Choosing a Christian Boarding School for Troubled Teen Girls

“It's as important that your child fits the boarding school as it is the boarding school fits your child.”

--anonymous parent of a troubled teen girl

Trusting God with a Troubled Daughter1

Remember the joy you felt when you first brought your little bundle of daughter home from the hospital? She was an unbelievable gift from God. Now that she is a troubled teen and making life hell on earth, it is important to remember back to those first days when you overflowed with thanks and love. She's still a gift from God.

“How had my baby girl become this angry, defiant teenager?”

--Annette Cole, Focus on the Family

I know it's hard when in the middle of the night, music blasts from her room. I know it's hard when the next morning she refuses to get up to go to school, complaining she's too tired. I know it's hard when she argues about seemingly everything and violates every boundary. I know it's hard when she is told no and defies you and does it anyway. I know it's hard when profanity, smoking, drinking and drug use enter the picture. She's still a gift from God.

“Janet's rebellion caught me off guard. My three other children made it through adolescence relatively smoothly… [she turned the] family home upside down.”

--Annette Cole, Focus on the Family

Being raised in a Christian home seemed not to matter. It wasn't because of poor discipline. It wasn't because she wasn't loved. Prayer did not seem to help. Support from friends and family in the church seemed a wasted effort. I did not know what to do. She's still a gift from God.

“I begged God for help and soaked the bedspread with tears.”

--Annette Cole, Focus on the Family

Finally, God showed me the futility of my quest for answers in my own power. He made me consider some difficult questions. He asked: Do you really believe I love your daughter more than you do? Do you trust I have a plan to care for your daughter? Are you willing to allow Me to work fully in your daughter's life? After much struggle, I finally resolved that ‘yes' was my only answer to all three questions. I knew He did not want me to abdicate my responsibility for my daughter, but I now knew that along with doing my best, I had to leave my daughter to Him. She's still a gift from God.

I talked with my daughter. I grounded her. I withheld privileges. I talked with the counselor at the school. I talked with the leaders at the church. I even sought private assistance in a licensed therapist. When she ran away from home, though, I knew it was time for something much more strict…a 24-7 boarding program…a Christian one. She's still a gift from God.

“I'd go from wishing Janet would run away to fearing she would. I'd feel as though I hated her, then be crushed by guilt.”

--Annette Cole, Focus on the Family

What Parents Must Consider/How to Choose2

It takes a monumental effort to find the “just right” Christian boarding school for your troubled teen girl…but it's not impossible. Just like it's true that anything that's troubling your daughter can be treated, it's true that you can find the perfect treatment for her, too.

You may have to get down to brass tacks to get beyond the advertisements. Behind all the good news about any program as advertised are the complaints, violations, and/or actions were taken against the program. Do more than request them…demand them?

Also, ask about the program infrastructure. Are the counselors licensed? Are the teachers certified? What curriculum do they teach? What church denomination are they affiliated with? To what theology do they subscribe?

The basic things to seriously and thoroughly consider, include the following:

thoroughly research options online

get your family doctor's advice/prescription

read reviews from other parents and students

talk to program representatives directly

visit the campus in person, get the tour

hire an independent consultant to help decide.

If medical care is a concern of yours, ask if a nurse is available 24-7? Doctor availability? Medication safety and dispensation? In the event your daughter is injured or becomes seriously ill or injured, where is the closest hospital?

During your in-person visit, turn a keen eye toward the looks on the student's faces and the nature of how they are behaving. Do they seem happy? Do they look like they feel safe? How are they inter-relating with staff?

It's important to look closely at the daily schedule of activities. Is it enough to keep them busy and out of trouble? Does it seem overwhelming?

What do the facilities look like? Are they clean? Are they merely presentable, or are they actually appealing?

And how about the food? More than being nutritious, does it appear appetizing?

In the Land of Christian Boarding Schools, What's Out There to Choose From?3

There is an abundance of Christian boarding schools in America. Those church denominations that typically require 24-7 arrangements to be a major part of their program treatment include Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, and Seventh Day-Adventist.

