Our newly hired Education Consultant said that one of the main reasons that Wilderness works is that it is peer based. The kids hold each other accountable, especially on past actions. They seldom want to go back to their exact old life and are happy to start school somewhere fresh. They often drop the negative friends and make strides in self belief and self confidence. They do this by having experiences in nature, without the distraction of screens! Their lives become simple. Get up, eat, hike, set up a tent, eat, sleep. REPEAT. Oh, there is a lot of therapy and many assignments about accountability, as well.
The time spent in a program is around 6-12 weeks on average. And most programs go year round, even through snowy and cold winters. That's why the summertime is so popular for many. It doesn't cut into the school year and the weather is better. The ages go from 11-17 and then there is an older adult group that goes 18-28. One program may have a boys group, a girls group, a younger and an older group. The down sides are the cost (most cost around $500/day) and getting the kids delivered to the programs (there are transport services which safely get kids to the program for hire). And it's not like the images on old TV shows, the transport people are truly like "angels" and they use words to motivate. They don't lay a finger on the kids.
The kids come to the program without any supplies. Everything they need is given to them by the program: clothing, utensils, tents, sleeping bags, hiking boots. Some programs offer experiences like Equine therapy with horses, rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking. At night the kid's boots and clothes are taken just in case they are "runners". The food is basic, healthy and with very little sugar. They are uncomfortable enough that change will happen. And they are comfortable enough that they really can enjoy themselves in the activities. Most have a rolling admission so kids come and go through the program, some will always have more experience than others. It wouldn't be good for their to be ALL newbies!
My notebook was filled with notes to consider. It was time to digest all we learned. The main thing was that we still had not exhausted every possible solution before deciding any future plan. Find out how Disneyland helped us get through this difficult time.
Life used to be so simple. Wait isn't that a line from the song, "The Way We Were"? Sounds a bit like it I guess. But it's true, life was much simpler than our current way of living, especially if you have kids with learning and behavior challenges. Nowadays, in order to keep up with all the options of where to go to school, it may be necessary to hire an Education Consultant. In our case, she was a gift from above! Recommended by our teenage son's psychiatrist, she met with us on a Saturday morning last March.
She had tons of experience and explained that in order to recommend schools to her clients, she travels to visit all the places in person, at least one weekend out of every month. The people behind the schools and other programs like Wilderness Therapy, is what makes or breaks a good program. She told us NOT to start searching for places on the internet, because what we will see is how good a website the webmaster has created, not necessarily how good that school is. Don't be fooled or fall for the "bling". It's all about the people!
"Judging a book by it's cover" is similar to going on a college tour during your senior year in high school. Everyone falls in love with the exterior of the campus buildings covered with ivy and with the sight of well manicured, green lawns. If you were going to be a happy, engaged college student, going inside the actual classes would be the best way to decide. Another way would be to talk to the people who attend the school and ask a lot of questions.
So, that's what we did with our Education Consultant. We asked a LOT of questions! She explained that Summer was a good time for teens like our son who struggle with school, drugs and alcohol and are defiant. Many kids that have negative friends also benefit from going to a Wilderness program. And then you have to find the right After Care or school when you finished the program. Many of the good Wilderness programs are in the Western USA: Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Montana. They often have service focused people working there. Many of the staff are fulfilling a promise of community service. Some have become mentors to kids because they might have been "that kid" and are now giving back.
Then, our Education Consultant asked for all sorts of info about our son. We brought her report cards, IEP reports and filled out a questionnaire about him so she could determine what place might be a good fit. She asked if he might come to a future appointment and we thought there would be NO WAY, so she would have to go solely on what we told her, the paperwork we brought and speaking with his doctor.
There was so much to learn. Our meeting lasted a couple of hours. We had no idea there was another world out there: Wilderness, Aftercare, Private Schools.....What would we decide?
Peace and hope!
"Plan B"? I repeated to the Doctor.
"Yes, Plan B is Wilderness," he explained. "A Wilderness Therapy Program. It's like a re-boot. It's gives teens a chance to stop what bad behaviors are going on in their lives and it can put them back on track."
"Oh, I've heard of that," I replied. "I have a nephew who went to what I always called SNOW CAMP and he hiked and hiked and hiked and was given peanut butter after completing certain tasks. I think it helped him."
"Well it's a bit different now," the doctor continued. "They participate in outdoor activities and learn important survival skills from the staff, but most importantly they are accountable to themselves and their peers. It simplifies their lives and takes away all the distractions. Here is the name of a local Education Consultant and she can tell you more about it. She can also give you info on other school options, since the local public high school is not a good fit for your son. They don't get it at that high school. Not everyone learns the same way."
As I left the consultation, my mind was spinning with doubts and fears. We will never be able get our son to go to a Wilderness Program. Never in a million years. He will fight it the minute it's suggested. But when I got home and mulled PLAN B over in my mind, I started to get used to the possibility. However, every other option had to be exhausted first! We weren't done trying other things before deciding on Wilderness. We had to continue with Plan A first: Weekly therapy, email my son's teachers, call an IEP meeting.
I began talking with family and friends and was shocked to find how many friends had sent their kids/teens to Wilderness Programs. Was bad behavior becoming commonplace for our youth? Was the pace of all our lives becoming unmanageable? Was the technology boom causing undue stress and anxiety for some? YES! YES! YES!
I called the Education Consultant and made an appointment for the upcoming Saturday.
(Come back tomorrow and find out what we learned from her.)
