Christian Boot Camps

You may have heard of -Christian boot camps- for struggling teens. This article explains why you should not consider sending your child to any program called a -boot camp,- Christian or otherwise. Keep reading for more advice for parents searching for help with a struggling youth.

What Is a Boot Camp?

Originally, the term boot camp referred only to the preparatory training undertaken by those entering the United States Armed Forces. This training is demanding, and can be quite difficult, but it is a time-honored rite of passage. A second type of boot camp is a program in the United States correctional system, which is designed to be less harsh than incarceration, but more demanding than probation. This type of boot camp is a form of  punishment for criminals. Boot camps for teens are modeled on one of these two: a military school programs meant to whip recruits into shape for war and a prison program meant to punish criminals. Neither is an appropriate model for helping teens who are having difficulties or struggles, and it is difficult to see how either fits with a Christian approach.

Misuse of the Term Boot Camp

It is true that both television personality Dr. Phil and retired corporal Burton Dalton - who started the Freewill Baptist boot camp in July, 2010 - are examples of people who use the term boot camp as if it were a good thing. This is an unfortunate use of terminology because, while their particular programs may have value, most programs called "boot camps" do not. The National Institute of Health (NIH) published a report to this effect in 2004 after studying the dangers of boot camps for teens. "Preventing Violence and Related Health-Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents: an NIH State-of-the Science Conference" report states:

"The evidence indicates that “scare tactics” don’t work and there is some evidence that they may make the problem worse rather than simply not working. One of the hazards of the juvenile court system is the impact of having a record on the child’s subsequent life course. Such evidence as there is indicates that group detention centers, boot camps, and other “get tough” programs can provide an opportunity for delinquent youth to amplify negative effects on each other."

The report goes on to state:

"Turning to programs that do not work, there are many flaws in both theory and execution that can cause an intervention to fail. The panel has been presented with evidence that identifies some characteristics of programs that have been shown to be unsuccessful as well as factors that make prospects for success poor. Some are the obverse of factors that lead to success, such as the failure to address strong risk factors, limited duration, and developmentally inappropriate interventions. Others include:

  • Programs that aggregate high-risk youth in ways that facilitate contagion (i.e., most likely to have harmful, iatrogenic effects)
  • Implementation protocols that are not clearly articulated
  • Staff who are not well-supervised or held accountable for outcomes
  • Programs limited to scare tactics (e.g., Scared Straight)
  • Programs limited to toughness strategies (e.g., classic boot camps)
  • Programs that consist largely of adults lecturing at youth (e.g., classic D.A.R.E.)"

Further evidence of the dangers of boot camps - even Christian boot camps so-called - can be found in the news. In 2007, two officials from a San Antonio, Texas Christian boot camp called "Love Demonstrated Ministries boot camp" were indicted for dragging a camper behind a van, tied to a rope because she was slower than the other runners. Her mother told the press that she after researching the program, she "counted on the Christian part." The court case ended in a mistrial.


With this kind of reputation for boot camps, you should question the judgment of any program that chooses to use that name. If you are seeking a rigorous program that will truly help a struggling teen, perhaps one who has been non-compliant, our best recommendation is to go to the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs website ( and use the keyword search to look for accredited programs that fit your teen's issues. Click through for "more information" on the program websites, and you will get an idea of what reliable, accredited programs may have to offer and the approaches they have found successful in dealing with the difficult issues that some teens and families face. There are Christian programs in the mix, that make faith an important element of the healing process.


"Boot camp workers indicted" -

"Christian Boot Camp: Girls Said She Was Tied to Van: Mistrial Declared in Dragging Case"  -

National Institute of Health "Preventing Violence and Related Health-Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents: an NIH State-of-the Science Conference" -

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