Juvenile boot camps have been around since the early 1980’s. They can be both privately and state-operated. Generally, they offer something akin to quick fixes when dealing with defiant adolescents. Juvenile boot camps for troubled teens were modeled after military recruit training camps, from the way drill sergeants bear down on the students to the kind of physical exercises and daily routines that they do.
Juvenile boot camps for troubled teens, however, have had its share of criticism. In terms of recidivism (repeating an undesirable behavior), boot camp doesn’t seem to be more successful than federal prison. Critics also point out that the dominating presence of an authority figure that enforces such harsh punishment only succeeds in inspiring resentment, fear, frustration, aggression, and other feelings rather than inspire true respect that leads to a personal decision for a change. Not unlike federal prison, a lot of troubled teens sent to boot camps come out more hardened, more manipulative, and even less trusting than before.
Juvenile boot camps for troubled teens further faced more controversies because of the fact that the physical exercise regiment imposed on everybody is standardized, without regard for each child’s unique physical and psychological makeup. News reports of accidental deaths, physical, emotional and psychological abuse, and the likes are reported because of the kind of approach taken towards troubled teens.
Parents who truly want to inspire real change in their teens would probably already recognize that juvenile boot camps for troubled teens may not be the best solution to the problem at all. For example, teens who have problems with alcoholism can temporarily stop drinking when placed in a juvenile boot camp where alcohol is not accessible. Their spirit can be broken, they can be scared into sobriety, but the underlying issues that pushes them to drink are not really addressed. Once they get out of juvenile boot camp, they face the same temptations and face up to old demons that were not dealt with while in camp. Boot camp may be a quick fix, but it’s a fix that doesn’t last long. There will come a time when scaring teens, screaming at them, confronting them, and trying to impose negative punishment won’t be enough to make them stop doing what they are doing.
A more effective approach for troubled teens is to help them get therapy. One of the more popular alternatives to juvenile boot camps for troubled teens is wilderness therapy. It’s more effective in the sense that therapy is part of the entirety of the program. While teens are facing up to the fact that their decisions have consequences for themselves and for the people around them, group and individual therapy can help them deal with the root of the problem. There’s no coercion involved, no physical or psychological punishment, and no negative confrontation. Most improtant of all, teens are not sent home without any kind of help that would get them through the rough period of adjusting back to their usual environment.