Boot Camps For Troubled Teens

Why Are Boot Camps For Teens Ineffective?

Many parents looking for help for at-risk kids tend to look first to boot camps, so-called “brat camps,” and scared straight programs. However, from the perspective of research and experience, that is a mistake. As this article will demonstrate, a wilderness camp for troubled teens is both a more caring and effective option

Boot camps for teens are based on military-style tactics: excessive discipline and pushing hard to emotional and physical extremes. The idea behind teen boot camps is to build strength through fear and aggression.

The basis of the idea is on Negative Reinforcement. The assumption is that the teens are bad and need to be pushed hard and punished. The goal is “character building,” but teens are more likely to be broken down and exhausted, not rehabilitated. 

Troubled teens resist change. Rather than promoting positive change, intense pressure can make teens more resistant. They may comply long enough to get out of the program. However, they typically don’t experience any lasting change. 

Because delinquent behavior in teens is always rooted in something more profound. There is no such thing as a quick fix, especially if the focus of a program is on changing surface-level undesirable actions. A boot camp for teens focuses too much on discipline and punishment. These organizations do not address the source of the teens’ issues or attempt to use rehabilitative methods.

Boot camps and scared straight programs have the same basic concept: instill fear and use excessive discipline to counteract bad behavior. They use a type of exposure therapy where troubled teens are forced to confront “their future” by touring prisons and interacting with aggressive inmates. Still, this form of therapy can be traumatizing and counterproductive. 

Attempting to scare troubled teens into better behavior does not work. The evidence for the lack of effectiveness is in the high recidivism rates. Teens who complete scared straight programs continue to re-offend. 

Similar to boot camps, scared straight programs do not address the source of what motivates a teen to act out. These programs expose teens to people in prison who yell and try to instill fear through shock and exposure to horrific situations. 

Rather than be rehabilitative, teens tend to experience something at their core or in their environment that can create fear and anger–a saturation of more fear and anger in a single experience can perpetuate those feelings and create a sense of resentment.

Is The Family Involved?

Generally, families are also not involved in boot camps or scared straight programs, which can further distance teens in contrast to solutions based on collaboration with the teens’ support systems.

Family support is a valuable aspect of wilderness therapy.

Wilderness Therapy Is A More Effective Treatment Option

Wilderness therapy programs focus on rehabilitation. Rehabilitative methods are centered around Positive Reinforcement and proven therapy practices. There is a strong emphasis on bonding with fellow campers and counselors. 

Moreover, nature has been proven to increase overall happiness and create a sense of serenity. That makes nature the ideal environment for addressing troubling behaviors. While in wilderness therapy, teens tend to relate to other troubled teens through positive experiences and bonding activities. 

RedCliff Ascent combines outdoor therapy with elements of adventure therapy. These positive experiences help reduce the feeling of all-around loneliness. Without the distraction of technology, teens are more willing to form new and lasting bonds. That makes wilderness therapy for teens the ideal solution. 

Fear and discipline are not at the core of wilderness camp. Instilling fear and using negative tactics are typically forbidden. Teens build character by bonding with other teens and counselors. The goal is to build the positive change that will build confidence, identify core issues, and rehabilitate troubled teens to reduce recidivism.

Families are encouraged to be a part of wilderness camp rehabilitative processes from beginning to end. While teens learn new skills and coping strategies in the wilderness, families learn parenting and coping skills at home. This combined education will be critical once the family is reunited. It is crucial to keep the teen’s support system intact and eliminate any feelings of isolation or abandonment.

As a result, RedCliff Ascent sees a reduction in troubling behaviors in teens who graduate from the program. These positive outcomes last months and years after graduation, which is a stark difference from boot camps, “brat camps,” or scared straight programs.