Pros and Cons of Boot Camps for Troubled Teens

Pros and Cons of Boot Camps for Troubled Teens


Know the Pros and Cons of Boot Camps for Troubled Teens

"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Boot Camps for Troubled Teens..."

Parents of a disrespectful teenager might think a boot camp for troubled teens is an appealing option, and for good reasons. If you are like most parents of a troubled teen (a kid in who are in an acute crisis dealing with a blatant disrespectful teenager) you might feel empowered by the notion of a boot camp designed for troubled teenagers.


If you are like most parents of a troubled teen (a kid in who are in an acute crisis dealing with a blatant disrespectful teenager) you might feel empowered by the notion of a boot camp designed for troubled teenagers.

The idea of placing your rebellious child into a boot camp might even seem to be the perfect move, given your current level of the frustration and pain. Plus, when you consider the wrong direction your child is heading in (not a good direction at all!), a boot camp might sound like the perfect fit. However, you need to look at the facts before doing anything. If you are a parent seriously considering a boot camp to save your teenager, then please read our take and perspective on "boot camps for troubled teens."

You don't need to be told a parent of a disrespectful belligerent teen is one of the toughest jobs on earth - but it is. Parents who are at their wit's end and are ready to throw in the towel, don't need to be told how tough their situation is, instead they need swift information that translates into immediate relief and restored hope.

If you've tried everything and your child's disrespect and poor choices are only getting worse, then let us show you some facts and present you with a few alternative options. What you are really looking for is an "effective strategy" that will not only stem your child's current rebellion but also help him or her to properly navigate through his or her teen turmoil without causing severe irreparable damage (such as an arrest or expulsion from school or pregnancy or drug addiction or...).

First, the idea that your rebellious child can quickly and completely reform their attitude and behavior through a short 6-8 week boot camp program is not a reasonable expectation. The kind of "change" you are seeking typically doesn't happen in a short-term boot camp. The truth is that very few rebellious teens enjoy long-term success after completing a boot camp for troubled youth.

It probably took months or even years for your teenager to go astray, and his or her journey back will take as long, if not longer. One of the biggest issues we have with boot camps is their short duration. Typically, boot camps are from 3 to 12 weeks in duration. Boot camps are not long enough in duration to correct and replace a troubled teen's faulty values, immature attitudes, and undermining behaviors.

Parent's using long-term therapeutic intervention programs vs. short-term boot camp options find a much greater success rate, which is what you are looking for - long-term success! Depending upon your child's specific issues and behaviors, a nine to twelve-month enrollment in a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens would be a much better choice when compared to a short-term boot camp program.

Boot camps for troubled boys or troubled girls can be a good alternative for teens. For example, if your child is considered to be in the very early stages of teenage rebellion, then perhaps a boot camp setting would be the ticket. If your child only needs a "wake-up call," then perhaps a short boot camp experience is enough to prevent him or her from developing entrenched bad behaviors that create bad situations. However, if your child's behavioral issues are engrained and entrenched (scary), perhaps a teen boot camp should not even be a consideration (read further and we will explain why).

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The Pros of Boot Camps - The "Good" Part of "The Good, Bad, and Ugly!"

Boot camps are designed to help troubled boys and troubled girls to gain self-control, improve respect for authority figures, exercise self-discipline, realize the value of hard work, and acquire an appreciation for ceasing their negative emotional outbursts (stop reacting to normal life circumstances with verbal or physical assault). The good news is... most boot camps for troubled teens are successful with all of these virtues, especially those that involve "self-discipline," "respect for authority," and "controlling emotional outbursts."  

What's more, boot camps for troubled youth are known to help "out-of-control" adolescent to successfully navigate and respond prosocially to environments dominated by "authority figures." Meaning, formerly rebellious kids who have completed a boot camp program can learn to respect authority, live by prosocial norms, follow institutional rules, and appreciate the value of acceptable civil discourse (i.e., why they should behave appropriately in the classroom, how they can get/keep a job and perform well with co-workers, and why they should participate proactively in a team sports, etc). The bottom line... after completing a boot camp program most campers are able to respond well to a set daily schedule, display accepted social norms, and even follow rigid rules imposed by authority figures, even those that promote civic responsibility.

