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Are Teen Boot Camps More Harmful Than Helpful?

What are Teen Boot Camps?

When troubled teens are on the path to jail, parents “begin to look at a more extreme option: boot camps. These are institutions that run a rigorous, military-like program that is very heavy on discipline and physical labor.”

Teen boot camps rely on negative reinforcement and scare tactics. But, harmful methods are counterproductive. “It can cause teens to rebel further, or to withdraw into themselves as a means of protection against the hurt.”

Who Attends Teen Boot Camps?

Teen boot camps treat adolescents who are unresponsive to therapy and outpatient treatment. Boot camps are for teens that struggle with:

  • Behavior issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Conduct disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • ADHD
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Substance abuse
Teen Boot Camps are Not Regulated

Many teen boot camps are not federally regulated. These programs are also not licensed through national accreditation organizations. Teen boot camps lack proper credentials. There have been “allegations of abuse, neglect, and improper management.”

teen boot camps
Severe Abuse

Teen boot camps have come under fire for their harsh and inhumane treatment of patients. Teens have suffered from:

  • Going long periods without food or water (starvation, dehydration)
  • Physical abuse (electro-shock, beatings, choking, tasing)
  • Psychological abuse (solitary confinement, humiliation)
  • Sexual abuse (molestation, rape)
  • Verbal abuse (shaming, degrading)
  • Death

Boot camps are not appropriate for children or teens who have been victims of abuse. Research shows that this type of environment causes increased stress.”

There’s Little to No Therapeutic Options

Many boot camps do not include therapeutic programs. Because of this, “they are not designed to deal with the underlying emotional or behavioral problems most troubled teens are struggling with.” Boot camps are an extreme option, and it is “most likely going to make their problems worse.”

Screaming in a child’s face won’t help get to the bottom of their outbursts. Making them run an obstacle course won’t figure out the reasons for their violent lashing out.”

Teen Boot Camps Don’t Prevent Reoffending

Boot camp participants are likely to reoffend. “Quasi-military-like treatment programs for troubled youth don’t prevent them from committing more crime.”

Troubled teens can’t be “whipped into shape through harsh discipline.” Teens are more likely to rebel when they aren’t treated in a nurturing and holistic environment.

Choose Wilderness Therapy Instead

Wilderness therapy programs are different than teen boot camps. Wilderness therapy focuses on an individualized treatment approach. Licensed staff build trusting relationships with teens before assessment and diagnosis.

The wilderness environment is safe, secure, and meditative. It provides teens with the opportunity to grow and thrive in a holistic atmosphere.

Wilderness therapy differs from teen boot camps through the use of:

  • Rigorous assessment process: Group therapy and activities. Professionals determine the proper course of treatment.
  • Development of positive coping strategies.
  • Builds identity, self-esteem, self-confidence, interpersonal relationships, and social skills.
  • A variety of therapeutic options: Group, individual, family, cognitive behavioral, animal therapy, art therapy, psychological, and psychosocial.
  • Nature: Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation.
  • Group activities: Skill building, learning to work well with others, and problem solving.
  • Exercise and nutrition: Creates a healthy body and mind. Builds self-confidence and self-worth.
  • Education: Accredited academic curriculum.
  • Long-lasting results: Troubled teens are more likely to heal and begin anew.

To learn more about wilderness therapy, click here.