Boot Camps for Struggling Teens

This article helps define boot camps and addresses whether boot camps are the best choice for struggling teens. It should be noted that teen boot camps are not a part of military schools. If you are considering alternative schooling or treatment options keep reading.

Boot camp is mentioned frequently on the Internet as an alternative for people who have not been reached by other approaches. But is a boot camp really the right place for a struggling teen? Read on for an assessment.

The initial meaning of boot camp was the name for the stringent initial training that recruits undergo as they become members of one of the branches of the Armed Forces of the United Forces. This, as far as it goes, is positive. However, it is not the primary meaning being references when a boot camp for struggling teens is referred to. What is being referenced is the element of the US correctional system that fits in between the sentences of incarceration, on the one hand, and probation, on the other hand. This form of boot camp is an option to avoid jail time, but it is a sentence for an infraction of the law and a punishment. Based primarily on this model, a boot camp for struggling teens refers to a private facility in which prison-style (sometimes called military-style) discipline is used in an attempt to treat teens have difficulty and overcome recalcitrant behavioral issues.

Boot Camp Is Not a Military School

Boot camp advertisements may show pictures of teens in military uniform and refer to military-style discipline. This does not place them in the category of military school. In fact, there are very important differences. First, military schools are almost universally affiliated with the US Military in some way, often through an ROTC or JROTC program. Second, military schools most often combine a demanding college prep curriculum that has been accredited with real military discipline. Third, military schools almost universally do not accept students whose behavior and ethics are not demonstrably exemplary - they are looking for leaders who are already capable of self-discipline and prepared to meet the challenge of a tough academic and challenging athletic program. Boot camps, by contrast, may be totally without an academic focus and accreditation. Second, boot camps are focused on remediation through punitive techniques. Third, the students that a boot camp would accept would not be admitted to a military school.

Boot Camp Is Not an Appropriate Choice for a Struggling Teen

It is unfortunate that Dr. Phil has used the term boot camp and given it validity. Contrary to the impression he provides, boot camps are actually a dangerous place to send a teen. Please read the NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Preventing Violence and Related Health-Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents available here:

In this document, the National Institutes of Health conclude that of the interventions that were touted as successful for reducing substance abuse, delinquency, or violence effectively, there were only two that were consistent, effected change without “compromising side effects,” and showed sustained results for at least one year after the intervention was complete. A boot camp approach was not one. The NIH document suggests that boot camp situations are actually ones in which negative activities tend to spread among participants and that evidence does not support the use of “scare tactics” so often employed in boot camp programs.

In addition, the features of successful treatment - a clinical approach, often employing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), lasting at least a year, in a developmentally appropriate approach, and not “delivered in coercive institutional settings” - does not describe a boot camp. Further, they specifically conclude that “programs limited to toughness strategies (e.g., classic boot camps)” do not work.

The study does not raise the point that young people have both been abused and died in boot camps. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6358: Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008, in June, 2008, but a Senate vote was never held. Reintroduced as H.R. 911: Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009, and passed again by the House in February 2009, it remained to be acted on by the Senate by the third week of April, 2010.


NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Preventing Violence and

Related Health-Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents.

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