Benefits and Risks of Wilderness Programs for Young Adults

In the last 20 or so years, American parents have found out about teenagers and trouble. Millions of parents have had a child go missing, take drugs, become promiscuous, consider suicide and even get involved in petty and serious crime. Why kids go off the rails is not the subject of this article.

Here we discuss wilderness camps as a way of helping delinquents and other teens who are troubled. What are the benefits and risks of wilderness camps?

First the benefits. Studies show that the majority, the vast majority of kids who attend a wilderness camp because they are troubled benefit in some way from their experience. Many manage to turn their life around and go home a truly changed young adult.

Remember that the therapists travel with the teens. When the group goes into the wilderness from the base camp, it is not just a hiking party. The adult guides are trained professionals. They know first aid and survival in the wilderness. And they are therapists in the field of teenage problems – drug addiction, alcohol binge drinking, human relationships with family and peers and much more.

The teens not only get to tackle all sorts of challenges outdoors, they get to discuss their emotional concerns and other problems with a professional who is always by their side. It’s a wonderful way of helping kids who need help.

But it’s not all peaches and cream. In fact there have been a number of deaths of young people while attending a wilderness camp. Drowning, heat stroke and lack of proper medical attention during an emergency are some of the sad and sobering incidents.

There has been a long debate on the issue of government or self-regulation. States are moving on the issue and as a result, many operators have closed down.

Of course even one death is one too many and any form of negligence or poor control must be eradicated, but in general terms, all the studies point to a well-run wilderness camp being an excellent way to reach out to and then give lasting assistance to unhappy young adults.

Before you commit your teen to a wilderness program, put some or all of these questions to the operators of the program.

  • Is the camp licensed?
  • Are the staff professionally qualified and registered?
  • What are the qualifications of the staff?
  • What is the experience of the staff?
  • What follow up program do you offer to those who complete the course?
  • Does the camp have a history of injury or death to anyone on the camp?
  • Is the operator a member of any professional organization?
  • Can the parents be involved in any way?

Here are additional resources you might be interested in:

Benefits of an Adult Wilderness Programs

Do Wilderness Programs for Teens Really Work?