We have all heard the phrase “at risk youth.” It’s commonplace in our homes and in society to point fingers at the child when things go bad. We spend a great deal of time and money looking to fix this “at risk” behavior. “At Risk” behavior is often times the outcome of issues within the whole system, not only an individual issue with the child.
Fortunately there are places like the Alaska Military Youth Academy (AMYA) that address the laundry list of issues that youth face today. The Academy gives teens a healthy and safe environment to work on their issues as well as giving them a quality education to get academically back on track. We see cadets try so hard every day to change yet if that cadet returns to an unchanged environment, lasting change in the cadet can be degraded. The purpose of The Parent Page is to give you information and resources to help you in your journey, and to supplement and reinforce what you are already doing.
The amount of work your child is putting forth at the Academy is like nothing he or she has ever done before. They are not involved with the most negative of the statistical teen-aged crowd - doing drugs, ditching school or breaking the law. They are also removed from the common negative influences that almost all parents face (television, social media, gaming influence, parties, etc.). They are in bed at 9:00 pm and up at 6:00 am. They are doing their part and then some.
We realize not all the parents will have the ability and desire to actually follow through on the personal work required to accomplish this challenge. Like the cadets, we will not hold your hand, and this is completely voluntary. However, like the cadets, we offer you our insight and expertise as assistance. We challenge you to step up and do your part. We realize doing MORE work may not have been on your mind when you were filling out the enormous pile of paperwork. That’s okay. We will prompt and guide you and provide resources, but we will not force it on you.
Like anything in life, the more effort you put into something the more you will get out of it.
This is your choice!
There is a reason that AMYA is so successful. There is nothing we do that you can’t do yourself at home. It’s more difficult for you because you have to work and leave your teen unsupervised; while our job is to supervise your teen around the clock.
Twenty-two weeks is a long time but the lasting change we all want in our teens is put at risk if the environment has not changed at home when they leave the Program. Thatâ€™s where you come in. The 22 weeks away from your child is your opportunity to realize personal growth in your family as well as your son or daughter. Maximize this opportunity for your child, your family, and for yourself.
This page contains information regarding issues we see specifically at the Academy during a given class. If you have issues that you do not see here, be sure to email us and let us know so we can add it to our list of issues.
Now that your child is at the Academy, it is time for you to begin your challenge. It won’t be the first or last time you hear this. Your child will come home 22 weeks later a new person with a different thought process and tools. If the home environment and the way you do things remains the same you will be disappointed soon after graduation. The following are general tips to help you and your family get on the right track to keep pace with the changes your cadet is making.
We recommend several parenting programs to choose from in the Resources section. If you find another one, please contact our Counselor and let them know. Change on all levels takes effort and a willingness to try new directions, actions and activities.
Your family, for better or worse, is a family system. Which means that when someone acts in a certain way the rest of the family responds accordingly. Negative interactions initiate negative reactions in others, while positive interactions initiate more positive reactions in others.
Look deep into the dynamics of how your relationship with your child functions. The way you interact with them initiates a positive or negative reaction from your teen. You can change the way you interact so they change how they react.
We suggest that you make a list of all the areas where you think your behavior causes your teen to react instead of respond. This will give you a plan of action on how and where to start making changes. The point is, your child is not alone in his or her behavior.
You are a part of this system and interaction. You have significantly more personal influence to be able to take the lead in positive change. It is up to you to discover what part you play in this relationship with your child, and how best to change the way you do things for more positives interactions and reactions.
We can help you do that if you are having trouble. Utilize the resources given. The next 22 weeks is an investment in the future for you and your child. Change is not easy and you will need support and encouragement just as much as your child.
Tell them how proud you are of them. Tell them how excited you are to see them grow and become an adult. Tell them that they are not alone in this. Tell them that you are doing a great deal of work to grow and make positive changes as well.
Don’t tell them things like, “we miss you so much” or “it’s going to be difficult here without you”. These statements will only give them another reason or excuse to quit. And yes, chances are they will want to quit. Most won’t get as far as telling you, but a number of the candidates will. They will need you to be strong about not allowing them to quit.
Did we say write letters? Hear us again!
We have seen candidates and cadets quit the Academy because they were not receiving enough mail from home. Nothing says, “You’re in this alone and life is fine without you” like not receiving mail.
