Handling at-risk teens who are defiant and has severe issues involving bad behavior can be very frustrating for parents. Oftentimes frustrated and angry parents threaten to send teens to boot camps in order to keep them in line. Other times, they do it because they honestly believe that their children will come out of it as more polite and obedient to authority like most military men are. Parents just want to help their children, and sometimes it would seem that boot camps are the only way to help them out.
Wilderness boot camp programs are boot camps that are situated in the wilderness and often self-identifies as an alternative therapy program. Wilderness boot camp programs use military-style discipline, exercises, and drills in order to “break” a defiant teen and create a good soldier who will follow rules, stay out of trouble, and obey authority figures. It imposes a rigorous structure and schedule and uses negative discipline for the purpose of behavior modification. It’s not uncommon for unruly children to be punished through forced physical activities (going on a long run, push-ups, sitting out in the sun), further challenging their realities, at least for a while.
While wilderness boot camps may inspire change because of the nature of discipline that they enforce on the participants, they do not have therapeutic value. Essentially, it’s like treating the symptoms without really peeking at what’s wrong underneath it. Defiant teens are defiant for a reason. You may scare them into submission through a boot camp but it doesn’t stop whatever is causing them to be defiant and eventually they will act out again or take it out on somebody else. Substance abusers may stop abusing drugs and alcohol while in a boot camp but getting over an addiction doesn’t just involve getting clean. There are many reasons why teens take drugs or alcohol. Putting your teen to a boot camp doesn’t ensure that the struggle within them is also addressed. It doesn’t ensure that the next time a dealer approaches them, they won’t buy drugs. Most of the time, teens will just work harder at hiding it.
There are also some instances where wilderness boot camps are not the right fit or solution for a child. Children with ADD/ADHD, for example, may exhibit behavior that would compel a parent to think about boot camp. They may be seen as unmotivated, hang out with the wrong crowd, highly impulsive, emotional, unfocused, and more. However, teens that have ADD/ADHD need a different kind of help to go with the structured routine. It’s not just the structure that will help them but the therapeutic side of the program as well. One cannot expect this to be provided by wilderness boot camp programs.
The wilderness is indeed a very effective means of delivering therapy. However, for teens to get the most out of it, they need to be helped. The quality, amount, and type of therapy given during wilderness camp is a lot more important in uncovering underlying issues and finding lasting and meaningful solutions for them.