Have a Troubled Teen? Think Twice Before Considering a Boot Camp

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boot camp for troubled teens

Before signing your teen up, learn about the drawbacks of teen boot camps.

Most of us can recall the news stories about abusive, militant boot camps for teens a decade or two back. The kids were routinely punished while living in awful conditions, all in the name of “building character,” and some died. While conditions at these camps have been forced to change, parents should still exercise caution if even considering the boot camp option.

While a bit more humane than earlier versions, teen boot camps are still highly regimented, discipline-focused venues. Boot camps are supposed to be designed to train teens to take ownership of their choices, but the methods used are ineffective.

Boot camps are based on a military style of strict discipline and harsh consequences. For parents who are at the end of their rope, a teen boot camp may appear to be a viable option. However, by becoming informed about the problems associated with these programs, parents are encouraged to seek out other treatment options.

Why Boot Camps are Not the Answer for Troubled Teens

Parents faced with an out of control teenager may feel they have exhausted all options. No matter what discipline techniques they have used in an attempt to rein in their son or daughter, nothing has worked.

Behavior issues will often crop up during grade school and get worse during the teen years. The older the teen gets, the more harmful their actions can be to others, themselves, and to their future.

It might seem that what the teen needs are a strict program that will set them straight. In reality, though, what the teen needs is a therapeutic setting. Possibly, the teen has a mental health disorder that is leading to their acting out and getting into trouble. Some may have a co-occurring substance problem.

Boot camps do not provide any mental health treatment at all. These camps focus on shaping behaviors and instilling obedience through the use of negative conditioning through threats and intimidation.

This is one of the reasons why their program outcomes do not hold up over the long term. Without addressing the underlying mental health challenge, a boot camp simply returns the teen without ever treating the cause. Soon enough, the teen is likely to return to their former behaviors.

Alternatives to Teen Boot Camps

When a teenager is exhibiting major behavior issues, it may initially seem like the stricter the treatment setting, the better. For this reason, some parents are drawn to the boot camp option. What they may not realize, however, is that boot camps are not actually treatment settings at all.

For lasting behavior changes to occur, it is imperative that the teen’s mental health challenge be treated. Without taking this important step, the teen’s central problem is not being addressed. A boot camp experience only leaves the teen feeling resentful and angry, adding more fuel to the former problems.

A residential treatment center offers a truly therapeutic environment where positive behavior changes are cultivated through ongoing treatment with therapists. This approach is the antithesis of a boot camp, where fear is used to enforce compliance.

Evidence-based therapies assist the teen in examining the underlying dynamics that may be contributing to the maladaptive behaviors. Engaging in an array of therapeutic activities, the teen then receives guidance and support to help them change those behaviors.

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What a Teen Can Expect at a Residential Treatment Center

By the time a parent seeks the next level of care for a troubled teen, their teen has probably received outpatient services. The interventions provided by a school psychologist or private practice therapist may not have provided the intensive treatment the teen really needs.

Where a boot camp is a stressful experience for the teen, a residential treatment setting offers a compassionate treatment approach. The teen can expect to engage in various daily activities, within a safe, supportive environment.

A residential treatment center for teens offers what a boot camp cannot, psychiatric services, licensed therapists, academic tutors, and family centered activities. Treatment interventions may include:

Psychotherapy.

After a thorough assessment, the teen will engage in both individual and group therapy sessions. Evidence-based therapies include CBT, DBT, solution-focused therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

Family group.

Activities that involve the teen’s family members are effective in nurturing support at home.

Academic support.

The program offers on-site tutors that work directly with the teen’s school to provide ongoing academic support.

Experiential.

Experiential movement is key to engaging teen participation in the treatment process. A teen program may offer activities such as sports, hiking, equine therapy, or water sports that enhance the treatment process.

Holistic.

Holistic activities, such as yoga, art therapy, or meditation, allow teens to gain fresh insights into their thoughts and beliefs. These are also helpful methods for reducing stress.

The boot camp option has some serious flaws to consider when seeking treatment solutions for a troubled teen. Teens may “straighten up” while under the threat of punishment, but this does not help the teen make lasting changes in their attitudes and choices. Also, because the boot camp experience can be very harsh, teens may return home bearing a lot of resentment toward the parents who sent them there.

If your teen seems to be out of control and you are worried about his or her future, a boot camp is not the best option. Instead, parents should consider a residential treatment center that will actually treat any underlying issues.

BNI Treatment Centers Teen Residential Mental Health Treatment

BNI Treatment Centers is a residential mental health program for teens that offers a safe alternative to boot camps. BNI offers troubled teens a safe, nurturing treatment setting, where they can also move forward in their schoolwork. If your teen is struggling with behavior disorders or co-occurring substance abuse, call the BNI team today at

(888) 522-1504.