Have their siblings draw a picture; send a postcard that says “We’re proud of you”. Engage and leverage the influence of other positively oriented adults (uncles/aunties, etc.) to write and share our tips with them as well. Drop notes on Facebook to your cadets and we will print and share with them. It does not have to be a four page letter; it can be a few simple phrases. Write them EVERYDAY.
Your child has agreed to work very hard every day for 22 weeks. Most of his or her friends at home will still be doing the same things as before. Some of them will be writing often, telling your son or daughter about all the parties and fun times they are missing out on. Your letters may not be as important to them AT FIRST, but they will be counting and deciding things based on who they hear from most.
After you have signed up for parenting classes and written your letters it’s time to do a personal assessment. Children learn by example more than by what is said.
You are always teaching them some lesson and your child is always watching. The question then becomes what lessons do you what to teach them? By making positive changes in your life you will reinforce those same positive changes in your child. They are learning coping skills, the value of physical exercise, effective communication skills, responsibility, ownership, decision making, and goals. All these things need to be reinforced in what they see in you.
Do you have alcohol or pills around that are accessible to children or teens? Where are your computer, video games and TVs if you have them? Maybe it’s time to put them in a common area so you can monitor what they are watching and typing and for how long and to whom?
How many parents have seen their child’s Facebook page? Maybe it’s time to clean your child’s room out and start clean. Maybe it’s time to get rid of or put in storage some of the luxury items they have learned to take for granted but will soon respect and appreciate again.
This should get you through the first week (LOL, okay maybe two). We will be posting many assignments throughout the class. We encourage you to go back and discuss your trials and tribulations on the Academy pages you have already been using.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us. We hope you take advantage of this unique opportunity. As difficult as it may seem, on you and your home, to do all of this homework; there will never be an easier time than now. So get to work and check back often.
It happens every class. Cadets come with the greatest of intentions, agreeing to spend 22 weeks away from the comforts of home to work on themself. This seems like a good idea when it gets you out of the all too familiar argument with mom or dad. It’s actually pretty exciting for most cadets, telling friends and family that they’re about to do something so difficult and productive.
Then reality hits! 0600 (6 am) comes around on the 1st morning and things change dramatically. It’s not just a story or plan anymore that makes everyone proud. It’s time to do the hard work. Just like countless times before, the fear of putting out so much effort for uncertain results creeps into the brain and takes over. Those two words echo through their brain... “I quit.”
So what’s a parent to do?
There are a few already established patterns of behavior that will play a big part on how this scenario plays out. Two of the most common are:
We’re not sure which pattern historically is worse, but we do know they are both difficult to address and repair. So what do you say if you get a call from your child saying they want to leave the program? Here are some ideas:
After you tell your cadet this, inform them that you must go now and you will write them that day. Avoid, at all costs, any conversation that lasts longer than it takes to say this. Like a hostage negotiator, your child knows that the longer he or she has you on the phone the more they will wear you down. Do not repeat yourself, do not bargain, do not debate, and do not bring up the past.
Say your prepared speech and tell them you must get off the phone.
It is important for everyone in the house/family to be on the same page. Practice this speech with your child’s mentor as well.
We will try our best to call you ahead of time to let you know that your child is wanting to quit. However, sometimes that’s not possible and you might get a surprise phone call; be prepared at all times. The good news is that after 5 or 6 weeks the cadets who remain rarely want to go home.
This is also another reason why you should be writing your cadet every day.
As difficult as this phone call can be for you; be prepared for multiple calls like this. Your child is used to getting his or her way. They can be master manipulators. They think you will break. They think they know how to wear you down. If dad, brother or grandma is the stronger one when it comes to giving in, pass the phone to one of them. Feel confident that on our end we are holding strong. It is extremely difficult to get through our line of defenses. We are experts at not giving in, so use us if you have to.
Have a plan, be prepared and don’t give in!
It seems simple enough. We’ve been doing it since we were born. It’s easy enough to get a simple message across to another person but it’s also too easy to rub someone the wrong way without even knowing it. Let’s talk about some things to remember when talking to your cadet while he or she is at the Academy.
