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May
13

Has anyone out there ever sent their teen to a boot camp, and if so, was it a good experience for your child? I’ve heard good and bad things over the years, myself. My friend’s son had a great experience at wilderness camp, and really turned his life around. Another friend’s teen-age son also had an incredible experience at a similar type of camp, but in his case the life-changing part only lasted about 2 weeks, according to my friend, when he reverted to his old ways once home. So far I haven’t personally known anyone who has been injured or hurt at camp, but I’m curious to hear if any of you have.

In fact, if you follow the news on boot camps, you’ve probably heard that teen therapeutic camps have been in the spotlight this past year for what the government has called a β€œrisk of abuse, injury or death.” These seem to have occurred mainly at private, unaccredited camps–of which there are many all over the country.

During the congressional hearing, parents and GAO investigators detailed abuses that their children went through at certain (usually unaccredited) camps, including being made to eat their own vomit and to sleep in feces and urine.Β  There are at least ten cases where children actually died due to negligence on the part of the camp they attended, and that number is growing.

While many of these publicly- funded camps are regulated in their individual states, often private camps are not. A good resource to use to check the credibility of boot camps is The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, www.natsap.org. Their website includes information on different programs, referring professionals, and program directories.

Has anyone out there sent their teen or pre-teen to bootcamp, wilderness camp or something similar? Please let us know how it went, and cast your vote–would you recommend this to other parents, provided the camp was a good one?


     

If you find any comments that are rude or inappropriate, please contact us immediately.

  • Maia Szalavitz Says:

    Actually, many of the programs that had deaths and serious abuse problems *were* NATSAP members, including the one in which Paul Lewis’ son died. How did he die? He was sent to the program because he was suicidally depressed. He threatened to commit suicide. The program thought he was faking and ignored him. He hung himself. The program had *no* plan for dealing with suicides and Ryan’s threats were *not* evaluated by professional staff.

    There is *no* evidence that these programs help *anyone*– and lots of risk. Anecdote is not evidence. If your child has a particular problem, find professionals who deal with *that problem* not with a one-size-fits-all punitive program that says it can treat Asperger’s with the same approach it uses on addiction.

    And if a program will not let you talk to your child, makes your child “earn” the privilege of talking with you, or tells you to ignore your child’s complaints of abuse– run the other direction. If you are told to automatically ignore complaints, how would you know if they are true? Any program that sees all teens with mental health problems as “liars” and “manipulators” doesn’t empathize with teens and therefore will not be effective in treating them and will be dangerous, as real health complaints will be ignored.

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    Maia, Thanks for that important clarification about unaccredited vs. accredited camps. Parents need to know the risks that may be involved when they send their kids to these boot camps. (Admittedly, the places my friends’ children attended were the “wilderness experience” type of camps, which focused on building positive problem-solving skills, not on punishing the kids for misbehaving.) And by the way, I agree with you completely–finding a professional who deals with the specific problem your child has is the best way to get them the help they need. Thanks for weighing in.

  • Sylvia Says:

    Does EP know of any camps that have been beneficial for kids with ADHD/ODD?

  • Maia Says:

    You’re welcome… the thing is, many wilderness programs take a punitive approach even when they tell parents that they don’t. And they still have the same problem of unqualified staff (many do not even have high school degrees) and believing kids are “liars” and “manipulators.” One of the other people who testified at the hearings had her daughter die at the Catherine Freer wilderness program– which has a wonderful reputation and is a NATSAP member but despite knowing that the girl was taking medications that could elevate body temperature and had taken methamphetamine (which does the same), they still took her into the desert and ignored her when she began showing signs of dehydration and heat stroke.

    This industry desperately needs regulation and parents need to know that there is no evidence that the programs are safer for their children than not sending them.

  • Allyson Says:

    We sent our 15 year old to the Marine Military Academy last summer for a month of camp. It is a college prep school with a summer camp compenent. It is very strict – modeled after the Marines. I didn’t hear about or observe any inappropriate treatment of the kids. They are held accountable for their actions, and rewarded for acheivement. It did start to instill some good habits of respect, orderliness, self-discipline. However one month wasn’t long enough. After a few days he was back to his old bad habits. A year of military school would probably be much more effective (which we are considering).

