Boot Camp For Troubled Teens: How To Choose The Right One?

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Steve was an adorable toddler and a loving child. When he was eight years old, his dad died in a car crash. Steve’s world turned upside down. That year, he spent a lot of time in his room. He hardly spoke to his mom and rarely went out to play with the other kids. When he did go out, he started picking fights. By the time he was 14, Steve was caught several times smoking pot, stealing things and drinking alcohol.

When talking and therapy didn’t work, Steve’s mom decided to send him to a boot camp for troubled teens. But is that the right thing to do? Should you just send your kids to boot camps for correcting their behavior?

In this article, MomJunction tells you all that you need to know about boot camps – what they are, why they are, and if they are for your teenager.

What’s A Boot Camp?

Traditional boot camps were set up as an alternative to military boarding schools, to train the kids in a strict semi-military environment. Soon, boot camps were becoming popular among parents with troubled teenagers. When parents failed in disciplining the child using traditional parenting methods, they sent them to a boot camp for troubled youth with the hope that they can bring home a loyal and obedient soldier.

[ Read: How To Raise Teenagers? ]

That may seem like an extreme step for correcting a child’s behavior. Thankfully, not all boot camps are like that anymore. Sure there are state-run correctional camps for juvenile delinquents. But the private boot camps that are set up to correct behavioral issues in teens are not as military-grade as the original ones.

Still, the question remains. Should you send your teen to a boot camp for troubled children?

Keep reading to get the answer.

Should Your Teen Go To A Boot Camp?

In the traditional sense, boot camps are the last resort for parents who are unable to bring in real change in the teenager’s behavior with whatever resources they have. Boot camps are like rehabilitation centers in a way, except that the methods they use to modify the teen’s behavior are not always approved.

So, before you subject the teenager to an extremely harsh environment to change their behavior, ask yourself this question: Have I tried everything possible to help my child? What exactly is the child’s problem?

Sometimes, even your kid’s therapist may think that a boot camp may be of help for the troubled teen. But if your teen is going through anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues or drug related problems, the boot camp may not be a good idea, unless the program is specifically designed to address these issues.

Unlike the summer camps that most kids go to, boot camps are no fun. Most boot camps have a strict regimen that the kids need to follow every day. They also have punishments or consequences for disobedience and indulge in activities that deal with the kid’s behavior.

[ Read: How To Deal With Teen Behavior Issues? ]

Types Of Teen Boot Camps

There are several types of camps ranging from the traditional military school to wilderness camps, fitness camps and rehabilitation camps with activities like yoga and meditation. The right boot camp for your teen is one that focuses on correcting the troubling behavior using methods that are safe and accepted.

1. Behavioral boot camps

Boot camps are primarily for bringing in a positive behavioral change in teenagers. They are usually short-term programs structured around a military or warrior style regimen. The programs are about disciplining out-of-control teens through a series of rigorous physical fitness programs and therapeutic activities.

These boot camps are suitable for kids with a few but serious behavioral issues. They usually focus on teaching the children to be disciplined and respect authority figures.

2. Therapeutic boot camps

As the name says, these camps target a particular behavioral problem such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The programs have therapeutic activities that help the child break the damaging habits and learn better ways of behaving in a social setting.

These boot camps usually have certified therapists and approved programs that assist in minimizing the effects of the disorder. The plans involve classes, therapeutic exercises, therapy sessions and other activities that help the teen make a positive change in his or her behavior.

[ Read: Therapeutic Activities For Teens ]

3. Residential treatment centers

Unlike therapeutic boot camps, residential treatment centers are long-term programs that focus on changing the teenager’s behavior and attitude. These centers are like boarding schools with scheduled classes for a lot of students, with trained and licensed teachers. Besides regular classes, the treatment centers have therapeutic sessions via a variety of exercises and activities like debate, drama, skiing, horseback riding, swimming and more.

4. Wilderness camps

These camps have a more primitive set up and cut off the teens from technology and other modern privileges. The kids are taught to pitch their tents, clean utensils, hunt or fish and cook their food with minimal resources. Every teen has to participate in the program and contribute to the daily activities.

Besides the day-to-day activities, the camp involves living in minimal comfort zones and participating in activities like hiking, trekking, and boating.

These boot camps are different from the state-run correctional camps that are for juvenile delinquents.

[ Read: Camping Games For Teens ]

Benefits And Risks Of Teen Boot Camps

Boot camps are not for everyone. The strict practices and methods used cannot be handled by all teens. So, while some teenagers benefit by going to a troubled teen boot camp, some come out worse. Yes, there are both advantages and risks of sending your child to a boot camp.

What are the advantages?