Most of your communication will be through letter writing and your five minute phone calls. I encourage you to think of these times of communication as practice and to do so with certain ideas and goals in mind. In your communications, be positive and tell them how proud you are of them whenever you can.
Every week of these 22 weeks serve a purpose and your communication is a vital part of the equation.
This has been mentioned before and will be mentioned again. Letter writing is perhaps the most important thing you can do at this point to see that your child finishes the program. Keep in mind that your child may receive mail from whoever chooses to write him or her. We will not hold mail back from your child sent through the post office. Although we are able to monitor who is sending your child mail, we typically do not interfere with it (except in rare circumstances, and are prohibited by law from doing so).
A letter a day from you is your best bet when it comes to the percentage of outside influence they receive through the mail. Because approximately 95% of the information they receive about the “outside world” comes in the form of letters; your letters will certainly help or hinder their stay at the Academy. Because your letter writing has such a high level of influence, it is in everyone’s best interest for you to understand how to best correspond with your child.
I am not saying to keep all bad news a secret; however, some of it might be something that can be kept for a later date. For starters it might be helpful for you to know that the cadets receive their mail right before they go to bed. The cadets have the least amount of feedback, comfort and support available at this late hour. The cadets also have the most uninterrupted time to think and dwell as they are going to sleep.
If you do have bad news that needs to be shared, you are invited to work with the counselor on the best time and way to share it with your candidate/cadet. We are here to support you and your cadet. The news that is important to share might be better shared with his or her counselor first and shared with the cadet at a more appropriate time (for instance, during the day when there is time to discuss the situation and receive guidance and support regarding the news).
No matter how badly your child wanted to get away from you, they are extremely homesick at the Academy.
This being the case, you should try to avoid writing things that will increase those feelings of missing out on things at home. ”We saw your boyfriend/girlfriend at the mall with your best friend“, “Your mother turned your bedroom into a craft room”, “We are all going on that vacation we’ve always talked about”, “Your dog ran away”, “Dad’s drinking again”, “It’s fishing or hunting season”, “Mom lost her job”.
Your cadet can’t control or help with any of these situations. Telling him or her about things like this will only make them question where they are at. We often hear comments from cadets saying things like “I need to go home and help my mom” or “Someone beat up my brother and I need to take care of the situation.”
Saying these things will make them want to quit, especially early on, because they are homesick and looking for any excuse to leave. Don’t help them quit. Deal with the situation at home and keep your cadet motivated to change his or her life instead.
Tell your cadet how proud you are of them. Remind your cadet of all of the people that are aware of this great commitment to change. Tell your cadet about all of the neighbors and co-workers who are asking for progress updates. These are all things that imply emotional and financial investment on your end and reinforces your expectation that they will graduate. Knowing these things makes it more difficult to quit and disappoint. You have five minutes.
Be excited and drop everything. Don’t talk over the TV or a crowd. Give them the best and most involved five minutes possible. It may be several weeks before you speak with them again and they will read into and exaggerate the negative if it’s there.
One last tip: Don’t three-way call the cadet’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Don’t think it will help them because it rarely does. When they come home after the program, whenever you get the opportunity, remember to give them the best and most involved five minutes possible whenever the chance arises!
Keep it simple and positive!
The first two weeks are what we refer to as the Acclimation Period. Not everyone is mentally and physically capable of completing the program. It is during these two weeks that we observe your teen and assess his or her response to the day to day pressures of being in a strange and stressful environment. Most cadets will graduate into the Residential Phase of the program (20 weeks). However, there are typically a few who show a general unwillingness to move forward or participate.
We cannot accomodate physical injuries, threats of (or actual) violence, or mental instability. These candidates will be given ample opportunity, but in the end may not make it. Some, by no fault of their own. These are the exceptions in the Academy since our initial screening process tries to identify these candidates before they invest the time and effort it takes to get to this point.
We are specialists when it comes to not giving up on your teen. The anger, homesickness, rudeness, disrespect and overall laziness that some or many candidates bring to our Academy is welcomed. These are all qualities that got them kicked out of the typical high school. Other places don’t typically know how to deal with such issues and they give up and kick them out. These same qualities make up virtually our entire population of students. You can bet we are used to these behaviors and we can tolerate and deal with them more appropriately than any other school.