  • Dave Says:

    Prompted by his counselor, we sent our son to a program, where he was soon attacked by 3 other boys. He required facial reconstruction surgery and could have died from the brutal attack. We sued that program and won. After recovering, our son still needed intense counseling help, so we looked long and hard and found the Heartlight Residential Center for Troubled Teens, located in East Texas. What a difference. Talk about a transformation! We are so delighted with their program and staff. I can’t say enough about Heartlight. So, the moral of the story is this…thoroughly check out the program and talk to other parents who have put their child in that program before you send your child there.

  • Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Says:

    Hi Everyone. In emailing with Maia after she posted her comment, I found out that she’s also the author of a book about teen boot camps called, “Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.” She’s also written the following articles about boot camps that you may want to check out:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/28/AR2006012800062_pf.html
    http://www.motherjones.com/news/update/2008/05/when-is-tough-love-torture.html
    http://www.reason.com/news/show/117088.html

  • Denny Strecker Says:

    I would like to recommend martial arts to all parents. Some schools have Summer programs and most will teach year round. There are schools that specialize in behavior issues like ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, etc that can help give parents some tools to working with these issues. Martial arts can also improve your child’s self-confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem without having to throw them into a military situation. Make sure you throughly check out ANY program that you want your child to participate in – do your homework.

  • Denice Says:

    I sent my 12 year old son to a Christian weekend boot camp. It was an incredible experience for him and for the whole family. His changes actually lasted for about a year and a half. He even gave me a list of 50 reasons why he loved me for mother’s day, which was one month after, and sending him to bootcamp was #4. That next season of baseball, many parents commented on what a polite young man and what a team player he was. I wish the results lasted longer, but it was worth it.

  • Laurel Says:

    After many months of investigations into different theraputic camps for our angry and depressed son we finally chose one. There were many things that they lied to us about. One thing was that it was not suppose to be a religion based program – the entire group running the place, besides being one big family, was Morman and pushed their beliefs on the kids. They also took in wards of the state and my son witnessed many acts of abuse on those children. I trusted these people with my son and I feel that it has put a scar on his heart that may never be healed. The only thing good that came out of it when my husband drove out to Utah to rescue him was how much he appreciated being home but now he has a phobia of leaving home and he is almost 18. He is fine and helpful at home but I had to pull him out of school and get a GED.

  • Stan Quock Says:

    I sent my 14 1/2 yr old daughter to Redcliff Ascent in Utah. I thought the program was great and she learned a lot of
    survival skills and her self-esteem went way up. She was there for 3 months and graduated from the program. Unfortunately it was not long enough for all the learning to stick. I had to send her to another
    troubled teen program for another 14 months for her to finally get it. My only fault with the program was the high cost.

  • David Clarke Says:

    We sent our 14 year old son to turnabout ranch in Utah. We did a lot of research but still were anxious. There is nothing similar in Canada, and most professionals and friends recommended against it. But he was going deeper into drugs, was violent and unapproachable. All the progreams in Canada are “voluntary”. In the belief that they can only help him if he wants to be helped. If we continued down that path, he would probably be dead now, since he clearly didn’t want any help. The turnabout program included well qualified caring staff. It was tough but he gained a lot from it. He got off drugs, gained self esteem, overall health improved immensely. The only downside was lack of followup after the program. The improvements in personality did not last more than a few days. But he has never gone back to the hard drugs, and we have had more success in working through the issues with him. He is now 17 and going through a 2 month day program with AADAC for which he has volunteered, becuase he finally realizes this is not the life he wants. I would definely do it again, and recommend it to others.

  • Marianne Says:

    We sent our 14 year old to a Wilderness therapy camp in Oregon about 1 year ago and it the best thing we could have done. He was only gone for about 3 weeks but it forced him and our whole family to face some realities of our family dynamics that were affecting him to the point of self destructive and delinquent behaviors. We did this upon the recommendation of our family therapist. It was a heartwrenching choice to make as a parent but here we are 1 year later and he is a whole new kid with a whole new attitude. He did not experience any negative physical or mental treatment at the camp just some serious soul searching and
    realignent of his values and place in the world. It was his wake up call. Had we not made that choice I can only imagine we would have been on a path of drug use, poor grades and who knows what else.

