Tough Love

Frisco prides itself on being a good community — a place where schools are excellent, children are safe and parents do not have to worry about their kids getting into trouble. Unfortunately, the best intentions do sometimes go awry, and it can be naive to think that just because we work so hard to keep the bad stuff out, it will not find its way in.

What happens if you, as a parent, find yourself with a teen in trouble? It could be anything from truancy, alcohol, drugs, violence or even criminal activity. This can lead the family down a path of juvenile courts, expulsion from school, teens running away — none of it good. Unless addressed by the entire family, that teen could easily end up as an adult repeat offender.

No one ever said raising kids would be easy. It can be one of the hardest jobs you will ever take on, and there is no manual to help you make sure you are doing it right. We tend to judge ourselves on our intentions, but others may judge us on our results. Even if you have the best of intentions, if you have a teen in this kind of trouble, there may have been a breakdown in the family dynamic along the way.

If swift action is not taken early, kids who start off as a troubled teen can easily become a career criminal because they have been labelled as a problem. Eventually, they prove the system right. The courts believe in second chances, but not 10 of them.

Get Motivated Juvenile Boot Camp, located in Aubrey, Texas, just north of Frisco, is a possible solution to help troubled teens and their families get back on track. Eden Dankowski, the founder of the organization, says they receive 100-300 calls per day seeking their services.

Make no mistake, Get Motivated Juvenile Boot Camp may carry the name “boot camp,” but it is so much more. Yes, the teens are required to report to the camp, do physical activities and the military and police staff who are instructors are very strict, but they are not looking to scare these teens straight. “Do we speak with authority? Yes, but there is a time and a place for it,” says Mr. Dankowski. He explains further, “If I were to start yelling in someone’s face, what are they going to do? You are going to do one of two things, usually. You are either going to shut down or you are going to have a temporary change. And that temporary change is right then. What I want is a permanent change.”

The camp started in 2007, but it was in the works for years before that. Mr. Dankowski says, “We started out with adults to see if it would work, the behavior modification portion of it, and it did. It worked very well.” Once they were up and running, the program became known as a therapeutic juvenile behavior modification program.

“The only way you are going to change that child’s behavior is through the parent. The only way,” Mr. Dankowski emphasizes. “These kids are doing all these crazy things not because they want to run away, it is because they are running from something.” Parents need to have a good relationship with their child, but it is not to say it is perfect. There will always be some disagreements, but if the relationship, overall, is loving and has good communication, it is much less likely a teen will turn to dangerous behaviors.

The old boot camps where teens are yelled at similarly to basic training in the military do not work. “But, if a parent does not do his or her job, that behavior will come right back,” he warns. What is the difference? Mr. Dankowski’s group works on getting through to teens’ raw emotions, not fears. “Kids — all they want to do is bond with their parents,” he says.

Part of a teen being in this program includes parental participation. Mr. Dankowski says that if you want your kid to be successful, “the parents have to follow our directions.” Some of the requirements include becoming very rigid in daily activities. They expect parents not to work during the evening, to make sure they are parenting their child. Parents are also required to have dinner with their child every night. The teens have to cook twice a week to learn important life skills. Parents have to spend time with their teen every evening, they have to communicate, they have to check on grades and they have to journal every night. “You made a decision to have a child, and with that comes sacrifice,” he says. “We are teaching parents how to be parents and children how to be children.”

The minimum time to be involved in the program is 16 weeks. Change does not happen overnight, and the reinforcement of good behavior needs to take place with supervision so parents and teens can learn how to work together and feel confident that their lives will not fall back into old habits.

The camp tries to work with kids before they get into the judicial system. Team members go out to homes, into schools and try to help children who are runaways. Mr. Dankowski says having a teen go into that system is the worst thing that can happen. He advises parents not to call police when a teen is acting out, unless there is a true risk to the parent’s safety. “Cops are there to fight crime, not to be parents,” he says. Instead of dialing 911, he says to call the emergency hotline. They will send someone out if they need to, or they can talk to their teen on the phone.

Because this program receives so many calls, they are very stringent about who they take on. Mr. Dankowski says that once parents hear the requirements they must adhere to, they often wonder why they have to be so involved. He answers, “Because you are the solution.” He has to explain to parents that their children were created by what the parents did. “They learn everything from you. It is not necessarily you that does certain bad behaviors, but you have allowed it to happen.”

Before you start questioning every decision you have made as a parent, understand that Mr. Dankowski’s program even has children of parents who are teachers and police officers. We generally believe parents in such fields have some kind of advantage from their work training over the rest of us, but that is not always the case. Too many parents want to be their child’s friend, and that leads to trouble. “Big sisters, I call them.” Mr. Dankowski says. “Kids have all the friends they need.”

You may find yourself asking, “Who is this guy to be telling me how to raise my child?” Mr. Dankowski described his childhood growing up in the projects of Los Angeles, Calif. “I would make these kids look like angels,” he said. He had also been in the court system. In every way, he was that troubled teen he works so hard to save now. When he was 18, he had a judge tell him he could either go to a particular therapist or take his chances. That therapist told him he had two options. First, he could go through therapy to satisfy the court and then go back to his usual life after, or, he could put everything he had into it and make a real change. Through the combination of the judge, therapist and re-evaluation, he turned his life around. He recently went back to Los Angeles and saw some people from his old neighborhood. They were drug dealers, still stuck in a vicious cycle of trouble. He is so thankful he got out, but at the same time, it hurts for him to know those people are still stuck in that kind of mess.

If this is a fate you want to make sure your child never meets, take heed. Mr. Dankowski says if you have a teen who is in trouble, not seeking help will ultimately lead to your child being in prison. “Have you seen the prison system? They are full. Those people in prison are not necessarily bad people, they just had bad parenting,” he says. “They did bad things because that is all they know, for the most part.”

Mr. Dankowski says there are warning signs to watch for. He adds that his warning signs are not the same ones you might get from law enforcement or a therapist, but they are very important. “If your child has bad grades, it is no longer a warning sign,” he uses as an example. He says to watch out for excessive sleeping, taking off at night, running away or sneaking out. If they are sneaking out, it is probably because they are going to drink or do drugs with their friends, or they are attempting to break into cars or homes.

According to the National Institute of Justice, teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are, on average, most likely to offend in Western civilizations. That tends to decline in the early twenties, and there are many nuances when you drill down into differences between crimes committed, gender, ethnicity and so on. There is no question that teenage years are complicated, filled with boundary testing, not completely understanding emotions and being put in situations where teens’ brains are not really ready to process and understand long term implications.

According to a study done by the Campaign for Youth Justice, more than 70,000 juvenile offenders are not living in their homes. One out of every five youth who is brought before the court with a delinquency case is detained. The study also says two-thirds of juveniles held are being held for non-violent crimes. 94 percent of youth want to maintain contact with their family, according to the same study.

The difference between teens who get in trouble and the ones who manage to navigate issues with more success usually comes from a strong relationship with a parent. It will be awkward, uncomfortable and definitely frustrating, but a teen desperately needs to be loved and given what they need, not necessarily what they deserve. If you do not currently have a strong relationship with your child, it is never too late to start. If you are interested in learning more about the services offered by Get Motivated Juvenile Boot Camp, consider visiting getmotivatedbootcamp.com or calling 940.365.1818.

Christi Redfearn is a wife, mom and Aggie in search of that perfect lap time in her weekend race car.