How to Decipher Bad Press for Teen Help Programs

How to decipher therapeutic boarding schools’ bad press and the horror stories of the troubled teen industry (TTI) while searching the internet has become challenging for parents considering for schools for their troubled teen.

One simple online search for “troubled teen programs” yields over 11 million results! It is overwhelming for parents.

It’s one of the hardest decision you will make, choosing a safe therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center for your troubled teen.

Not only is it a major financial decision, it is a huge emotional one for your teenager and your family. How do you know what is right for your teen’s needs?

The teen help industry has changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is parents needing help for their struggling teens and young adults. With the rise in social media and internet addiction, we have seen more and more youth becoming withdrawn, failing in school and some turning to self-harm or using drugs.

Overall teenage mental health has been on the decline for young people and parents are at their wit’s end. Since 2020 teen depression anxiety has doubled — experts have blamed excess screen-time as part of the cause.

Exhausting Local Resources for Teen Help


Before you decide on residential treatment, parents should exhaust all avenues of local resources.

Here are some options to consider:

  • Local therapy. Sometimes you need to switch therapists (counselors) a few times to find one your teen can relate to. However, you may get to a point where you realize your child is not going to be receptive (or is being manipulative) and it’s not working. In some cases the teen is refusing to attend.
  • Outpatient treatment. This can be beneficial to some teens since it offers more clinical hours weekly. It also gives them group therapy which can be helpful. The one negative is they are still in their home environment and surrounded by their friends (if they are negative influences) as well as with their devices.
  • Short-term hospital stays. In some situations, a short-term adolescent psychiatric hospital can give you an evaluation that helps you with a diagnosis for your teen’s behavior and medication to address it. However, it’s the long-term that can be the struggle. Will they continue the medication at home, and will they continue with therapy?
  • Teen coach/mentor. Coaching and mentoring are relatively a new trend being used by families to encourage your teen to make better choices. This would be a person that can help your teen navigate peer pressure, social media, friendships, and other issues that sometimes they have a hard time expressing with a traditional therapist.
  • Live with a relative. As a last resort, some parents allow their struggling teen to move-in with a relative to see if this changes behavior.

When local resources fail, it may be time to consider residential treatment or therapeutic boarding schools.

It’s time for you to read, Why Residential Treatment Works When Home Therapy Fails.

How to decipher bad press for teen help programs


Parents are scared, apprehensive and concerned — this is part of doing your diligence in researching.

“How do you suggest we navigate negative reviews and posts on social media?” – Anonymous parent

Your teen needs help, you have exhausted your local resources and now you’re trying to find the right (best) residential placement for your son or daughter. Every time you think you found the perfect program you also find negative reviews. 

We are not here to dismiss negative reviews as much as we are here to help parents sift through the internet to determine cyber-fact from cyber-fiction (or misinformation). The teen help industry is a big business, there ‘is no doubt, they want your business — so you need to be a smart consumer. It is time to learn to analyze places to send trouble teens reviews to sort through what can be consider as distorted truths and possibly outright lies to discourage parents from getting their child help.

It’s time to read, Helpful Tips for Researching Schools and Programs.

Online reviews are tricky, they are people’s opinions and experiences. As many of you realize, especially if you are business owners or professionals, it can take you 20 years to establish your good reputation and within 20 minutes it can be destroyed with one or two disgruntled client/customer reviews. Maybe they were legitimate complaints, maybe they were misunderstandings — either way you could potentially lose financially for a long time or a lifetime.

The teen help industry is not any different, but we do take it more seriously since it is about the treatment of our children. With this it is also more reason to understand that people will be more extreme and emotional when writing a review (likely a complaint) about a program.

If a parent had a bad experience, it could be a divorce situation that one parent was the custodial parent and moved forward with the placement as the other one did not have a say in the school. You will find that one disgruntled parent starts complaining about things in the program they do not have any knowledge of since the ex keeps them out of the loop. Sadly, it more has to do with poor family relations rather than program issues.

Another point of contention with parent complaints stem from financial reasons. If a parent believes they are owed money or have not been refunded properly, they will find things to complain about in hopes to be compensated. In some cases, a parent will remove their teen early (before graduation) or their teen is dismissed, and they expect a full refund. The contract they signed determines their reimbursement. When it comes to money, we know it can be extremely sensitive – so it is best to dig a bit deeper to find out exactly what the issues were.