  • Sueblurb Says:

    I’m so scared. I hired an educational consultant to find a place for my 16 yr old son. He was getting deeper n deeper into negative peers. We trusted this lady and now have sent my son to a 12 mo “therapuetic camp”. We are allowed no contact with him for 60 days. He somehow kept his cell phone and has contacted us about abuse toward him. The couselers are cruel. And yelled at him for crying. I don’t know what to do. Please someone help me. He’s only been there 4 days. He beggs to come home– am I over-reacting. Also the admin guy said that sometimes w/ defiant kids they are not allowed to sleep w/ the other boys for the 1st nite. Well because he flipped us off while we were leaving they gave him a week in a pup tent.

  • Carole Banks, LCSW Says:

    Dear SueBlurb: From what you are telling us, we would recommend that if you believe your son is being abused, you should remove him from that program.

  • debra Says:

    I considered sending my out of control son to a camp 2 years ago. He ended up going to live with his father and in the meantime I read the book β€œHelp at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.”
    I was mortified and embarassed that I ever considered sending my child to such an awful environment.
    We have alot of issues and currently he is not at home since he ran away from his fathers house. Even with him having run away I still feel relieved that I never sent my child to an environment of emotional and physical abuse.
    I contacted my local congressional and senate representatives to push for federal oversight of these programs. It is a shame that these programs are robbing middle class families not only of their money but also of their childs heart and soul.

  • Mark C. Says:

    We sent our then 18 year old to wilderness therapy in Utah. He was there for 77 days and had a remarkable transformation. This was a high quality program with incredible conselors and staff. These programs can make a difference, but you must do your research.

  • catherine Says:

    I sent my son to a wilderness therapy camp in Utah, and he is now attending a therapeutic program in Montana. He is 17 years old. I am still unsure how much it is helping him. I can tell you that if we hadn’t sent him, he could have been dead by now. He was on a very dangerous path. He is an addict. This past week, a friend lost her son due to a drug overdose. So….I guess I am glad that I sent my son. I have been using this time, while he is learning to be sober, learning to be a more effective parent. I just ordered the Total Transformation, am having very high quality therapy with a christian therapist, and praying for my son, as well as every family and child going through what we are going through. It is hell! I think that you have to really research the programs out there. There are really good ones that have caring, qualified staff. Sometimes you have to trust that someone can help your child better than you can. However, you must use this time, while your child is away, to set criteria in your home so that when they do come home, you will be prepared to handle them.

  • Suzannemo Doci Says:

    WE sent my daughter to Turn About Ranch in Utah, In fact Iam on my way to pick her up as she graduates from the program. I did some research and felt we had to do something drastic to get her attention. She was flunking school, defiant and surrounding herself with the wrong influences. At our arrival it was much worse then I expected. Very rustic and basic. For the cost I guess I was expecting more of a dude ranch setting. Her initial session with her therapist resulted in him telling me she would be very difficult to transform. Over the weeks she slowly responded to their strict but consequencial program. Their methods cause the teens to evaluate and go within themselves to take a serious look at where the choices they make can take their life. Her letters began improving and at mid-term visit she was the beautiful wonderful daughter I had once had. I could not believe the difference. She now is goal oriented and is proud of her accomplishments and choices. She is anxious to do great in school. She is thankful to me for sending her. She is appreciative and respectful of adults and authority figures, as she understands now we are all guideing her in a positive direction for her. She has learn hard work pays off and that fun is a result, and not the only thing in life. Iam confident that she will continue to use the skills she learned at the ranch to stay on tract and have a great life. I wish all parents could send their teens there. The cost was very expensive but the results saved my daughter a life of misery, and that is priceless.

  • Missy Says:

    I was given an opportunity to leave my son with a wonderful family who would have put him in order really quickly and in a good environment however; if I look at the big picture it really wouldn’t have helped. I saw that even if he made great changes it still wouldn’t have been with his own family. It is not easy work to change the way we deal with the kids but it is possible and so worth the efforts.

    I will say our relationship with our son is so much more than I ever thought possible. One slow step at a time works wonders!!!

