Boys ranch and therapeutic boarding school for struggling teen boys with behavioral therapy. Arivaca Boys Ranch in Arizona serves families from Arizona, Nevada, California and throughout America.
Request Info

Troubled teen programs can teach change

8 answers to questions you may have about troubled teen programs

Troubled teen programs help find teens a new way to grow.  You can find them at places such as Arivaca Boys Ranch.  There are many conditions and situations that bring troubled teen boys to our ranch for treatment.  We are very good at identifying their specific needs.  Probably none bring more challenge to those involved with the problems of troubled teens than the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  This often misdiagnosed and poorly understood disorder has become one of our specialties.  Treatment for RAD in troubled teen programs should actually begin with the parents.  Parents are an integral part of the program.  Before parents will find success, they must learn a common language and platform for communicating with their teens.  They must understand the nature of wounds that have brought about the disorder and the proper way to deal with them.

Are you confused by your troubled teen's behavior?

  • Do you have the feeling that whatever you do for your teen, they always respond with an unexpected, negative response that you fail to understand?
  • Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells, trying to anticipate the outcome of your every attempt? 
  • Do you feel at a loss of what to do next to give and get love exchanged with your teen? 
  • Was your teen adopted? 
  • Did he spend time in foster care? 
  • If adopted, do you know if he was in a cold or abused situation? 

If any of these fit his history, you may actually be dealing with your teenager having the traumatizing and wounded condition, RAD.

What is the cause of RAD?

RAD is caused by an absence of a critical developmental bonding period between a child and his or her parents between the age ranges from about six months to about three years.  In the general population, it is rare, but among children who have been orphaned, adopted or abused, it is not uncommon.  For the parent, it is difficult to manage for two reasons: first, it is often labeled something else, i.e. ADD, ADHD, or Conduct Disorder.  Second, a parent's logical and natural responses do not help.  The parent-child relationship seems never to improve despite all attempts.  A parent must learn to act unnaturally with their own child. 

What are parents doing wrong?

It helps to understand that these children did not pass through a normal and natural nurturing and bonding experience so their responses to the parents' attempts will be unnatural.  To help parents develop these skills and retrain their reflexes, we have learned that the first sessions needed are with the parents.  Without that guidance, their natural response to the words, actions, deeds, and outcomes will be inappropriate for their troubled teen boys.  The clinical therapists at Arivaca Boys Ranch have developed an expertise in successfully dealing with RAD boys.  Many facilities have tried many methods, often bringing no real success; however, at Arivaca Boys Ranch we enjoy a great deal of success in returning these boys to their families where they enjoy happier relationships and a greater understanding of their own self-worth and the value others have to them. 

Why is the RAD child so different?

Reactive attachment disorder children do not bond to anyone or anything.  More common in adoptive children, foster children, and orphans, RAD children did not pass through the natural stage of development where most parents just seem to know how to train a child to bond and love naturally.  Many manage to overcome that shortfall.  Many do not.  This stage is a huge and important stage in natural human development and sadly, it cannot simply be recreated or retrained.  Many inhibiting factors were internalized in its place that cause behavior that is resistant to natural development.  Parents cannot go back and cure the wound that was placed upon the child at birth or in their early years, which makes “loving” them very difficult, if not impossible.

What do RAD children expect to gain from such outrageous behavior?

Control.  They expect to always be in control.  RAD is all about having a driving need to maintain absolute control in their relationships and associations.  That desire for absolute control is what grew up in the period where normal bonding should have taken place.  The RAD child needs to learn how to relinquish control, but those lessons cannot be confrontational; they must be learned from within.  Parents have a natural desire to heal the wounds caused by the loss of bonding.  What is difficult for parents to understand is that they cannot heal them.  Those wounds are part of who these children now are.  The wounds simply do not heal.  Ironically, RAD children actually have a strong desire to connect and be close to parents, brothers and sisters, and others.  They need to feel valued and nurtured but really do not have a language to understand what that is supposed to feel like or look like.  Their uniqueness, in turn, needs to be celebrated and they will often feel that their uniqueness only serves to separate them from everyone else.  At the same time, their parents need to be educated on that true objective of treatment--it is not just giving more "love" but to acknowledge and learn to manage the child’s uniqueness. 

What is different at Arivaca Boys Ranch that works?

The most powerful tool in our therapy is the work we do training horses—equine therapy—and it seems to have been tailor-made for the RAD personality.  Arabian horses, which we use, reflect what the owner-trainer is doing.  They are a lot like RAD children in that aspect and have virtually the same needs for control.  Like RAD children, they do not, at first, allow anyone to control them.

Can these boys actually be taught to train an Arabian horse?

From start to finish—from wild to docile—these boys go through all the stages of training an animal that is just as stubborn in behavior as they are, but horses are many times their size and also have a mind of their own.  At a working horse ranch, we do not use the animals neither just for enjoyment, nor do we have our student/residents just tend them.  They must work with them daily—nurture them.  They begin to internalize and understand the challenges their parents have been going through.  Therefore, they learn from within to adjust—to give up control—and start to naturally learn ways to negotiate with the horse.  


What is the most powerful tool to teach RAD boys new behaviors?

Coupled with communication skills learned in therapy (so they can discuss what they are learning and begin to articulate it), equine therapy has proven to be the most powerful tool we have seen to overcome the challenges of RAD.  For the first time in their lives, these boys have been able to learn how to bond naturally with something and this becomes a brand new experience for them.  Horses don’t argue back and have pure instincts; parents have difficulty expressing themselves in this manner, which is why it is very difficult to “love” a RAD child at home.

We do a lot of activities to help young men.  We have an accredited high school program, individual counseling, group therapy, team building, ranch construction projects, and cooperative activities, but the most important activity we do for troubled teens has to be equine therapy

At the end of the horse training, each boy will take his horse on an extended trail ride in the Rocky Mountains.  When the RAD-troubled boys return, we ask them to describe what it is like to train a horse and take it on the trail out in nature.  In vain, they search for the words to describe their experience, and then the tears will well-up in their eyes. 

Contact us for enrollment information
Home page

quoteYou will be amazed, like us, to know what can & has been accomplished in only a month with our son! -Parents

Our son has grown so much and come so far, and now realizes just what he can be. You have saved our son, and we just wanted to let you know. -Parents

He is a completely different son! We are so proud of the young man he has become. -Parents

We couldn't be happier and more at peace with where our son is right now. What a blessing you have been in our lives, and I know that it was through divine intervention that the timing of all events that led us to you were in perfect order. -Parents quote2

Read More Parent Testimonials...