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Our Son’s Transformative Recovery

A 16 Year Old's Therapeutic Boarding School Success Story


I received an email from a mom whose son I placed in a therapeutic boarding school last year, when he was 15. Reading it brought me to tears. In her email, she included an article published in Christian Surfer magazine written by her son Jimmy. He recounts the effect therapeutic boarding school had on his life. I immediately emailed her back and asked if I could share her email and Jimmy’s story with you.  

Teenage Struggles and Poor Choices

Amy is like most of the parents I work with. She spent years trying to help Jimmy. They would make progress. He would improve for a short while. Then he would go back to his bad habits or worse. She was worried and terrified for him. When a friend of his died of an overdose, she knew they had to take drastic measures.

"We came to realize it was worth losing our son for a year vs. losing him forever. "

Most of the families I help find placement for their teens are like Amy and Jimmy. Jimmy comes from a good home. His mom and dad are professionals with a good life. Jimmy was a good kid until they noticed he had a hard time coping with adolescence one day.

According to Amy, he was in middle school when he lost interest in most things he enjoyed. He became critical of himself and began disrespecting his parents. Those behaviors were followed by experimenting with drugs and vaping.
Worried about Jimmy, she and her husband began family counseling, trying to learn how to deal with their rebellious and defiant son. While therapy helped them, their son’s depression didn’t improve, and in fact, his behavior worsened over time.
Amy and her husband struggled. Eventually, they decided to send their son away to a program for struggling teenagers.

Why Parents Send their Teenager Away to Therapeutic Boarding Schools or Residential Program

I see it over and over again. Many parents try so hard to find answers. They search for counselors and programs to help their teens change their course and go back to being the good kid they knew before disrespecting, substance misuse, and self-harm began.

One of the biggest lies online is that these parents send their kids away because they don’t love their children. They don’t want to deal with the difficult child going to “normal” teenage rebellion. Worse yet, many judge them and accuse them of being bad parents. They see their inability to “control their teenagers” as a parental failure and not what it truly is.

These “online critics” in support groups and blogs don’t get that these parents love their children.

They love them so much that they’ve spent countless hours conversing, working with therapists and coaches, and shuttling their kids back and forth to activities, counselors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, drug rehab, support groups and more.

Their lives become all about the one misbehaving kid at the expense of all the other family members and their relationships. These out-of-control kids create havoc in a household.

In the twenty-plus years, I’ve been working with families. I’ve never met a parent who wanted to send his kid away. Deciding to send a teenager away to a boarding school or a therapeutic program is the hardest decision a parent ever makes.

Like Amy and her husband, often, the decision comes down to choosing whether your child will end up in jail, die or have a chance at living a happy, productive life.

The Most Difficult Decision, A Parent, Makes for their Struggling Teenager

The truth is that these parents give so many chances to their children that they end up living on a roller coaster full of emotional ups and downs. Their emotions range from fear to short-lived joy that always turns back into more fear. Every one of these parents comes to me because they fear for their children.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel guilty for choosing to have your child live!

Here’s a transcript of Amy’s email. She’d sent the original email to a friend struggling with their teenager as a way of introducing them to the Bily group and me. She’s permitted me to share her story. Her original email and Jimmy’s article can be viewed by clicking on the images below.

Sadly, when a parent delays enrolling their teen into a program, they usually want to wait until after the holidays or decide to give their child one more time. They inevitably call back later to inform me that their child died by suicide, a drug overdose, is missing or is now in the juvenile legal system.


Amy's email transcript

“Towards the end of middle school and into our son’s freshman year, we noticed he lost interest in most of the things he enjoyed doing. He became very critical of himself and disrespectful to his family. He also started experimenting with drugs, marijuana, and vaping.

His dad and I started to see a counselor to gain the tools we needed to deal with our son. Yes, we gained some tools to be better parents; however, it didn’t help Jimmy from falling further into his depression. We were also introduced to BILY (Because I Love You), a support group for parents of troubled teens.

I can’t stress enough the importance of this group in helping us make very difficult but life-changing decisions for our family and our son! I recommend going to a couple of meetings so you can see you are not alone and their resources are numerous.

There were kids of all financial walks of life, kids who were socially challenged, kids experimenting with drugs, gaming and depression. We would take one step forward in helping our son and five steps back until we realized he needed help we could no longer offer him.

I should also note, we had some good friends who lost their son to drug addiction the year before and he reminded us so much of our son and his friends. He came from a good family and loved the same things our son enjoyed, surfing, fishing, camping, etc. We came to realize it was worth losing our son for a year vs losing him forever.

With the help of BILY we found Mary Warren an Independent Educational Consultant who helped us find the right program for our son. We chose Wood Creek Academy, an 18 boy working ranch in Montana. Jimmy was in Montana for 11 months when he graduated the program meeting all of the requirements.

He has been home since February, 2020, he’s happy, makes better choices and is a complete joy to be around. He often speaks on behalf of BILY and WCA about his life before, during and after Woodcreek. He was failing his Freshman year and is now about to graduate high school a year and half early. After experiencing this program with our son, we believe all young adults would benefit from a program such as this. I’m crying as I’m typing this letter because I’m happy and thankful that we made this incredibly difficult decision.

Amy a very proud and happy mom!

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