  • Kelly Says:

    I sent my brother to Outward Bound Wildnerness camp for 22 days,, and it was great: he learned more skills, did not eat junk food or showered for those 22 days, except before he came home.. and the things he did helped him grow and see his potential. I wish I had sent him to the same or different camp but in the same program this summer before he enters his senior year! I wish I had thought of doing it when he got out for the summer… oh well..

  • Shelley White Says:

    After years of struggleing with my son’s ADHD and ODD and drug addiction in teenage years, we sent him to a boarding school program that deals with behavior disorders and/or addiction. I am happy to say after twenty months and many tears he just graduated from high school there as Salutatorian and is home attending the community college and is a wonderful man of respect and integrity. The school is Cross Creek in LaVerkin, Utah. They will even try to bill out therapy to insurance. It was worth every penny! He received more help than any therapist here was capable of doing along with consequences and rewards for his progress. Please be aggressive with geeting help for your child and the family unit, which they also treat!

  • Susan Says:

    My son is a 14 yo with Bipolar Disorder, OCD, ADHD, and ODD. He was a straight A student with great friends (although he struggled with anxiety and OCD from the time he was very young) until the end of sixth grade. His moods became very labile and his behavior became uncontrollable. After a few years of this, His therapist felt that he needed more help than he could give him once a week. (He had also been in two partial hosptialization programs etc.)Our family was wiped out. We had done everything we knew possible to help him. We were very proactive. It was recommended that we put him in a therapeutic boarding school or a residential treatment program. It was hard to know where he belonged because these are two different levels of help. Residential treatment programs are very structured and focus on therapy every day in addition to school. (Kids with behavioral problems due to mental illness, drug addiction, sexual problems, adoption issues that lead to behavioral problems, or whatever else might have triggered problems.) Therapeutic boarding schools as I understand it, are a bit less structured and focus more on school. With great angst but with resolve, we placed our son in a residential treatment program in Utah. We talk to him twice a week, and have family therapy over the phone with the therapist once a week. We just got back from a family seminar there and a Leave of Absence for 3 days with our son. He looks great, has lost 25 pounds, exercises every day, is making B’s in school (he was starting to fail his classes before) and is relatively happy. He admits that he needs to be there. He has friends there. He is making positive changes although he has a lot of work to do still. He is able to control his anger now. He no longer rages. That’s not to minimize how difficult it was to make the decision to send a child that far away from home, how upset they are at first. But it didn’t take too long (about 2 weeks for our son) before he started to fall in and settle down. It was the best decision we could have ever made. God Bless these people who work with these troubled youth. They are a breed apart and they can work miracles. The miracles come with a price and that is the very hard work your child has to do while they are there. There are many reasons to consider this for a child. Talk with your therapists and psychiatrist. Check with your insurance program to see if they cover residential treatment programs. Call a few residential treatment programs and talk to them or Hire an educational consultant to help you find the right place but make sure you get a good referral for one from your school guidance counselor. Utah has a lot of these places because of their pro-parent laws meaning the parents do not have to have the permission of their kids to go. The kids are unable to sign themselves out until they are 18. Some kids are willing to go. Mine was not and we had to hire an escort service to come get him and take him there. The facilities give you the names of good companies who do this. Anyway, Some educational consultants have the best interest of certain facilities in mind more than your kid. If you have insurance, they typically will only cover a few months and then they drop coverage but get a list of who they cover. This will help you narrow the playing field. These programs refer you to companies that can help you get long term loans that are manageable to pay for it. Our son has an IEP so the school district will pay for part of this since it is also his school. We have to go to court and had to hire an attorney. I went back to work but we are committed to helping our son have every possible chance of a good life. We are told that he will probably be there 10 months to a year. He will get to come home a few times to help with the transition back home. We are also told he will need to go to a smaller school, but it does not need to be a specialized school. One year in a residential program really helps them in so many ways. Because of it, they are often way ahead of their peers in many areas. By the way, many of the kids who go to residential programs have gone to the wilderness camps first. They usually have a meltdown there and after 3 months or so, the idea is for them to go to a residential treatment program. By then, they are able to settle down and do the work of getting better. The parents we spoke to said it was a great move. No one got hurt. The kids greatly benefited. I wish we would have done it first in hindsight. Good luck to any of you who are considering this.