  1. Boot camps can help teenagers develop life skills that prepare them for life ahead.
  1. Physical and mental discipline through activities like yoga and meditation teach them how to take care of and control their mind and body.
  1. Activities in the camp can teach the kids how to deal with anger, jealousy, and resentment and turn them into positive and productive feelings.
  1. Kids learn self-control and responsibility at these camps.

And the risks?

  1. Putting the child in the wrong type of boot camp can backfire as the child’s behavior may worsen.
  1. Children with depression, anxiety disorders, and other behavioral issues may not benefit from large boot camp settings.
  1. Not all boot camps are inspected by the authorities. If you do not choose a boot camp carefully, you are putting the child’s life in danger.
  1. Most traditional boot camps only focus on rigorous physical training but fail to address the emotional issues causing the problems.
  1. Punishment and scare tactics used by boot camps only result in short-term changes.

[ Read: Tips To Help Teens Solve Their Problems ]

Tips For Choosing The Right Boot Camp

Imagine sending your child to an unknown location, having no contact with them for weeks or even months together and not knowing how they are doing at any given point of time or day.

The thought itself is terrifying, isn’t it?

Boot camps are harsh. They were designed to toughen the teenager and expose them to some of the harsh realities of life. Some of them are tough-love camps, while some focus purely on physical activities, fitness, and tolerance. Others also include special exercises and activities targeting a specific unwanted behavior in the child.

Regardless of the type of regimen followed or methods used, a teen boot camp must be safe if not anything else. Here are some of the things you must check about the camp before registering your child for the program.

1. Check the credentials

A boot camp operation may not be set up for scamming people. However, individuals who have little or no experience in running a boot camp may set up one, offering nothing but horrific experiences for the attendees. You do not want to leave your child for weeks or even months, with someone who has no idea what needs to be done or how to care for the campers.

Boot camps are serious business – parents expect their children to learn some skills, alongside the ability to respect authority figures. So, check if

  • the organizers have experience
  • the staff is trained
  • there is a trained teacher and
  • there is a qualified doctor or nurse in the camp

2. Safety of your kid

The location of the boot camp, the design of the camp and the programs must all be designed keeping in mind the safety of the kids attending the camp. Understand that boot camps are not meant to pamper the kids. It is the exact opposite as sometimes even basic comforts are denied to the child.

Also, the camp must have practices or rules in place to prevent bullying and other such evils that can even put a teenager’s life at risk.

[ Read: How To Prevent Cyber Bullying For Teens ]

3. Is it a good fit?

A boot camp must be outcome-driven. If you are choosing a wilderness program for the teen, the goal is likely to get the child de-addicted to technology and encourage them to appreciate and protect natural resources. If it is a behavioral boot camp, then the program must move towards correcting the unwanted behaviors and encourage positive behavior and attitude.

To know if a specific boot camp is right for your teenager, check the program and what the teen’s daily schedule is likely to be (tentatively). Ideally, the boot camp managers should not have a problem to tell you what they intend to do during the camp. If you have doubts, ask questions. If you are not convinced with the explanation provided, then shop around some more until you find the right fit.

4. On-camp facilities

Some of the boot camp activities designed to toughen the teen may seem cruel at times. They are designed to break the teen and make them submit to authority. Sometimes, these activities can take a toll on the teen’s physical and mental health. Most boot camps ensure that the activities do not harm the kids in any way. However, not all kids can handle stress and pressure the same way.

There would be times when a child needs medical attention as well as counseling. So, make sure that the boot camp you pick has these facilities:

  • Infirmary with a registered nurse or a doctor. This is especially important if the facility is in an isolated location, which is mostly the case.
  • A vehicle that can transport the teens to the nearest hospital if needed.
  • An in-house counselor or one who is available on call.

[ Read: Outdoor Games For Teens ]

5. Reputation and testimonials

Who is a better person than an ex-camper to tell you if the camp is helpful? So read reviews and testimonials of the camp. Talk to ex-campers if you have the opportunity to do so. Research and compare the ratings or reviews of the different boot camps and then make an informed decision.

The fact that you are researching about boot camps means that your teenager is out of control and needs serious help to get back on track. The chances are that he or she possibly hates you for reasons you cannot understand. Pick the wrong boot camp, and you might end up with an enemy for life instead of an obedient teen. Right from “should my teen go to a boot camp” to “is this boot camp right for my kid,” scrutinize every little detail before you pack the kid’s bags and send them away for betterment.

What are your views on boot camps for teenagers? Do you have any more tips for selecting the right camp for teens? Share the info with other mothers here!

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Sagari Gongala

Sagari was a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she used to understand people better. Her interest in reading about people made her take up articles on kids and their behavior. She was meticulous in her research and gave information that could be of help to parents in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and... more