Consequences: If there is no family history of substance abuse issues and you are certain that your son/daughter is generally doing well at school, at home and with friends, focus on keeping the lines of communication open. If your kid is afraid of your reaction, it’s unlikely that s/he will continue to confide in you. Consequences may simply encourage him/her to become better at hiding any future use from you. Sometimes, though, there is a serious enough violation of family rules or trust and a consequence needs to be given. If you do administer a consequence, make it proportional to the violation. I go into more detail about effective consequences in this blog post.

3. Improve Communication: When we validated, understood and loved by someone our instinct is to share our thoughts and feelings, even if we feel uncomfortable about judgment. Thought kids often push us away, it’s essential to look for ways to keep connecting in authentic ways. The more they feel anchored to you, the less negative influence his/her friends will have. What if your kid says they really liked smoking pot? Don’t freak out – discuss why drugs and alcohol make people feel good (don’t preach). Explain the way the brain works (Google it if you don’t know), and the temporary impact these substances can have on lowering anxiety or improving our mood. Another angle is to ask if they would be open to listening to your concerns (again, no preaching…just your fears/concerns). Explain that while you understand “everyone” may be smoking weed or drinking (they are, trust me), the stress relief many experience can quickly become at least psychologically addicting, and that there are better ways of handling stress.

4. Role Model: Consider what your son/daughter sees you doing to relax at the end of the day, or when you socialize with your friends. If you have a glass of wine the minute you get home from work or immediately open a six-pack when friends show up, you teaching your kid that fun and/or relaxation cannot happen without some kind of substance. Show them you can enjoy life without leaning on something to help you chill out when life gets tough.

5. Keep Your Radar On: If you start to sense that their use has increased beyond normal stupid-teen-use, establish expectations that send them a clear message that it is not okay. As a teen, a kid’s brain is still in a vulnerable and formative stage. It’s the parent’s responsibility to help him/her make healthy choices. Some kids tell me they actually appreciate it when their parents tell them that they might start drug testing. It makes it way easier to say no to their friends, “I can’t… my parents are drug testing me.

6. Search and Seizure: Of all the messy things about drug use, the hardest one for me to cover with parents is looking through a kid’s phone, room, car and bags. On the one hand, we want kids to have a sense of autonomy and independence. We want them to have a safe place where they can let their guard down. On the other hand, if a kid is using drugs and bringing them home, parents need to know and set a boundary. Another complicating factor is that most kids are pretty good sneaks…they hide stuff well so even if you tear their room apart they’ll likely still have pot stashed somewhere (maybe even at a friend’s house). Pot in the house is like the dandelions in my backyard. I can pull each one of them up and be vigilent but until I’m able to a) destroy all the dandelions and their seeds in the entire neighborhood or b) build a huge bubble around our property, I will never conquer them. I need to either get to the source of the problem or do my best to keep them controlled so they don’t take over the yard. If you do find pot or paraphernalia, it’s fine to have a meeting/conversation with them and explain the rules about no pot use, no pot at home and no pot in the car. If any of those are violated, they’ll receive a consequence. If they appear to have a more severe issue, a professional will be contacted and possibly a higher level of care pursued.

Most kids have plenty of opportunity to use alcohol and pot. But while it’s likely that them will be offered the chance to try illegal drugs, it is not a good idea for parents to look the other way. Teens and college students still need parents to help them make good choices (even if they will not appreciate it or ask for it). Acting like it’s no big deal can send a confusing message to a kid who might not want to drink every weekend, but may not know how to handle the pressure to do so.