  • trak Says:

    I heard from a friend that her son was sent to one of these camps by court order from the judge. Come to find out her son ended up in the hospital. Someone from the camp dropped him off and never stayed with him until the mother arrived. He was having a hard time breathing because he had to do hours and hours of physical exercise as a punishment. He almost died. Needless to say, the parents are suing.

  • Debra Says:

    Several years ago my husband and I made the decison to send our son to a Christian Flying H youth ranch in Naches, Washington.It was an extremely difficult decision that we struggled with for over a year feeling that if we could not parent our son, then something must be wrong with us. My son who has ADHD and ODD was completely out of control and we feared that he would end up in jail. He was also tearing our entire family apart.The caring/loving staff there did what we could not do and held my son accountable for his actions and decisions 24 hours a day. The young men there all have chores and responsibilities and there are consequences for not following the rules. If a boy’s room is not in order then he misses breakfast, etc. Priviledges are earned.School is held in small classrooms with lots of 1 to 1 teacher time.They hold several weekend retreats with all of the families to work on issues that led to the boy going there. My son is now a happy well adjusted young man who is serving a tour in the National Guard in Iraq. He says to this day that sending him to the ranch changed his life and was the best decision that we had ever made.

  • B. L. Albury Says:

    Hi! I read your opinions about boot camps. Yes, I have sent my daughter to a boot camp. The first time she went she was 11 years old. She went 3 years in a row. But when she turned 14, she refused to go or didn’t want to go.
    She did have one bad experience there. She has ashma and they still pushed her to do the obsticle course. Then she got a serious ashma attack. After this happened, then they made her walk the obsticle course. But the camp was told by me in writing that she has ashma. But because they didn’t get a note from her doctor, they ignored it and thought I was just taking up for my child. I don’t know what would have happened if she had an attack so bad that she would have had to go to the hospital! They would have been totally responsible for what would have happened! She could have died! I was so upset when she came home and told me all this! Anyway, for all those out there who are sending their child to boot camps on a regular basis, be careful and make sure it is a Christian camp and that your child is taken care of properly.

  • sandra s Says:

    My son is 14 and we are considering a wilderness program at the rec of an educational consultant. He is flunking school, not succeeding at the alternative school, acting out with anger and physical aggression, impulsive behavior and manipulative, constant profanity and disrespect, using pot, low self esteem, some anxiety.
    What I’d like to know is if anyone has had experience sending a child to Aspiro in Utah?
    Thanks

  • gilgo Says:

    I am just wondering — if the teen is 18 — is it more effective to give them a curfew or a specific time to get up and to come home at night, and then give them two weeks to get a job (if they have dropped out of school), or they will be locked out – and if they come home stoned, they will be locked out the next night, and so on. Because when they come back from their wonderful wilderness experience they will still have to face their real life and the same friends and the same neighborhood, and still have to learn to deal with the environment they live in and take responsibility for their lives.

  • elena Says:

    The empowering parents help us so much to find the chanels for the problems we are facing with our 14 old son.I was reading some of the coments refering isues for problem kids,and i am asking if someone has recommandation for boot camps or wildernnes camps,on east coast of USA.

  • JB Says:

    I strongly recommend Pathways Teen/Family Camp (www.createagreatlife.org). This is not a “camp”, per se — it’s a week long training that includes parents as well as teens. It addresses the entire family system. It stresses commitment and accountability. It teaches respect. It uses natural consequences for behaviors, and it teaches parents many of the same techniques as the EP program. It works for teens who need merely a little bit of focus, as well as teens who are involved in drugs and other impulsive/harming behaviors.

    While Pathways is not a true “boot camp”, it is experiential learning, in that it uses physical components, challenges, ROPES course, small- and large-group work, and other games and activities to teach the principles. I believe that it operates on Maslow’s hierarchy, in that the assumption is made that one’s physical needs must be met before they are able to focus on their emotional needs.

    Pathways is not “religious”, but it absolutely does have a spiritual component. It allows for religious expression of all flavors.

    I have participated in Pathways as a trainee, and all of my teen children have attended Teen/Family camp — more than once. I believe in the program so much that I now volunteer for them as a Training Assistant.

