Troubled Teen Schools

Troubled teen schools offer teens help with a variety of problems including medical or behavioral problems. Learn about troubled teen schools and how to choose a school for troubled teens that is right for your circumstances and troubled teen's needs.

Troubled teens may struggle in school for a variety of reasons, so there are many different types of schools to help troubled teens. This means parents have to find the type of troubled teen school that is right for their teen.

It's important to understand what toubled teen schools do and what they do not provide. For instance, military schools often will not accept students with severe behavior problems, but may be good options for teens that simply need more discipline and motivation to succeed. The intensive care offered at residential treatment facilities, on the other hand, may be a good fit for teens with severe problems, but may not be good environments for teens who are just rebellious.

There are also specialized or therapeutic boarding schools that are designed to treat specific problems, such as autism, substance abuse, pregnant or parent teens, and juvenile offender teens. These troubled teen schools also may focus on a specific age range and gender. Specialized schools may be the best fit for teens with specific problems.

Some schools for troubled teens are regular day schools, while others are boarding schools. There may be less severe approaches to take before sending a child away to a boarding school for troubled teens, such as local day schools, individual or family counseling, or special classes or programs in the school or community for troubled teens.

Parents should talk to professionals such as doctors or therapists for help in determining what type of troubled teen school might help their teen and for advice on finding good schools. It may be helpful to get more than one opinion, such as from a school counselor, a doctor, and a family therapist. Also, parents can talk to local school administrators about nearby programs; some school districts have special schools for troubled teens.

Before enrolling a teen in a troubled teen school, try to visit the school and meet the people who will be working with the teen. Talk to the school administrators to make sure it is a good fit for the teen and that they have experience working with teens with similar problems. Also, talk to other parents and students who have attended the school. Find out how well graduates of the troubled teen school do in the long run, and not just while at the program

Some questions to ask about a prospective troubled teen school include:

  • Is the school a public or a private school?
  • What age range, gender, and types of problems does the school try to help with?
  • Is the troubled teen school licensed and accredited? By whom?
  • Does the school grant degrees?
  • Is it a boarding school or a day school?
  • What types of courses are offered?
  • How big are the classes and how many students are there for each teacher (lower numbers are generally better)?
  • Is counseling or therapy available to students? Who administers it and are they licensed to do so?
  • What safety measures are in place to protect students?
  • What is the troubled teens school’s approach to discipline?
  • What is the environment of the school? Does it seem to be pleasant and in good repair?
  • How much does the school cost, including extra fees like books, uniforms, admission fees, etc.? Are scholarships available?
  • What is the admissions process?
  • What other activities are available for teen, i.e. sports, technology, music?
  • Can a teen continue medications if needed? Who is responsible for the teens’ medications?
  • What is the success rate of the students while at the troubled teen school? A year or more later?

Parents who choose to send teens to a school for troubled teens should understand that change can take time, and they should be wary of schools that promise instant fixes. Also, programs for troubled teens are usually more successful when the family is involved, so parents should try to find a troubled teen school that encourages family involvement with the teen’s treatment. If they are considering a boarding school, it may be best to find one that is within a reasonable travel distance for the family to make regular visits.


Brenda Wychulis, Peterson's, "Considering a Therapeutic School?" and "What is a Residential Treatment Center?" [online]

National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, "Selecting the Right School or Program" and "Questions to Ask Before Making a Final Placement Selection" [online]

Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, "New Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research" [online]

Related Article: Parenting Teenagers >>