Boot Camps for Trouble Kids

Teen boot camps are generally considered to be a short-term solution for helping troubled teens overcome their defiant behaviors. Sending teens to boot camp is meant to be a way to teach them to respect authority, as a program of strict discipline and rigorous physical exercises is intended to make a teen more conforming. Achieving change is difficult, but once a teen accepts personal responsibility for his behavior, he is probably going to develop a better attitude. According to the American Psychological Association, individuals are more likely to make positive changes in their lives once they discover their own strengths. One of the benefits of boot camp may be that it gives teens an opportunity to learn more about themselves.

Structure

Teen boot camps operate similarly to military boot camps. Teens live in a barracks where they are isolated from the outside world for a time. The goal of these kinds of camps is to enforce discipline on teens with indifferent attitudes. The ages of the children accepted into a program are 12 to 18 years old. Teens attending boot camp are expected to comply with the rules and treat others with respect. Staff members work with teens in a group environment rather than individually.
Patterned after adult military boot camps, the daily schedule is constant and teens are expected to obey. The days are filled with physically challenging activities aimed at building self esteem and character, as working with others as part of a team encourages trust.

Types

While most boot camp programs for troubled teens last 20 to 40 days, there are also summer boot camp programs as short as two weeks in duration or longer 12-month programs. There are even some boot camps that only last for a weekend. Camps are owned by private organizations or by the state. Specialty boot camps and church sponsored boot camps may address a teen’s spiritual well-being or particular behavioral problems such as substance abuse. Many times, counseling by ministers or other church leaders is offered in place of therapy.
Some private boot camps offer therapy specifically for substance abuse. Most of these specialty programs are long-term residential treatment centers or specialty boarding schools that may offer behavior modification programs, individual and group therapy, family counseling and a good academic program.
Some of the private programs for teens with substance abuse problems have either a doctor or nurse on staff.

Warning

Boot camps for teenagers are not suited to every child’s personality. If your teen is confused or has difficulty handling emotional issues, he may require a counseling program oriented more toward the individual so that he can receive the emotional support he needs.
Teen boot camps are usually short term programs, not intended as long-term treatment alternatives for seriously troubled teens. These military-style programs are designed to provide several weeks of rigorous physical activity for teens who may be slacking off a bit in school.

Expectations

It’s important for parents not to have unrealistic expectations. If you enroll your teen in a boot camp program, you should be prepared to continue the discipline when your child comes home, particularly if you want to reinforce what he learned while he was away. However, keep in mind that while positive discipline can be firm discipline. You will be communicating with your teen differently from the commands he received at boot camp. Not only will the communication style of your family be different from what he was used to at camp, the rules at home are likely to be different as well.

Cost

Most private boot camps offer programs that last for 30 days. Most programs cost between $2,000 and $5,000 each month, some as much as $10,000 for one month. Many private camps offer financial aid to help families fund the cost of tuition. Financial aid applications normally request information such as total family income, amount of assets and debt, number of family members and annual health care costs. If you apply for financial aid for your child, you will be required to provide a copy of your most recent federal income tax return as proof of income. State funded programs are free, but most of the juveniles participating have been ordered there by the court.

What the Experts Say

Parenting expert Vanessa Van Petten tells parents who are considering a boot camp program for their teens to do their homework first. She advises parents to get plenty of references and not to be afraid to make surprise visits to see how a program actually operates. Parents should also make certain that any programs for emotionally troubled teens have counselors and therapists on staff. Psychologists say that before a teen can make permanent changes in behavior, he must first realize that there are problems with his behavior. Only then can the teen work to develop a more positive outlook, which results in better behavior.

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