There is little we can do for the candidate who wants to go home. In almost all of the cases and with your help, we can usually stall the process until the end of Acclimation . If by the time the Acclimation Period ends, your child still wants to go home, there is not a great deal we can do. Yes, you will have an opportunity to remind your candidate why it’s so important to stay and complete the program, but in the end it will be up to them. There are ways to be persuasive and we have heard just about all of them.
The ChalleNGe program is the best of the best when it comes to not allowing candidates to give up on themselves. We work very hard to help them realize the opportunity they have during this critical and vulnerable Pre Challenge Phase. If your teen is one of the few candidates to slip through the cracks of the ChalleNGe program, know with certainty that every staff member from the teachers to the Director himself has done everything possible to help your child see the importance of staying.
If we feel your teen is a risk to themself or others they will not be allowed to stay at the Academy.
The first 2 weeks are the most difficult. Once the 15th day hits, the beginning of the Residential Phase signals a whole new and different program. They go from being around the cadre all day to spending most of their day in testing and preparing to be in the classroom.
The majority of cadets love going to school at our Academy.
For most, it’s the first time they have felt good about being in the classroom. It’s very important that they get to experience this feeling.
If your teen tells you that they are not able to do the exercises they are either hurt or not willing to try. We have had cadets well over 300 pounds, unable to do more than one pushup and they did just fine. It’s never about the number or time it’s about the effort. Do not fall into the “my teen is too weak or too heavy” trap. A large percentage of the candidates/cadets want to quit at some point during the program.
We tell the candidates each class that when it’s all said and done, many will wish they could stay longer and they will actually cry because it’s over. They laugh of course and then we watch it happen just like we said it would. Then we start all over again with the next class.
Of all the candidates that want to quit on day one, only two or three cadets still want to quit after weeks four or five. Realize that this is just a difficult transition for them. Once they get used to it, and they will, they do whatever it takes to stay. It becomes in their own words:
“The best thing I’ve ever done”.
No news is good news. If there is an ongoing problem with your teen we will let you know. Unfortunately we are not able to call each parent and tell them how great their child is doing. Believe me that would be nice to have those types of phone calls. Unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day. Therefore we have to do the opposite, the less fun process of making contact only if there is a problem.
Best case scenario is that you hear nothing from us for two weeks. To a great extent, you can follow the general progress on Facebook. We have had over a half million visitors and many very positive comments that help with the separation. I know that’s very difficult for some. That’s the system, so be prepared for teen drama withdrawals. When you do finally get to speak to your cadet for a few minutes, please make sure you know and follow the guidelines for phone calls and letter writing.
Your teen is getting up at around 6:00 a.m. and jumping from one task to another. They have very little free time. What little free time they do have is spent trying to memorize their Cadet Handbook and some of the other seemingly thousands of instructions they received that day.
Writing at this point is your responsibility. We recommend a minimum of three (3) letters per week. THAT’S MINIMUM! Ideally you will write EVERYDAY especially during the first four or five weeks when a lack of mail is all it takes for them to give up.
They will have successfully completed the most difficult part of the entire 22 weeks. It becomes all about desire, motivation and focus at that point.
Do not let your guard down. An additional 10% (during a good class) will still go home after the Acclimation Period and even as late as the week of Graduation. Realize also that 10% is probably one of the best percentages in the country. Never think that you are home free, too many parents write letters for a few weeks and then relax and get comfortable. Your cadet could be in that 10%. Someone will be. Do all you can for your child to succeed!
It takes A LOT of support...we challenge you to do your part.
Copyright © 2011, Chief K. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.
There are numerous online classes available. Search for ”parenting classes online“ and let us know what you sign up for.
Boundaries With Teens
by Dr. John Townsend (2006)
Life Space Crisis Intervention: Talking with Students in Conflict
by Nicholas Long, Mary Wood & Jim Fay (2001)
Parenting Teens with Love & Logic
by Foster, Cline, MD & Jim Fay (2006)
by Jane Nelsen (2006)
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Personal Work Book
by Sean Covey (2004)
“The mission of the National Guard Alaska Military Youth Academy ChalleNGe Program is to help intervene in and reclaim the lives of Alaska’s at-risk youth and produce graduates with the values, skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults.”