  • JB Says:

    Oh, let me just correct one thing in that last post: there is a more complete website: http://www.createagreatfamily.org. It will take you straight to the Teen/Family portion of the training.

  • NYC Says:

    I just came across this, and noted that Sandra S had asked back in January about Aspiro in Utah. It may be a bit late to help Sandra, but my son attended Aspiro’s Vantage Point program last summer and I can’t say enough good things about it! It is an amazing program, with very caring and smart people running it, and nothing for a parent to fear! It is hard to take the step to send one’s child to these programs, but the folks at Aspiro gave us confidence to take that step, and it was the best thing we ever did. The program is great about communicating with families. We were able to email our son letters, spoke to him weekly (although this is at the discretion of the therapist, I believe, and not always the case). We also had weekly sessions with his therapist, and received weekly email reports, complete with photos. There was also a family weekend, which was fantastic, and which gave us an opportunity to spend time with our son, meet the people who were working with him, participate (with our son) in workshops and activities, and meet the other families in the program. The program is unique I think. The kids go all over Utah and have lots of amazing experiences seeing some of the most beautiful areas in our country. They are not just hiking endlessly. Among other things, my son learned to rock climb, mountain bike and appreciate his life. He began the process of accepting his unique challenges. Aspiro has a base camp which the kids return to each week for their therapy and phone calls. Some of the kids who attended the program went on to different therapeutic programs and others returned home. Your child’s therapist helps you figure out what comes next.

  • Alicia Says:

    I have an 8 year old who fits what everyone elses teens are doing minus drug/alcohol use. Is there any programs in Utah for this age group? it seems kids these days are starting out younger and younger in this behavior. Also he has ADHD/ODD.

  • Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Says:

    Hi Alicia. We do not have any knowledge of specific programs in Utah, nor are we affiliated with any such programs in any way. It might help for you to contact the 211 Helpline, an information and referral service in Utah. You can reach them by dialing 211 on your phone or by visiting them at http://www.211.org. They will be able to let you know if there are any local resources that will help you with your son. We wish you the best. Take care.

  • slc Says:

    I have worked in a residential treatment and a wilderness program in Utah, and I have visited several other programs. The good news is that I’ve never seen abuse and, for the most part, have found that the staff and therapists in these programs are genuinely invested in helping the students. The trouble is, it is difficult to know if a program is one of the good ones like where I worked or not. It can be especially hard because some students will lie through their teeth about what is happening to them to try to make their parents feel guilty and take them home. If you know your child lies a lot, you’re at a loss for knowing the truth about what is going on.

    If I were going to send my child to a program and wasn’t personally familiar with them, I would definitely use an educational consultant. Educational Consultants visit every program they refer to. More importantly, they have sent other students to those programs and have heard back personally from those students, after treatment, about their experience. Ed Consultants are not cheap, but they’re worth it. Then, if I could, I would visit the programs they recommend. In one program where I worked, visiting parents were allowed to meet with a few students alone so they could ask them any question they wanted. If the program is trustworthy, they ought to allow you to do that. It’s a little trickier with wilderness programs because the camp sites are usually an hour or more away from their main office. But I’d still ask if there was a way I could visit a camp site to see what it was like and to potentially talk to the students in the program.

    This is far from an easy process, and I feel for parents going through it because it is so painful and difficult. I’ve seen a lot of kids go through programs and there is a lot of good that can be done in them. Good luck with your search!

  • Ladyz Says:

    I can honestly say that I agree with some of the above comments and disagree with others. When our son was 16 years old we sent him to a wilderness program followed by a residential treatment center; both in Utah. We used an educational consultant. Aside from being totally useless, she then became horribly rude after cashing our $5000.00 check. With regard to wilderness camp, it is simply okay. It is another money pit. The residential treatment center was a disaster!!! Rude staff, verbally and physically abusive. It was a total detriment. Whatever good there was from wilderness was ruined by the RTC. Last but not least was the escort service. They were very nice people, however being escorted out of your home at 3am by 2 strangers is beyond traumatic. This entire process has scarred my son for life. I desperately wish I could turn the clock back and undo this disaster.