And in as much, they represent the fact that there is also an abundance of varying attitudes and beliefs about what is important about being Christian. Once you find schools that appeal to you and your daughter, also take care to consider the religious affiliation they subscribe to.

Christian boarding schools are typically appraised according to very strict standards:

Academic excellence and college counseling and preparation

Programs for the spiritual growth of students

Extra-curricular activities and enrichment

And geographic, demographic, and theological diversity

Co-educational or gender-specific enrollment.

Some of the best of the best, not just those outlined by The Best School forum, include:

Academy of the Sacred Heart, Grand Coteau, Louisiana

Brook Hill School, Bullard, Texas

Clearview Girls Academy, Heron, Montana

Evangel Christian Academy, Shreveport, Louisiana

Gem State Adventist Academy, Caldwell, Idaho

Hillcrest Academy, Fergus Falls, Minnesota

Kents Hill School, Kents Hill, Maine

Oakdale Christian Academy, Jackson, Kentucky

Portsmouth Abbey School, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

St. Andrews School, Middletown, Delaware.

There are many, many more. Look them up. Check them out. It's as important that your child fits the boarding school as it is the boarding school fits your child.

What Makes a Christian Boarding School a True Christian School?

A true Christian School is one that comprises key aspects that make for a “community of faith.” The staff and students must be and must feel as if they are all members of the Body of Christ.

“Staff and students at a truly Christian school feel as if they are members of a community of faith.”

--Jeff Rogers, past Christian school superintendent

Spiritual Support

Spiritual support in a truly Christian school must include 24-7 Christian mentoring. Guidance, direction, encouragement, and instruction must be as prevalent as breathing throughout the program.

Regular worship services must be available for staff and students to not only participate in, but to also plan and staff. While guest speakers may come from surrounding local churches, prayer, testimony and music make for responsibilities that staff and students must share.

Youth groups and Bible study must be available. It is important, however, as with all Christian activities, that attendance be required, but participation must be voluntary.

Prayers are a must at all meals, as well as other special moments. It goes without saying that students pray when they rise and when they shine. Quiet devotion, prayer walking, and Bible reading are all parts of a solid Christian life.

Spiritual Instruction

Besides daily instruction in an established Christian curriculum, students in a true Christian school must learn to regularly evaluate his/her relationship with Christ, and inter-relationships with family, self and others.

It is important that students experience regular service to and for others, including both school and local community projects.

A special aspect of any true Christian program provides opportunities for students to experience the serenity and beauty of God’s creation. Spending time outdoors is indispensable.

Such must reinforce not only the universal love of God but also the beauty of the earth God placed humanity within.

Spiritual Curriculum

There are a number of Christian-based academic programs like Abeka and Bob Jones, but few curriculums focused on Christian development. Three of the most notable such programs include Holland Christian Schools, CSI Bible Education Training, and Summit Ministries.

Research on Faith-Based Therapeutic Treatment4

Religious education can be integral to improving adolescent mental health. International research has shown that it can help adolescents develop healthier reaction stimuli through the internalization of religious morality, it can reinforce religious coping mechanisms which reduce the impact of stresses, enhance coping skills, and promote a less risky lifestyle, it can increase awareness regarding religious beliefs and practices and their influence on the individual, family, and community, and it can promote connectedness which can enhance self-esteem and well-being.

“School-based mental health education and promotion strategies can maximize the benefits of religious education by putting emphasis on effective implementation of religious education to positively influence adolescent mental health.”

--Crystal Estrada, et al, Research Gate

1. “Trusting God with a Rebellious Daughter,” by Annette Cole, Focus on the Family, 2007.

2. “Choosing the Right Therapeutic Boarding School,” by Best Therapeutic Boarding Schools, 2020.

3. “The 30 Best Christian Boarding Schools in America,” by the staff of The Best Schools, 2020.

4. “Religious Education can Contribute to Adolescent Mental Health in School Settings,” by Crystal Estrada, et al, International Journal of Mental Health Systems, Research Gate, April 2019.