Searching for Schools for Troubled Teens Online

When you need for help for your troubled teenager, the internet is one of the first places parents will turn to. Searching for schools for troubled teens online can be confusing, daunting, and outright scary — especially when you are stressed out.

A simple online search for “schools for troubled teens” yields over 5 million results! How do you navigate where to send your troubled teenager?


You have come to realization that your teen needs a therapeutic boarding school, your local resources have failed however, now you’re facing the unknown world of the troubled teen industry and it can be a lot to unpack.

Our goal is to help you find the right boarding school for your troubled teen in a web of deception.

5 Steps to Untangle the Web of Fact, Fiction, and Misinformation

  1. Paid per click (PPC)

Is there one or more therapeutic boarding schools or schools for troubled teens that continues to show up as paid advertising repeatedly, no matter what keyword you put in your search engine? This can be a red flag. It is a lot of money being spent on marketing. Many programs with a longevity of success typically rely on their good reputation rather than employ sponsored listings.

There are no illusions about the size of the business of the troubled teen industry. You will quickly figure out who the major players are simply by putting in keywords about your teenager need helping and searching for treatment. The cost of sponsored ads on these search engines is not for small businesses – these are major corporations that are spending a lot of money marketing their facilities.

It’s wise to go past the sponsored listings and find out more about the organic results.

  1. Troubling Troubled Teen Websites

“The program I want to place my son is listed on a beware site.” – Parent of 13-year-old son

Today parents are bombarded with fearmongering websites designed to prevent them from getting help. They literally list just about every school and program as dangerous.  They are created by former students that were harmed in programs, and/or possibly parents that may have been disgruntled over a financial situation or even a contentious divorce where one parents wasn’t given access to their child.

We never diminish the experiences of victims that created these sites, but when a distressed parent is searching for help for their teenager – they become frightened to read some of the horror stories, as anyone would without being fully informed.

Parents need to learn how to evaluate these sites and platforms to put them into perspective so they can move forward with confidence in getting their teenager the help they need.

When former students or teens are on forums venting or sharing about their negative experiences, it can be upsetting for potential families to read. Here are some questions to ask yourself about the person commenting:

  • What program were they in? Is the program closed now?
  • Were there lawsuits brought against this program?
  • When were they placed into the program and for how long?
  • Why were they enrolled into a program?
  • How does their parent feel about their experiences?
  • Do they have a relationship with their parent/family now?

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 doesn’t mean they’re allowed to harm children or defraud parents.

Side note: We are not by any means victim shaming, only helping parents that need help NOW better understand how to untangle some of the websites they may stumble on.

  1. Dissecting Online Reviews

Everyone has a right to write an online review.

“How do you suggest we navigate negative reviews and posts on social media?” – Dad of 14-year-old daughter

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 negative 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.

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 or director of the program about online reviews. If they do not want to answer it or the answer isn’t satisfactory to you — that is your answer. You move on.

  1. Internet Misconception

I came across the following article that lists what is calls the top 20 therapeutic boarding schools, but at least 2 of the schools are very questionable? Please help me, we’re desperate.” Parent of 14-year-old

Deciphering the internet is the most difficult part of searching for schools for troubled teens. There are sites that will boast about “The Top 20 Therapeutic Boarding Schools” or “The Best Therapeutic Boarding Schools” however what they are is a clearing house of schools on paid directories. This is not in the best interest of your child, and in some cases connected to marketing arms that are paid to place you.

There has never been a third-party study done to determine the best therapeutic boarding schools, and the one survey that was done was paid by their own organizations. Another words, it has bias results. Learn more about how to determine success rates in programs without in-house (bias) studies. These lists are concerning since some of programs listed can be questionable.

  1. Placement Specialists

Who are the marketing arms that can be part of the extension of the paid directories and clearing houses of therapeutic boarding schools? It is remarkably like the people Sue Scheff (founder of P.U.R.E.™) learned about over two decades ago – placement specialists, typically they are not in the best interest of your child. It is about paid to place, rather than what is best for your teenager’s needs. They are based off a list of schools/programs that pay them fees.


What they are good at – is marketing. You may have just become bait and will soon be inundated with emails from different programs and possibly text messages if you added your number. They will be sending your name and email to programs without qualifying your child as an appropriate fit for their school.

We encourage parents to talk directly to program owners and directors, the people that will be vested in your child’s recovery as well as the ones that will determine if their school is a fit for your family’s needs. The reputation of their program comes back to the success of your child – therefore it is crucial you speak with a program owner or director.

Tip: Did you notice a therapeutic boarding school that interests you? Find a direct contact (number or email) to that school, avoid going through third-party sites and toll-free numbers. 

Parents are their child’s biggest influence, but they are also their biggest advocate. Although you may not recognize your child at this moment, you are still their parent and will move mountains to find the right treatment for them.

Also read:

Goals of Therapeutic Boarding Schools.

5 Benefits of Therapeutic Boarding Schools.

Costs of Therapeutic Boarding Schools.


If you’re confused by all the online deception, contact us for a free consultation. We help parents navigate the online confusion and get them on a path to quality and safe therapeutic settings.

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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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