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The Juvenile Boot Camp Debate

The use of the term “teen boot camp” is still being debated. The media tend to focus on the “in your face” element of teen boot camps — the element that professionals who work with teens like the least.

Dr. MacKenzie, who has been studying adult boot camps since 1987, holds that defining the term “boot camp” has been a major issue and remains one. Her 1991 survey of adult boot camps (MacKenzie and Souryal, 1991) found some common boot camp characteristics, including:

1. A military-style environment.
2. Separation of boot camp participants from regular prison inmates when they are housed in collocated facilities.
3. The participants’ perception that boot camp is an alternative to a longer term of confinement.
4. Some hard labor.

The most noteworthy finding from Dr. MacKenzie’s survey, however, was that boot camp programs differ widely, particularly with regard to the amount of time participants spend in therapeutic activity and in the aftercare they are provided.

The definition of teen boot camps given by OJP in its Fiscal Year 1995 Corrections Boot Camp Initiative: Violent Offender Incarceration Grant Program includes the following elements:

1. Participation by nonviolent offenders only (to free up space in traditional facilities for violent felony offenders, i.e., those who have used dangerous weapons against another person, caused death or serious bodily injury, or committed serious sex offenses).
2. A residential stay of 6 months or less.
3. A structured schedule stressing discipline, physical training, and work.
4. Participation by juveniles in appropriate education opportunities, job training, and substance abuse counseling or treatment.
5. Provision of aftercare services that are coordinated with the program that is provided during the period of confinement.

In the 90s the military-style boot camps became popular. Several daytime talk shows like Dr. Phil showed uniformed men yelling at and intimidating teens and adolescents into behaving in the way they wanted them to. The problem with this type of boot camp is that the teen was learning to behave in a particular fashion when in a controlling and intimidating environment. They were not learning how to make good decisions in the environment they would return to upon leaving the camp. Because the scope of this type of boot camp was so limited, long-term change in the participants was often very limited. Coercing a teen to behave through fear and intimidation is not likely to change any core beliefs or teach them any life skills that will help them in the daily challenges they will face outside of the program.

Too many parents think that a boot camp will be a quick fix for negative behavior patterns that have developed over months or even years. Unless, or until, the juvenile learns to cope with and make consistent good choices in their regular environment, lasting changes are not likely to occur. Most of these behaviors have developed overtime as a method of adapting to and coping with life. Adolescence is, arguably, one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. Along with new types of responsibility and freedom comes many choices about behavior, friends, priorities, values, and how one will spend his/her free time. Most teens start looking to peers or role-models outside of their home and can be greatly influenced by these people. If a teen starts to identify with the “wrong crowd” and finds the belonging they are seeking they will likely follow the actions and behaviors of that crowd, even if it doesn’t coincide with the values and lifestyle they were raised with.

For parents that feel like their teen is out of control and don’t know where to turn for help, boot camp is one option; but remember that until the underlying concerns and issues the teen is dealing with are addressed, long-term change is unlikely. A good place to start is by simply talking to your teen. Try to understand the emotions and fears that are driving the undesired behavior and ask them if they are ready to make a change. Often the teen wants out but doesn’t know how to make the change. If they know they have the help, love, and support of a parent or trusted individual they can make radical change, without a boot camp or other program. If your teen does open up to you, be sure and follow through with the support they need. This may require changing schools, spending more time talking and listening to your teen to help them learn basic choice and accountability and decision making skills that will help him/her achieve desired results. Bad behavior is most often a cry for attention, providing adequate time and attention may be all that is needed. Consult with a therapist for professional counsel on what is the best option for the troubled teen in your life.

Boot Camps

What are Teen Boot Camps?

There are several kinds of boot camps out there. There are boot camps for learning, for example, the Disney Boot Camp or the Astronaut Boot Camp. There are adult boot camps for losing weight. We are going to discuss the troubled teen boot camps. These juvenile boot camps usually have a military type structure with a lot of screaming from big men with of marching and exercising. This appeals to a lot of parents with troubled teens because they have done a lot of screaming at their teen and it doesn’t seem to work, so they think that someone bigger and meaner looking will force their teen to straighten up.

