Why Teen Boot Camps Don’t Always Work: Everything You Need to Know


When searching for troubled teen programs for your child, you may come across teen boot camps. In recent years, juvenile bootcamps have gained the attention of the media and are growing in popularity. As you consider the best intervention program for your troubled teen, it’s important to evaluate your child’s needs and when a teen boot camp will bring about positive results.

So, are teenage boot camps effective? In this article, we’ve outlined some contexts when a teen boot camp might not work for your troubled teen.

What are Juvenile Boot Camps?

Juvenile boot camps are programs that aim to change a troubled teen’s behavior in a highly structured environment that emphasizes strong disciplinary methods. Some troubled teens are enrolled voluntarily by their parents while others attend as an alternative to juvenile hall.

These programs range in structure and variety. Some have a religious emphasis while others are structured around a wilderness or ranch-like environment. Many teens who attend boot camps for youth are struggling with truancy, violent outbursts and a high level of rebellion and disrespect.

Boot camps for teens can be an effective initial intervention program for teens that have had a professional recommendation for such a setting. It’s important to have your child evaluated by a mental health professional before sending them to a boot camp for troubled teens.

When Behavioral Boot Camps Won’t Work

If your troubled teen is struggling with depression, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder or emotional trauma, juvenile boot camps are not a great option. Because these mental and emotional disorders are more than just acting out, there are risks that the experience could be too much for this type of troubled teen. The problem with military style boot camps in particular is that they don’t create internal motivation for change and oftentimes use the pressure of an outside force to create behavioral change. Depending on the teen, this style of intervention won’t create lasting change.

Another factor to consider is whether or not your family needs to be involved in your teen’s treatment process. Boot camps don’t typically have a program component that incorporates the family system, making it difficult to help the entire family move past old habits and relational patterns.

What To Look For in Troubled Teen Programs

The difficulty with evaluating the effectiveness of teen boot camps is that there’s been very little research done to evaluate their impact. Depending on your teen’s mental health and their unique needs, outcomes of juvenile bootcamps can vary greatly.

Here are a few factors to consider when evaluating a troubled teen program:

  • Investigate the program’s licensure and accreditation
  • What are alumni saying about the program? Are you provided a list of alumni contacts to connect with before enrollment?
  • What is the admissions criteria of the program?
  • How will the program support your teen’s transition back home?
  • How does the program evaluate change and progress in the teens that attend?
  • What is the philosophy behind the program’s therapeutic model?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but may help you as you decide whether your teen needs a juvenile bootcamp or other program for troubled teens.

If your teen daughter is struggling with depression, anxiety, school refusal or emotional trauma, we’re here for you. Give us a call today at 1-877-788-8422

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