Boot Camps For Troubled Teens – Answer Or Problem Enhancer?

There are lots of residential programs for teenagers whose behavior has become so problematic that serious intervention, away from the tension and upset of the family environment, seems like the right answer. They go by several names, such as “Therapeutic Boarding Schools”, “Boot Camps For Troubled Teens”, and “Residential Boarding Schools”.

Each institution has its own approach, but most all of them emphasize discipline, structure, and teaching the child to take responsibility for his own actions and to stop blaming others. In addition, they tend to look beneath the surface to try to determine the underlying causes of the anger and defiance, although this is less true of the “boot camps”, due to their shorter term.

“Boot Camps” are generally shorter term-typically 3-6 weeks. They focus on the rebelliousness of the teen, and can be compared to a military boot camp where physical challenges instill values of respect and dependability. The emphasis on physical challenges and physical fitness can lead to new outlooks and the replacement of negative behaviors with positive ones.

The idea is that in some cases, all the child needs is a reality check. This is less likely to be the case if the teen has been evidencing great anger and defiance for a long time. Even if the negative behavior is fairly short term, the results of a short-term boot camp may not last, and the child may require follow-up counseling to stay on the straight and narrow.

Many professionals believe that boot camps don’t really work. Very strict military-style discipline with lots of screaming by a “drill sergeant” may cause the teen to conform while he’s at camp, but the camp is likely to create even more resentment and hostility toward authority, and serious backsliding once camp is over.

Most troubled teens require structure, guidance, and therapy, and to discover the consequences of behavior. If the boot camp teaches instead that “the loudest and meanest wins”, that may well be counter-productive.

The very fact that the program is short-term can lead the teen to fake whatever behavior and attitude is required, knowing that he’ll get out before long. If boot camps for troubled teens don’t work, what does?

If a change of environment and some sort of residential program seems indicated, Residential Boarding Schools and Therapeutic Boarding Schools, with a longer-term focus, and with a more supportive and less confrontational style are generally regarded as a better alternative. This type of school has more time to devote to the client than the typical boot camp or wilderness camp has. They also usually have more clinical staff and an orientation towards support, understanding, and counseling. They can dig beneath the surface to determine the underlying issues that are leading to the anger and defiance. Treating these underlying issues is generally much more effective than just demanding compliance and trying to “knock” the anger and defiance out of the child.