When teens are on forums venting or sharing about their negative program experiences, it can be upsetting for potential families to read. I encourage you to consider following:

  • When were they placed into a program?
  • What program? Is the program still open or closed now?
  • Why were they enrolled into a program?
  • Do they have a relationship with their parent/family now?
  • How does their parent feel today – if you can find out?

This is not to dismiss anyone’s experiences, as much as it is to help parents sort through online reviews. There are usually extenuating circumstances behind each post. Sometimes it is not possible to acquire this information, so ASK the program owner or director directly about this former student’s statement. If you are not satisfied with the answer, move on to another program choice for your son/daughter.

If the teen is alleging abuse or neglect, do a public records search to determine if there is a lawsuit against the program. Not all allegations end up in court so contact the local Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and ask if they have any reports against the school. They may not be able to give you names, but they will know if there are reports filed against the program.

There are many programs and schools for troubled teens in our country, they are not going to please every one of their families. That does not mean they’re allowed to harm children or defraud parents.  

Since we mainly see the negative online reviews, we always encourage parents to ask for parent references to hear more about how a program did help their teenager. You may think the school is only giving good references (which is true) but there are ways to ask questions to get some negative input — such as, “It seems your son had a very good experience at ….., if you could change one thing about it, what would it be?” Or, “Although your daughter seems to have done well, where do you think the school could improve?” Or, “Was there anything that ever concerned you when your teen was at the school.”

Tip: Always remember, you can ask the owner of the program about any of the online reviews. If they do not want to answer it — that is your answer.

Troubling Teen Help Websites

“The program I want to place my son is listed on a beware site.” – Anonymous parent

This gives parents pause and most of all, can prevent them from getting their teenager the help they need. Although these websites may believe they are doing a service to families that need help with their troubled teens, the truth is the fearmongering causes them to hesitate. Most parents, after reaching their wit’s end, realize these sites may mean well, but they can not help their son/daughter. At this point they now are experiencing more troubles with their teen whether it is with the law or emotional wellness. They need outside help — they need help with their troubled teenager.

These sites that are mostly created by people or advocates that were once harmed in programs or know someone that were neglected in a program and although they have good intentions, when it comes to living with a troubled teenager that is in serious need of help — they are at a loss.  If you ask them (these sites) for safe trouble teen programs, they will tell you they are are noneThat is troubling. Especially for the parent that has a teen in desperate in of help – and believe it or not, some teens want help.

One of their advocates will consistently remind parents to continue to seek local therapy. How many of you can raise your hand to say that worked? How many of you can say your teen will even attend therapy? The list of local options above are there since many of you reading this have likely tried most of them before making this huge decision of residential placement. The last thing you want is now someone trying to tell you to try therapy — AGAIN. We have!

There are many quality teen help programs in this country. The key is research. Parents can do this – we have a list of tips of how to research and questions to ask schools and programs so you will be on a better path.

You will find sites that say you need to hire an $6000-$8000 educational consultant to find quality teen help. No, you don’t.

You will find sites that say you need a program that is NATSAP affiliated. No, you do not. NATSAP is a self-made organization that is membership based. It’s up to the program to decide if they want to pay their fees. It is part of the political circle that gives the teen help industry a questionable name.

In Conclusion

Be an educated parent. Knowledge is power. This is your troubled teen that is crying out for help with their negative behavior. We all have good teens that might be making bad choices, it’s up to us to now make the right decision. Maybe it is local therapy, maybe it is a teen coach — or maybe it’s residential treatment. Whatever it is — as a parent you are your child’s advocate. Contact us for more information on teen help options.

Also read:

Success Rate of Teen Boarding Schools

 5 Benefits of Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens

Goals of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Media & Press

What Parents Say...

Get in Touch With Us

Family consultants help parents find reputable residential schools and treatment programs for troubled teens when they have utilized all of their local resources and are overwhelmed by their online searches.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

Many parents are at their wit’s end with the challenges of raising teenagers. If you are considering residential therapy, contact us for a free consultation.

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