Who are appropriate teens for Boot Camps?

Boot Camps for teens are short term, typically 30 days. Teens who are looking to get a good exercise program going during the summer may benefit from a boot camp. Teens who do not have any emotional or behavioral problems, but are just sluffing off a little in school and just need a little wake up call, may benefit from a juvenile boot camp.

Who are not appropriate teens for Juvenile Boot Camps?

Since the juvenile boot camps are usually a hostile environment, a teen who is hostile will only learn that that the louder you scream, the more action you will get. Boot Camps are not designed to deal with the emotional side of teens and their behavior problems.

Why are Boot Camps not appropriate for Behavior Modification?

Teen Boot Camps are short term and do not provide treatment. Because they are short term and because of the environment, you may not even be able to contract with outside private services to work with your teen with emotional and behavioral problems. Thirty days is not long enough to make lasting changes. Boot Camps do not have long-term follow up nor support that is needed for troubled teens and parents.

How much do Teen Boot Camps cost?

Boot Camps for teens tend to charge more then a typical Behavior Modification School because they are only 30 days so they feel that parents are willing to pay more for one month then they are for several months over a year. Boot Camps cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for the 30 day stay.

Teen Summer Camps

What are Teen Summer Camps?

Teen Summer Camps are typically very short term programs where teens go to do fun arts and crafts, sing campfire songs, and  sleep in tents or cabins in the wilderness. There are three major categories of camps. Day Camps – where a teen would go for the day do arts and craft or sports and go home at the end of the day. Residential Camps – where a teen boards at the camp and usually sleeps in tents or cabins. Travel programs – where a teen will travel to different locations.

Not all teen summer camps are “camping” or in the wilderness, however. There are many other types of camps that teens are involved in during the summer. Some are sports related like a football, cheerleading, basketball, or volleyball, among others. But there are also academic camps for those with a particular interest in a specific area like: science, robotics, leadership, art, math, business, or other academic areas. There are other types of special interest camps like community service groups, military kids groups, weight loss camps, or adventure camps. And even travel groups that spend a few days, sometimes a week or move, traveling to specific historical or special interest sites. As you can see, the possibilities are endless for teen summer camps.

Which teens are appropriate for Summer Camps?

Teen summer camps are appropriate for teens (boy or girl) who want to spend a week or two doing fun arts and crafts, learn new sports such as how to ride a horse, or spend time with others their age learning more about a particular topic that interests them. The teen will need to be mature enough to listen to, follow directions of, and show respect for those in charge for the camp. The teen needs to be mature and respectful to other people and their property and must be okay with spending time away from their regular environment and people they are used to associating with. Even though some camps may include siblings or friends, they will likely have times that they are not all together. Most teen summer camp programs will have specific criteria that each individual must meet to be considered for the program.

Which teens are NOT appropriate for Teen Summer Camps?

Teen summer camps and summer programs typically last only a week or two. Although they may remove a teen who is struggling with emotional and behavioral problems from his or her environment, a week or two is not long enough to make lasting changes that will continue once the teen returns to his regular environment. Teen summer camps are not for troubled teens or teens looking for recovery from an addiction, unless that is specifically what the camp is for, but those are generally more of a treatment center than a camp. Teen summer camps typically do not offer any therapy or treatment for teens who are struggling with drug and/or alcohol abuse. Teens who “act out” or misbehave are typically sent home immediately. Teens that will not follow rules and continually defy authority will not do well at a teen summer camp.

Why are Teen Summer Camps not appropriate for Behavior Modification?

Teen Summer Camps for boys and girls do not last long enough to make any long lasting changes in a teen who is struggling with emotional and behavioral problems. Summer camps usually will not tolerate any teen that is out of control, caught smoking, having inappropriate relations with other campers, or demonstrating inappropriate behavior. Teens involved in any such acitivities will be sent home immediately. A summer camp is a place for like minded individuals to get together and learn about a common topic of interest, interact with others of similar interests, and participate in activities related to the topic of the camp.

