Teen Boot Camps: Alternatives, Consequences and Results?

Photo Credit: Ashley Webb

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about teen boot camps and sending troubled teens into the wilderness for a little tough love, life experience and time away from the home environment.

A Federal report, released on October 10, 2007 by the Government Accountability Office, gave detailed accounts of 10 cases where teenagers died while on six different wilderness programs. The reports stated horrendous examples of abuse, mistreatment and punishments that the teens had to endure before their death.

I received many emails and calls from clients and parent friends asking me if I had experience with these camps and if I knew any families who had used a boot camp for their teen. During High School, although I had friends whose parents threatened sending them to these camps, none actually went. Yet, in College I did meet two boys who had gone to correction camps. One of the boys (these were two separate occasions and the boys did not know each other), went to a wilderness correction trip for three months while in High School. He seemed utterly scarred by the experience and refused to talk about it in detail with me. It only came up when I mentioned writing “You’re Grounded!” for parents, and he commented that his parents did not even try to punish him, they let a camp do it. This comment alone showed me something very important about teen and parent perceptions about camp.

Parents often find camps as an absolute last resort, many parents are at the end of their rope by the time they need to contact a boot camp. Yet, as was the case with my friend, he felt that his parents gave up on him and abandoned him instead of trying to help him.

The second boy I met had attended a boot camp where campers hike through Colorado mountains and spend many days alone in the woods with little provisions as a form of survival test. He said that the camp was meant to make teens more self-reliant and appreciate their ‘cushy’ lifestyle back home. He said that he did not resent his parents, but instead of becoming more self-reliant and appreciative, he felt angry after the program. He said that his relationship with his parents remained the same, but he felt that he had ‘hardened’ from the experience and has had trouble opening up to friends, girls and family since.

Again, this story is demonstrative of the fact that many of the camps simply want to instill fear in their attendees so that when they return home, they do not disobey rules or rebel. Yet, this fear can spread to the positive and healthy aspects of teen’s lives by making teens feel fearful and lack faith in interpersonal relationships. So what should parents do if they have a troubled teen?

Before a Camp:

• Consistency and Routine: Often times, teens rebel because of hormones or undesired change. Therefore, the more habits, systems and routines you have in the house the more consistency the teen will have in his/her life and the more likely they will find comfort in ‘normalcy.’
Family and Community Involvement: A study by CASA of 2000 families found that having family dinners is the most likely way to prevent your child from doing drugs. Family time and involving your teen or child in community activities with religious groups, community service or at YMCA’s can help a teen find other outlets for anger or fear.  When the is family is involved, it benefits your teen.
• Break from bad friends: Certain teens have ‘bad’ behavior because of negative influence from friends. Try to encourage activities in the community rather than hanging out with negative enablers and strengthens . Or take a family trip to get away from these kids. Often times, sending teens to grandparents, aunt’s or uncle’s houses can be a sufficient break away from bad influences.
• Empowerment, love and support: Some teens thrive off of any kind of attention, this means that punishments and arguments simply feed their need for attention. So make sure to give them positive attention, tell them you have faith in them, that they are smart, and have a good future, show them you are there for them no matter what. Even if this does work immediately, as seen with my friend above, they will remember that you were there for them after this hard stage.

End of the Rope:

• Family camps are better than boot camps: There are many camps, especially church and temple camps that are for entire families. This is where all family members have activities together and separate and can be a good break and a time where you can bond away from the home, bad friends and trigger points.
• Send them to a relative: As mentioned above, sending teens to a relative’s house for the summer or for a school break can help keep them out of trouble when there is no school and give them a chance to connect in a different community.
• Do your Research: If you must, there are some good ‘correction’ camps out there. Steer away from ‘tough love’ camps and make sure there are therapists working at the facility. Get referrals and do plenty of research and surprise visits, remember what camps want to show you, they will, and what they do not want to show you, they won’t.

If you are having a hard time with your teen remember that the relationship comes in cycles and do not be afraid to get outside help with a therapist, counselor or at their schools.

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Tags: Alcohol, Camps, Drugs, Rules, Travel, Troubled Teens

4 thoughts on “Teen Boot Camps: Alternatives, Consequences and Results?”

  1. Boot camps and Wilderness programs for teens are quite the same. But in wilderness programs they deal with mental and emotional problems but in a boot camp they deal with juvenile or delinquent teens. But there are the same all are troubled teens with different cases.

    Don’t stick to a circumstances that there are teens died during their therapy but be more open to search which is the best for you and specially your child.

  2. Informative post on teens boot camps. It is helpful for troubled parents to gain most of the information on boot camps and the offered services details in detailed, as some of the teens boot camps are making teens to experience various other problems that make teens recovery hard. Being a responsible parent, we should spend more time to choose a specialized option to deal with our loved one.

  3. Being in boot camp was fun. You will gain respect, learn to cope with real life and you can avoid getting into trouble. but the sad part living in a boot camp is that kids and parents relationship starts to fail.

  4. What i feel is abandoning a kid to boot camp is not a good idea at all, the love,care and affection can do wonders what strictness can not do. The strictness is necessary for parenting but abusiveness,physical punishment is not. There is a particular kid of way of dealing parenting and if you had not been able to handle then do not punish your kid for your fault. Learn to a good parent then your kid will learn to be good child. Consult a psychologist, a trouble teen consultant for the teen and if the things do not work out even then consult a therapeutic military camp in family is part of the therapy.

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