DEAR ABBY: "Fed-Up Father in Minnesota" (Jan. 20) caught his difficult 16-year-old daughter smoking pot and is considering sending her to a place for "troubled teens." We sent our son to such a program on the advice of an education consultant, and he almost didn't make it back alive. An untreated mental illness had been misdiagnosed as a behavioral problem, and his illness went from bad to worse.
You gave the right advice. Get an evaluation from a reputable clinic or mental health professional, then look for options as close to home as possible. Adolescence is not forever. Parents need to hang on and not be lured into thinking there's a magical solution. -- ANN IN CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
DEAR ANN: I advised "Fed-Up" to have a psychologist identify what's troubling his daughter, and that sending her away should be only a last resort. Readers were eager to comment:
DEAR ABBY: "Fed-Up" should consider an intervention like the Scared Straight program. Teens are shown where their bad behavior leads, tour a prison and see inmates serving time for similar conduct. The inmates also share their stories in an effort to turn the teens' lives around. Sometimes a rude awakening is the answer for a young person traveling down the wrong path. -- BRITTANY IN THE SOUTH
DEAR ABBY: I was sent to boarding school because I was acting out and probably on my way to bigger troubles. While there, I was exposed to more than I'd ever been at home. There were poorly supervised kids engaged in sexual activity, every recreational drug imaginable and free-flowing alcohol. I survived, but had the good sense to tell my parents and didn't return for a second year. What worked for me was attentive parents and a good therapist who provided me a safe, constructive way to sort out my issues. -- BOARDING SCHOOL SURVIVOR
DEAR ABBY: "Fed-Up" said the problem with his daughter started when he married his second wife. There are obviously issues between his wife and daughter that need resolving. Shipping the girl off won't fix them.
My stepfather was abusive to me and my brother, but our busy working mom didn't believe us. My brother began having behavioral problems at school and at home, so Mom gave in to our stepfather's suggestion to send him to military school in another state.
My brother never forgave Mom for it. He left home at 17, and they have been estranged for 33 years. It is my mother's biggest single regret. -- MARY KATE IN ILLINOIS
DEAR ABBY: I work for a non-profit child-care organization that provides community-based services to families struggling with this situation. We tailor services to meet the specific needs of a family in their home environment, providing interventions without the disruption of out-of-home placement.
Professional staff assess the case and develop a plan to resolve the issues, taking into account the family dynamic and home/school environment. This kind of family mentorship is a step in the right direction to restore relationships. -- BELINDA P., AMARILLO, TEXAS
DEAR ABBY: On the advice of a therapist, we enlisted the help of an education consultant and sent our 15-year-old son away for 21 months of psychological treatment for troubled teens. It saved his life and made us a family again. The consultant can steer the family to a reputable program that "fits." It can be an overwhelming decision, but the consultant's help was invaluable.
Don't wait too long, "Fed-Up" -- once your daughter is 18, many of the options disappear. The process isn't cheap, but what's the cost of a life? Our son is 17 now, sober, respectful and looking forward to his future. -- GLAD WE DID IT IN CALIFORNIA
Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)