How much does a Teen Summer Camps cost?

Teen summer camps can range from being free to over $10,000. Check for local programs in our area and ask about scholarships or financial aid because a lot of them will get grants based on the number of individuals requesting and using financial aid.

Brat Camps

The term brat camps is pejorative, condemning either the organizations themselves or the children who are sent there. When referring to a child, it is a disdainful term that blames the child for whatever the issues may be. When referring to an organization that purports to help children, it does not bespeak a professional, licensed and accredited institution, but one at which preteens and teens are treated punitively, without a research-based approach or certified staff overseeing the program.

The term brat camp gained popularity through a reality television show that is no longer produced. On it, teens were treated for a range of different issues, some of which-like ADHD and mood disorders-lead to behaviors that it seems only someone without a true understanding of the condition would callbratty or treat by sending a child to a place with a shape-up-or-ship-out attitude. Other teens were sent to the so-called “brat camps” for issues such as defiance, problems with school, substance abuse, violence, and lying.

In fact, the programs at which the teens on this show were treated aren’t brat camps by any stretch of the imagination and does these organizations a disservice. The truth is that the Turnabout Ranch, Aspen Achievement Academy, and RedCliff Ascent-all in Utah-and the ANASAZI Foundation in Arizona, are all members of NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs), which only accepts licensed and accredited member organizations and holds them to a set of Ethical Principles and Principles of Good Practice. Calling such organizations brat camps is absurd.

The ANASAZI Foundation addresses the brat camp label head-on, stating on their website that the organization “does not consider itself a brat camp. There are no “brats” or “bad kids” at ANASAZI. We help children and young adults (and their caring families) who in some cases have made bad choices.“

Reasons Not To Send Your Child to a Brat Camp

Now let’s summarize the reasons why you should not consider a brat camp if you have a child who needs outside assistance with an issue.

• A brat camp, by its very name, starts off with a lack of respect for the people it is supposed to help. How can a young person be properly diagnosed and treated, assisted to become more mature, and accept guidance and counseling and mentoring from people who reveal before they’ve even met him or her that they have no respect for your child?

• Children who need help need the guidance and insight of people who have been trained and who make decisions on how to proceed based on that training, on research, and on experience. This means that therapists and teachers should be licensed, that the clinical and educational programs should be accredited by a legitimate and well-respected accreditation institution and/or by the state in which it operates, and that the program philosophy should be sound, based on, for example, 12 Step or Christian principles or some other research-based program.

• Punitive institutions, which organizations that disdain their patients tend to be, have been shown to be unsuccessful in long-term results. This means that the whatever issue or issues your child faces will not be well-addressed, and you will be out thousands of dollars for nothing positive.

• Especially for patients with a mental health issue like a mood disorder or a learning disability like ADHD, for whom punishment cannot possibly change their underlying condition, this is a poor choice. Beyond that, for all types of issues, a disrespectful atmosphere and punishment-ridden environment may make things worse instead of better.

• If the underlying cause of the child’s behavior issues is caused by the actions of others, such as physical abuse, incest, or bullying, then the child is only the identified patient: the whole family or whomever is inflicting the abuse needs treatment and sending the child anywhere, even to a reputable, well-run program may not even be able to assist the child properly.

Other Options to Consider

Have an expert, such as your child’s pediatrician, provide a diagnosis if one is possible. Look for a therapeutic environment that advertises itself as dealing specifically with whatever issues have been identified by the expert.

The program should explain its philosophy and approach, identify its credentials and the qualifications of its staff, and provide an overview of the types of issues the staff are qualified to deal with.

Either use a member organization, such as NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs), or get a recommendation from the expert, or work with a consultant from an organization like IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) to find an appropriate fit, or-if you do the search yourself-check the program’s credentials before doing anything else.

Once you’ve established that the program might possibly be a good fit, scour their website and look for other information about them to confirm that they provide good results for children with issues like those that face your child.