My sixteen year old son is technology whiz. He can code and program with the best of them AND take most things apart. Putting them back together is more of a challenge however. I remember days going to a local thrift store and buying rotary dialing phones and other old fashioned electronics for him to fiddle with, for pennies on the dollar. It seems that he may have some kind of future in that broad field of computers or engineering.
But, in order to be able to get a job down the road, completing school is important. That goal became a problem during the second semester of his freshman year. My son's interests started to change. He seemed anxious and depressed. Something had to be done. He was not himself anymore.
My son has gone to doctors for his ADHD meds since 7th grade. But after going to one for a while he decided that he didn't like that one anymore and would refuse to go to any appointments. Ugh. So I had a brilliant idea. I said to my son, "Find a friend you trust. Someone who likes their doctor and get that doctor's name and I'll make an appointment for you." Agreed, at least their would be some street cred if a friend suggest it! I called and started the process of my son becoming the new doctor's patient. This psychiatrist has his office in the next town from us, so it was pretty convenient to see him. He required a couple of consultation appointments before therapy would begin which seemed fine to me. The only draw back was the expense, wow was he expensive. Gulp. I made it happen.
I filled out the paperwork before we met and gave a history of some of the challenges and problems that we were having as a family and for my son as a teenager. Where to begin? I compiled a laundry list of problems to work on. It seemed so daunting: ADHD and school failure, marijuana and negative friends, technology addiction and just plain 'ole defiance were at the top.
The first thing the doctor said to me was, "Let's talk about Plan B". I replied, "What's that?" And he continued.........(find out more in tomorrow's blog post)
This is Day Two of The Ultimate Blog Challenge for October. If you are a new reader, welcome. My story is simple: I am a mom of a sixteen year old teenager. That's it in a nutshell. You might be thinking, "Okay, that's nice..." but a blog about that? Well, if you haven't noticed lately the world is becoming inundated with technology and it's causing a few problems. That is seriously true if you are a teenager with an iPhone, iPad, computer and TV. There is way too much screen time AND social media! A young person's brain is filled with so much information and instant communication, there is NO down time to just hang out and be bored.
And for my family it has put us into crisis! Our once fun-loving interactions have become tense and no fun at all.
To pick up where the last post left off, my son was on strike, with silence and school truancy. He decided not to attend any of his high school classes for a week. It was also so abnormally quiet it felt like an Egyptian tomb in our house. My son engaged in NO conversation at all, not even a grunt. UNTIL, caught off guard in the basement while he was building something with wires, he answered a question about how it worked. He began explaining what he was trying to do, until he realized that he was talking and he clammed up once again. Darn, almost got him!
The difficult part is that I needed him to go to the orthodontist to get his braces checked. He was so close to getting them off and that part was something he was looking forward to. So I had to make a deal. "You go to the orthodontist and return to school and you can have your computer back with certain time restrictions." We drew up a contract and he agreed to it....for the moment. I had a need (getting him to see the orthodontist and going back to school) and he had a need (to get his computer back again). Plus, by this time of two weeks away from friends, he was certainly missing them (and the marijuana, I'm sure, too).
So things returned to back to normal pretty quickly. No homework, no chores and minimal engagement. My frustration level put me on a mission of how we were going to get through this teenage mess. But at least for now, the braces were checked and school was being attended.
Hanging in there,
As this saga continues, I want to share that this blog will be part of the Ultimate Blog Challenge and that it is my intention to blog everyday during the month of October. At least that is my goal. Our story will move along much quicker and I hope you will post comments when something moves you.
Life with a fifteen year old can be up and down to say the least. Teens have biological needs to sleep more and most will also begin to stay up later and later into the night. That was certainly true in our house this past year.
Freshman year in high school for my son was becoming more and more miserable. No school work was getting done, at least not at home and reports from teachers said that he was always tired at school. He would often put his head down on the desk and zone out while in class. He told his teachers he had trouble sleeping at night. I told the teachers it was because he was gaming and on his phone "Snapchatting" most of the night. He refused to use the family charger and get that "thing" out of his bedroom to be able to get proper rest. But NO GO!
So instead of repeating idle threats, we took action to get his attention! We took his computer out of his room and out of the house. Boy did that shake things up! He came home and went ballistic! He turned over chairs, put more holes in the walls of his room, yelled and basically threw a tantrum just like a toddler would. Only he was much bigger and stronger. Funny how much the teen years resemble toddlerhood! Or truthfully, not so funny!
The timing of the computer removal was at the beginning of Mid Winter recess also known as Ski Week in our area. We had planned a family trip down the state to visit some of our family, his aunt and uncle and cousins. He said, "No!" and wouldn't get out of bed. He also said that he was sick and honestly I didn't believe him, but in fact he did have a low grade temperature and sore throat as we later discovered.
We tried and tried to get on the road and at then realized we were not going to be going anywhere. He was controlling our house and it felt like we were helpless. It was his way of telling us that he was mad that we took his computer away. We stood firm. He stayed in bed. By the time school was back in session the following week, he was still in bed and by now not speaking to us at all.
The silence was "deafening" as they say. "Would you like something for lunch?" I'd ask. No reply. "Are you going to take a shower today?" was another line from me, but no response. NOTHING. It was becoming a huge stand-off. At least it was a peaceful protest, but difficult for me to swallow, none the less.
If only he could use that determination towards a positive goal or school work. It was an amazing thing to witness. No talking, at all! For over a week. Until..........(check back tomorrow to see what broke the silence spell!)
Until then, I remain a CALM:
I am Warrior Mom. I am a self proclaimed Techy and I'm NOW calling a halt to the excess use of it! Let's put some balance back into our lives, especially our teens!
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