Can Boot Camps Turn Your Teen’s Behavior Around?

Your defiant, troubled teen can test you in ways you never expected. This can bring you to a point where you’ll actually consider sending that adorably disrespectful, unconditionally loved child off to a teenage boot camp.

The concept of a boot camp for troubled teens can seem harsh and necessary at the same time. A quick online search will yield both stories of success and horror. Making your decision to boot your kid to boot camp, a difficult one. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Determining the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of teenage boot camps is a challenge. This is because of the surprisingly minimal amount of independent research that has been done on the subject. What we do know for sure is that these programs get mixed results.

There are many different types of troubled teen programs, such as wilderness camps, boot camps, reform schools, boarding schools, and military schools. The following information will help you decide which one is right for your teen.

All of these programs are designed as a method of intervention for families and troubled youth. They are not the same as in-patient facilities like mental health institutions or substance abuse facilities – places designed for at-risk teens with life-threatening addictions or mental illnesses.

Will Your Child Be Safe?

Many people immediately associate teenage boot camps and similar programs with improper management, neglect, and abuse allegations.

These allegations are sometimes true for a few programs, but not for all. The ones that get negative press usually aren’t state licensed or accredited by any national organization.

These places are not held accountable to any standard or overseer other than those set in place by their own directors. That’s not to say that accredited facilities never have any problems, but there tends to be a slightly higher risk of oversight and poor judgment at independent ones.

Be sure to research the places you are considering for your teen before going with the first one that someone recommends.

If you prefer an accredited/license program, look for stamps of approval from JACHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) or COA (Council of Accreditations), both of which are highly recognized accreditation agencies.

Another step to take before selecting a program is to define what the specific needs for your teen are. You may find a program that specializes in addressing the particular issue(s) that your troubled teen is struggling with.

Receiving guidance from local professionals (family physician, guidance counselor, health professional) is advised.

Wilderness programs

The approach of wilderness programs differs from other troubled teen facilities. They create real-life scenarios that force participants to comply otherwise natural consequences will ensue.

If the teen refuses to construct a dwelling or build a fire, then the teen will sleep uncomfortably in the cold. Before selecting a program like this for your troubled teen, be sure that they will benefit from this kind of direct rewards/consequences approach.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Many troubled teen programs use this method, which is designed to change the thought-process at its roots as an effective way to permanently change behavior.

It is a form of behavior modification sometimes used in place of traditional counseling and tends to yield very positive results. If this sounds interesting to you, there is a lot of literature and online information on this subject for further education.

Boot Camps Are Not For Abuse Victims

If your defiant teenager has suffered high degrees of physical or sexual abuse, a teenage boot camp is not the right place for them to be. Studies have shown that, in boot camp environments, abused children experience increased stress levels that are unhealthy and largely ineffective. Parents of abused teens should seek professional help elsewhere.

How Personalized Are Troubled Teen Programs?

It depends. Some organizations operate in a cookie-cutter manner where treatment is concerned. This isn’t necessarily bad. It simply means that every participant receives the exact same treatment as everyone else. They have a highly structured curriculum that they follow no matter what.

Other programs, however, take into account the specific needs and issues of each participant, viewing them as a unique individual and customizing their approach to that person accordingly.

Many parents have voiced very positive results from facilities that employ this type of program. Logic also assumes that this type of approach would be more effective than a strict, unmovable module.

Before considering a camp like this for your teen (or a program that specializes in a particular type of troubled teen), be sure you know you child’s needs. If you feel that you don’t, communicate with your child’s therapist, counselor, teacher, or medical professional for input.

Obtain References

Just as you would read reviews and ask you peers before making a large purchase, the same should be done when choosing a troubled teen program. Go online and read what other parents have said regarding experiences at a particular place. If you can contact some of these parents directly, do it. Get as much information as you can about the places you’re considering.

Vet The Establishment

Get in touch with the director or supervisor of the program you’re looking at and have them provide you with proof of success. It’s important to know that a program has worked for people – preferably a lot of people – before sending your teenager there.

What Can I Expect When My Teen Comes Home?

Some parents who have sent their troubled teen to a boot camp are delighted to see their child return changed, only to experience this reformation for a short time before they revert back to their old behaviors. This can be extremely discouraging knowing that troubled teen boot camps are usually not cheap. When this happens, it’s usually because the teen promptly exits a highly structured lifestyle and re-enters a highly unstructured home environment.

There are three important questions for parents to ask themselves in preparation for their child’s return from teenage boot camp.

1) -How do we preserve the improvements our teen made while away?

2) -What skills and knowledge to we need to develop in preparation?

3)-Can we utilize tools that the troubled teen program used?

Addressing these questions will increase the success of your teen’s transition away from camp and make it is as seamless as possible. Involve not just your partner but close family and friends as well. Look for local programs that families can attend while their troubled child/sibling is away.

The better informed you are about supporting and consulting your teen when they arrive home, the easier and more enjoyable it will be for everyone.

Why do troubled teen programs sometimes fail?

Like any reformative program, the success rate is not 100%. Sometimes young people return home from their program with very little progression, or they quickly regress to their previous behavior upon returning home.

According to some research, the unravelling usually begins once the teen leaves the program. Parents and family members who fail to adequately train themselves beforehand render themselves unequipped to provide proper support for their troubled teen, increasing the chances of behavioral regression.

To prevent this, use the suggestions in the previous section above.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your troubled teen will magically be transformed when they come home to you.

Sending a child to a troubled teen program doesn’t only imply behavioral changes for them, but for you as well. The way you communicate with them, your parenting approach, and your mindset as a caregiver need to change.

Do your best to have a new structure in place well before your child comes home. Such structures are usually recommended by the program or facility your teen attends and can be implemented in detail with their help.

There are family therapy programs, such as the well-known Total Transformation Program, that families can engage with either on their own while their teen is away or with their teen when they return home.

These programs do a great job at changing the family dynamic and helping everyone to understand their role to help achieve the best results possible.

Consider. Research. Plan.

The decision to send your teen to a program for troubled youth is one that should be made with careful consideration, research, and planning.

It is highly recommended that you consult a local professional, preferably one that is familiar with your family, before going forward with it. Don’t simply go with the first facility that is recommended to you.

Do adequate research on multiple options, make calls, ask around and read. Create a list of questions that you ask to every place of interest. Do not feel awkward asking these representatives for proof that their program has seen success.

Be forward when asking about staff credentials and accreditation. And perhaps even more importantly, be sure to take the proper steps to have a plan in place in anticipation of your troubled teen’s return home.

Raising teens can be overwhelming but there are so many helpful programs available to help support you through it, share your experiences (good and bad) in the comments.