How Parents Can Support Their Teen Attending a Therapeutic Boarding School

mom and teen teleconferencing

A therapeutic boarding school can provide your teen an ideal environment for academic and personal development. It affords your child opportunities to challenge himself or herself by learning new skills, making new friends, and working on emotional difficulties they may face with trained clinical professionals. Like any opportunity for growth, it comes with its own adjustment period, when parent and child alike may feel intimidated by change.

Teens may be facing the first time in their lives when they are separated from their parents for an extended period. They are also adjusting to the routines and expectations of a new academic and social environment. Parents also feel this separation and wonder how to support their child from afar. Supporting your child at school from a distance can be challenging, but there are a number ways you can do so while encouraging your child to take the necessary steps toward responsibility, personal growth, and academic success.

Learning to Communicate in a New Educational Environment

Communication is essential to support your child from a distance. Parental support is a key component of academic success for a lot of teens.[i] However, it can be difficult for parents to determine the right balance and style of communication with their teen in this new environment. Boarding school is a new experience for both teens and their parents. Being flexible, forgiving of one’s self and one’s child, and open to trying new approaches to communication is key.

Supporting Your Child Through Authoritative Parenting 

An authoritative parenting style, which mixes reasonable, high demands with empathy and the encouragement of independence, has been shown to be highly effective in helping adolescents adjust to new academic and personal challenges as they grow.[ii] [iii] It is important that teens know they are supported and thought about often in this new phase of their lives. It is also crucial that they be offered the opportunity to live their own lives, challenged to push themselves academically and personally, and encouraged to develop their identities as independent people.

Finding a Healthy Balance of Communication

It is easy for parents to overwhelm their children with questions, concerns, or advice in the early stages of school away from home. While this often comes with the best of intentions, it may end up alienating one’s child or stunting their growth in other ways. Your child may also try to communicate to an excessive degree due to homesickness. Parents should keep an eye out for these dynamics, and make certain to differentiate between healthy levels of support and an unproductive amount of dependence. For these reasons, some forms of communication, such as phone calls, may be limited to healthy amounts at the outset of a child’s time at a therapeutic boarding school.

Once your child has settled in, try finding a “rhythm” of communication, whether that’s regular emails, a call every few days, or a weekly video chat. Don’t be surprised if finding this rhythm takes some trial and error. Be willing to change your approach if your child telegraphs that they are feeling stifled—or if, in trying to give them space, you realize you have not heard from them in a while.

The Importance of Listening

When talking with your teen about their experiences at a therapeutic boarding school, try to get a sense of where their interests and challenges lie. They may be interested in talking about particular classes, fellow students, campus life, or things of that nature. Or they may not want to go into detail on anything. If your teen voices concerns or doubts about their ability to excel in this new environment, be willing to empathize and encourage them without judgment. If your child struggles with making friends, gently encourage them to think about participating in an extracurricular activity. If academics are a source of stress, it can be helpful to suggest study strategies or a visit to an on-campus learning center. Learning when to provide such advice and when to just listen is another important aspect of communicating successfully.

Communicating with Teachers and Counselors

Communicating regularly with your teen is not the only way to support them. It can be just as important for parents to talk with teachers and counselors to monitor their child’s progress and to address any issues that may arise. Teen may be reluctant to get into these issues with parents, so it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open with teachers and counselors. Weekly calls involving the student, their counselor, and their parents provide a great opportunity to coordinate efforts and to develop goals and plans.

Visitation, Events, and Sending Packages

Family visits can provide teens in a therapeutic boarding school with a solid sense of support and a necessary time to relax with loved ones. Participating in school events and workshops, whether in person or online, can help parents stay involved with their child’s education and learn new strategies in communication and parenting. Finally, sending your child’s favorite foods or care packages with helpful items and treats can be another way to give them something to look forward to.

Supporting your teen from afar can be challenging, especially during the initial adjustment period when everyone is adapting to a new phase of life. However, regular communication with your child, teachers, and counselors, along with engagement with the school and its resources, offers parents the best path to providing support while helping their teens grow independently.

[i] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1156936.pdf

[ii] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/B:SOCI.0000007498.62080.1e

[iii] https://scihub.org/AJSMS/PDF/2011/3/AJSMS-2-3-278-282.pdf


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