Teens at Muir Wood enjoy game night

Getting Back on Track with a Tutor

Teens who’ve struggled with drugs, alcohol or conduct disorders often find that they’ve fallen behind in their academic studies. Personalized instruction from a qualified tutor can help them catch up with their peers and stay motivated in their sobriety.

A tutor can be an important partner in a teenager’s transition from child to adult. Tutors not only help teens learn how to manage their time, they can reinforce self-esteem and act as positive role models. Young people who have felt neglected or left out in school because of learning disorders or substance abuse problems can flourish under the attention of a compassionate, credentialed tutor.

The Importance of Tutoring

The dropout rate among American high school students is a serious public concern, according to a report from the Institute for Behavior and Health. Over 6 million American students ages 16 through 24 had dropped out of school as of 2007. In many of these cases, failure to complete school is linked to substance abuse. Some students drop out because the effects of drug or alcohol use interfere with their studies. Others start on the path to addiction because they have learning disabilities or mental health disorders that prevent them from keeping up in school. The end result is an ongoing battle with substance abuse, combined with an increased risk of unemployment, depression, poverty and homelessness.


Personalized instruction can give faltering students the edge they need to regain their confidence in school. Students who have failed in their coursework in the past can learn to trust their strengths by working with a tutor in individualized, one-on-one sessions. Because instruction is individually focused and self-paced, students with learning disorders don’t have to feel pressured to meet external standards.

As part of a comprehensive rehab program, tutoring allows teens to continue their studies while they focus on their recovery. After graduating from an intensive addiction treatment program, teens who have participated in tutoring sessions and small group classes will be able to resume their education without interruption in the “real” world.

How a Tutor Can Help

Many teens who abuse drugs and alcohol have grown up in chaotic, abusive homes, where few standards were established for moral behavior. A tutor can serve as a positive adult role model for a struggling teen by displaying high ethical standards and strong personal values. Tutors can be mentors as well as academic instructors, guiding their protégés through the challenges of daily life. Mentors earn trusted positions in a teen’s life by offering their advice and support.

The benefits of tutoring combined with mentoring are many. Students who work with a mentor/tutor have higher graduation rates, improved self-esteem, better family relationships and more positive career prospects.

Statistics from the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network indicate that mentoring combined with tutoring can have a profound impact on an adolescent’s future. A national study of students participating in mentorship programs showed that:

  • 45 percent of students decreased or eliminated their use of drugs and alcohol
  • 35 percent reported better relationships with parents or guardians
  • 49 percent had fewer problems with teachers or classmates
  • 47 percent had fewer problems outside of school
  • 62 percent reported that they had more self-esteem after mentoring

In addition to acting as change agents in a troubled teen’s life, tutors can help young people become better organized, more balanced individuals. Teens with learning disorders like dyslexia or behavioral disorders like attention deficit disorder frequently have trouble structuring their time or remembering details. Teenagers who have grown up without positive role models may display self-indulgent behavior, neglecting their studies in favor of activities that provide instant gratification. A tutor can help students organize their time in the following ways:

  • By helping them create a structured schedule for school, recovery activities and recreation
  • By identifying academic subjects that require more time and attention
  • By helping students prioritize their study assignments so they don’t feel overwhelmed
  • By providing planners, calendars and other organizational materials that make assignments seem manageable and achievable

Teens with addiction issues tend to get easily frustrated. Instead of learning positive, constructive ways to solve their problems, they have learned to use drugs or alcohol as an escape route to avoid life’s challenges. They have trouble delaying gratification and fulfilling their commitments to themselves or others. Tutors can provide moral support and motivation for these troubled teens, encouraging them to make short-term sacrifices in exchange for long-term gains.

Finding the Right Tutor

Tutoring is available through many different sources. Public school tutors, private tutors, online tutoring and tutoring software are available to meet a variety of needs. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 gives parents more options in shaping their children’s education, including access to free tutoring if a public school does not meet specific academic standards.

Tutors should be chosen with the help of a teen’s teachers, school psychologists, counselors or therapists who have thoroughly evaluated the student’s needs using psychological assessment and diagnostic testing. They may be selected by a school or hired privately by parents. Instructional sessions may take place at a school, in the student’s home, at a learning center, library, correctional center or rehabilitation facility.

Because tutors hold a key position in a teenager’s life, it is important that parents review their qualifications and background carefully.

intensive instruction on a specific topic, such as mathematics, science or reading, they should have specialized academic training in that field. When tutors are hired through an organization, they should be subject to a background check.

In order for a tutor and student to develop a productive, respectful working relationship, they should have the opportunity to meet before instruction takes place. Teenagers are often cautious about meeting new authority figures and may feel threatened by a new tutor. It may take several meetings before the teen begins to see positive changes in his motivation or performance. As improvement begins to take place, mutual respect will grow between the instructor and pupil.

School-Life Balance

Tutors help students find a healthy balance between school, recovery activities and free time. While lessons and counseling sessions are critical to a successful recovery, young people also need free personal time for self-discovery and relaxation. Rehab provides the structure that most troubled teens have been missing. Students follow a calendar that includes these activities and more:

  • Daily chores
  • Class time
  • Personalized tutoring
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Physical exercise
  • Recreational activities
  • 12-Step meetings
  • Experiential therapies

Guided meditation, yoga, nutritional counseling, and adventure therapy are included in innovative treatment programs for young people. For teens with substance abuse issues, learning how to manage stress, handle painful emotions and deal with conflicts are just as important as studying math, reading or science.

Finding the right balance between personal time and work or school is a challenge that everyone faces as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Intensive tutoring sessions make it easier for teens to focus on their lessons and complete their assignments on time, so they can devote their free hours to fulfilling recreational activities.

Being Accountable

Learning how to be an accountable adult is one of the biggest challenges that all young people face.

Unlike rehab programs of the past, today’s treatment centers for teens use therapeutic models that motivate and encourage their young clients. Students are encouraged to take an active role in their own recovery by taking responsibility for their academic success. An accountable, mature student is expected to:

  • Be on time for classes and tutoring sessions
  • Be respectful to tutors, instructors and classmates
  • Ask for help when he is struggling with an assignment
  • Complete assignments on time or request an extension before the due date
  • Take advantage of available resources, like private tutoring, online lesson plans or tutoring software, to increase his chances of academic success

At Muir Wood, our focus is not only on helping teens recover from addiction, but on helping these teens become responsible men. Our gender-specific rehab program gives teens the opportunity to continue their academic studies as they go through the recovery process. We provide personalized instruction, innovative classroom settings and individualized lesson plans to ensure that our clients stay on track with their plans to graduate. Our classes are led by state-credentialed teachers with advanced degrees in education.

As part of their daily classroom time, students participate in recovery-related learning activities that reinforce the gains they’re making in rehab. We aim to provide a truly integrated treatment program that turns troubled teens into well rounded, accountable adults. With psychological testing, learning surveys, advanced educational technology and personalized lesson plans, we’re prepared to meet this goal. Call Muir Wood’s treatment specialists for information on our full range of treatment services for teens.