In addition, because of the physical exercise required by most teen boot camp programs, teens end up feeling very good about themselves after completing the boot camp program. Many other types of troubled teen programs do not offer the same strenuous "physical training" that boot camps do, and therefore the teenage participants miss out on the tremendous boost that can be gained by becoming physically fit.

There is no doubt that the physical exercise required in the boot camp setting offers unmatched value. Through the physical training inherent in boot camps, the campers gain incredible levels of improved self-confidence and more. What's more, in regard to the court approved boot camps, campers may even be able to help avoid the juvenile justice system altogether by completing a court authorized boot camp - which is an unmeasurable value in-and-of-itself.  There are court-run, court-approved, and court-authorized boot camps for troubled teens that have proven over time to be effective as early-intervention programs (preventing youth from becoming adult criminals).

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The Con's of Boot Camps - The "Bad" Part of "The Good, Bad, and Ugly!"

Parents looking into boot camps for an out-of-control teen are most likely wanting to send a strong message to their child, such as, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" Additionally, these parents may believe that a boot camp for troubled teens is an effective option for straightening out their child's poor attitude and disrespectful behavior (before it is too late). However, not all is what it seems, especially when it comes to boot camps for troubled teens. Before any parent makes a move to enroll their teen into a boot camp, please review all the facts, know all your options, and learn that you have plenty of additional options beyond "boot camps."

Boot camps for troubled teens are not therapeutic in any way, shape, or form. Boot camps should not be confused with "treatment" programs. Boot camps are formal programs using discipline as the main focus. In a traditional teen boot camp program, the instructors demand full physical and mental compliance from the campers. Instructors will use the fear of punishment (yelling screaming, and extra exercise) to gain compliance. Boot camps use intense exercise, the threat of punishment, and the lure of positive rewards (behavioral modification techniques) to motivate campers. There is absolutely no "Therapy" or "Therapeutic Intervention" involved in a teen boot camp program.

Boot camps for struggling boys and girls do not address a child's underlying emotional or mental issues, but it can make emotional issues worse. Boot camps are not a therapeutic option for troubled teens struggling with depression, anxiety, mood disorders, substance abuse, addiction, gender identity, or self-harm and self-mutilation. Boot camps have not shown to offer long-term emotional or mental improvement, growth, or recovery. Boot camps for troubled teens are known to exacerbate and amplify emotional problems of teens suffering from emotional disorders, often causing a struggling child to act out more than ever before.

Because many troubled teens have some degree of emotional struggle in conjunction with their acting out behavior, placing a child with emotional or mental issues into a boot camp is dangerous and can cause long-lasting emotional and/or mental damage. 

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The "Ugly" of Boot Camps - Enter at your own risk!

In a few rare circumstances, instructors from a few boot camps for troubled teens caused severe physical injury and death. In two separate high profile cases, the death of a 14-year-old boy in Florida and a boy of the same age in Utah involved boot camps. The medical examiner ruled in the Florida case that the boy died of internal bleeding while family believes he was beaten. While in the Utah case the overweight child was made to participate in a day-long hike and two instructors were brought up on charges of homicide. 

The two situations above are rare and should not be considered the norm. However, the premise of a "boot camp" is built upon the same military-style exercise training found in the U.S Marine Corp. The physical and mental demands are designed to be intense as to push the camper to into "breaking down" to finally accept directions of authority figures and operate in total compliance. For children with fragile emotional or mental states, the boot camp is the last place they will find health and healing.

Before choosing to enroll your child into a boot camp you'd better be absolutely sure that his or her behavior is not a symptom of an underlying emotional or mental health issue.

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Before Boot Camp - Seek a Psychological Assessment from a Mental Health Professional

Parents looking for help for their troubled teens should consider all therapeutic options, such as therapeutic boarding school, wilderness therapy program, or residential treatment center before considering a boot camp. If your child is displaying normal rebellious teen behavior, such as lack of respect for authority (parents, teachers, law enforcement, etc) then perhaps a juvenile boot camp is a valid and helpful option. On the other hand, if you suspect or know your child is struggling with an emotional or mental health issue, don't even consider a boot camp.

If you need help to find boot camps or therapeutic programs for troubled teens, call us - 866-471-6695. Our Family Advocates are here to serve you. We can help you navigate through one of the toughest decisions you'll ever face. If you need assistance or coaching to determine your best option, call us. 

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