Is Boot Camp The Right Option for Your Troubled Teen?

What Parents Need to Know About Sending a Teen to Boot Camp

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Parents of troubled teens will try almost anything to get their kid back on the right track. There are many options and one of those is a teen boot camp. This controversial option is an appropriate choice for some teens but can potentially make problems worse for others. 

It is important for parents to understand what a boot camp is before sending their teen to one. It may work great for turning around a kid who is headed to a life of crime, but it may be too severe for teens struggling with mental health issues or minor behavioral problems.

Inform yourself about all of your options before making a decision and talk to a neutral party. Your teen's doctor, counselor, pastor or another adult in their life may be able to give you insight and help you research the alternatives from an impartial perspective.

What You Need to Know About Teen Boot Camps

Most teen boot camp programs are similar to boot camps for the military. Teen boot camps include staff with a drill sergeant mentality and the enforcement of military-like discipline. Teens often live in barracks and there is a lot of time spent doing physical activity like exercise and marching.

Parents are often attracted to these programs, especially when no other program has worked. They hope that a tough, disciplined setting will finally straighten their kid out. 

The concept of boot camps for teens started as an alternative to jail for teenagers who committed crimes. Most state-run programs continue to serve this population.

There are now privately run boot camps that use the same military structure and focus on intense physical conditioning.

The Pros and Cons of Teen Boot Camps

The Pros

The biggest advantage is that boot camps teach self-control, responsibility and respect for authority.

There are some troubled teens who will benefit from the intense structure and discipline.

Teens involved in illegal activity who are headed for a life of crime without substantial intervention are some of the best candidates for boot camp.

It’s also an option to consider for an extremely defiant or rebellious teen who hasn’t succeeded in other programs. 

The Cons

The biggest disadvantage is that boot camps do not generally include therapeutic programs. They are not designed to deal with the underlying emotional or behavioral problems most troubled teens are struggling with.

For teens struggling with depression, anxiety, self-harm, drug use, low self-esteem and many other problems, this is an extreme option. It is most likely going to make their problems worse. 

Final Thoughts on Teen Boot Camps

It is worth noting that many therapeutic programs for teens are advertising they are ‘not boot camps’ - which really isn’t fair to boot camps. These programs have their place but it’s a limited one. Boot camps are best suited for teens involved in the juvenile justice system or teens who are headed in that direction.

It should also be noted that not all boot camps are the same. One may have a stricter program than another and some have even gone to extremes in their disciplinary actions. There have been reports of teens dying at boot camps and that, understandably, caused a lot of concern with parents, child therapists and government authorities.

Parents should do their research on an individual boot camp before sending their teen to it. Look into the camp's history, do an internet search and talk to other parents who sent their teen there.

Make sure you know where you are sending your child. No matter how hard you have struggled with your teen, it is still your job as a parent to keep them safe. That is, after all, why you want to get them help, right?

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