By Tess Daum, housemom at Eagle Ranch in Flowery Branch, Georgia.
When an angry, shy or even withdrawn teen walks through our doors, our job is to provide a supportive environment. It’s more about connection than control, more about self-awareness than punishment, and mostly about helping them make positive choices.
We never try to replace a child’s family but come alongside them. The wonderful thing about being a houseparent at
Eagle Ranch is that we are not alone in helping a family in crisis. We are part of a team that includes licensed counselors, certified teachers and staff trained to help families through life’s difficult seasons.
The wonderful thing about being a houseparent at Eagle Ranch is that we are not alone in helping a family in crisis.
When we met Charlie, 15, he was happier being in front of a video game than engaging in real life. His parents, Jodi and Bruce, were frazzled and frustrated.
Parenting Charlie had been a long struggle. Even before he could walk, Charlie had epic tantrums over even the smallest perceived injustice. A dropped cookie, latching him into the car seat, a lost toy...all could result in uncontrolled screaming that exhausted his bewildered parents.
As Charlie got older, his combative spirit remained, and parenting became even more difficult as he latched onto video games and refused to let go. “Nothing could pull him off a video game,” said Bruce. “He had lost his interest to do anything outside of it. We were truly worried for him and his future.”
At the Ranch, goals were created to help him develop skills to address his struggles. Because of his excessive gaming, Charlie refused to do simple things like laundry, dishes and raking leaves. So, completing chores became a goal.
“The first time Charlie was given a vacuum cleaner it was clear he had never held one before. He just walked around with it for about ten minutes, not sure what to do. We laugh about it now because he has vacuumed so much since then, he’s quite the pro now,” recalls Caleb, his program assistant.
As the weeks went by, Charlie improved at chores, even taking pride when doing his own laundry or cooking up a light meal for lunch during the summer break. Another goal for Charlie was to find other interests outside of video games. This is part of the connection piece that we pursue for the kids. Hesitant about walking into a large active youth group for the first time, he gave it a chance. The experience of finding a place in the youth group has been so positive he has even requested his parents allow him to attend a local group when he returns home full time.
One thing we didn’t anticipate was that Charlie was quite athletic. He took to basketball very quickly, having never really played before. He has a great shot, plays hard and often joins pick-up games with other boys in the gym. Eventually, we started to give him the option of media time or going to play basketball, and happily he almost always chooses to go play in the gym over video games.
As the months have gone by, Charlie is meeting more and more of his goals. His grades and focus at school are improving. He has made real friendships here that he plans to continue outside of the Ranch.
He looks forward to getting his driver’s license and attending the local public school next year.
“I’ve got a lot of things to look forward to now,” Charlie says.“I am excited about next year and how much better my family will be now. I have learned to communicate with my parents better and am just an overall better person because of my time here.”
This article first appeared in Eagle Ranch’s Winter 2023 newsletter and has been shared with permission from the original owner.
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