Court-ordered to Bootcamp: How We Found the Right Camp for Our Son

Posted February 19, 2009 by

When we were stuck in the muck of substance abuse, anger, belligerence and failed probation with our son, I didn’t know where to turn.  Other parents who were also struggling didn’t want to share. There didn’t seem to be a clearinghouse of information or resources, yet I knew there had to be help and information available. But where?  Luckily, there are professionals who can guide you through the process of finding a program to help your child and provide relief to you.

The person who held the key to unlock the door to healing for our family was an educational consultant, an individual with a background in education and experience working with hurting and angry teens.  Many of these individuals have had personal experience with a family member with the same problems; it was their pilgrimage in search of help that equipped them to help others.

Here is our story, along with steps we took towards a solution. Perhaps you will see some of your own story in the following words, taken from my book, Winning the Drug War at Home.

It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but it felt like I had already crammed a day’s worth of events into the hours since I had forced myself out of bed. Seated in the high school office around a table that sagged from overuse, I joined my husband, Howie, our son Matt who was in eleventh grade, his guidance counselor and his probation officer.

The scene was familiar but just as difficult as ever. We were gathered to review Matt’s probation performance. Matt had made his choices, so we sat in silence as we waited for the probation officer to offer her recommendations. This morning her words were swift and decisive.

“Matt, I’ve had it with you.” Frustration and annoyance were evident in her voice. “We’ve given you every opportunity to straighten yourself out, and you’re not doing it. You’ve lied to me and to your parents, and I’m fed up. I’ve spoken to my chief and we are court-ordering you out of your home. I’m recommending you go to Boot Camp.”

Silence followed. Boot Camp. The image was clear in my mind — a place where arsonists, burglars, sex offenders, and violent kids were discarded and locked up.

The universal silence continued, but represented different thoughts for all of us at the table. Howie and I waited, chilled and sobered by the thought of Matt spending time in such negative company. Disbelief and shock spread slowly across Matt’s face. It had been clear that he felt he was immune from the rules and standards that applied to everyone else. But now, slowly, the realization that he couldn’t slide through without consequences caught up with him and seemed to be registering. The guidance counselor remained silent while the probation officer waited for her words to sink in and for Matt to speak.

“You’ve got to be kidding me” was all he could muster in response.

“Matt,” she said, as just a hint of sarcasm worked its way into her voice, “Why would you think I’m kidding? You’ve blown me off, violated probation several times, and I’ve had it. You’ve had lots of chances and you’ve wasted every single one.”

Matt’s shoulders sagged and his entire body deflated, acknowledging imminent defeat.

I broke my silence and asked if it would be possible to consider a therapeutic alternative to Boot Camp. I wanted Matt to grow and heal from his poor choices, not be immersed in a setting where he would learn more bad habits from kids experienced in ways of beating the system. I wanted him in a positive environment that would have a strong therapeutic role. His dad and I asked if the court would consider sending him to a therapeutic wilderness program in place of boot camp.

How had we gotten to this place? What were the options? How did I even know that such a thing as a therapeutic wilderness program existed?

What you can do:

  1. Find an educational consultant. An excellent resource for locating these individuals and other information about hurting teens can be found in The Woodbury Reports. A wealth of information can be found at their web site at:
  2. We worked with an educational consultant who runs an educational consulting service.
  3. It is critical to line yourself up with someone who you feel you can trust and with whom you can communicate.  These kids don’t come with an owner’s manual that have a section on how to handle these issues, so it is important to work with people who are experienced and know what they are doing.
  4. Depending on how much time you have, it is a good idea to check out two or three different consultants. In many ways it is like choosing a primary care physician. The educational consultant acts as a liaison between the child, family and therapeutic program identifying one that is best able to meet the individual family’s needs, and often can achieve placement for the child in a program more quickly than if you were working alone. They have relationships with the program directors, have visited the programs and have a network of parent references available to talk to you.
  5. They, and the programs they represent, are not cheap.  Insurance may cover some of the cost; there are also some programs that operate on a sliding scale fee. I have noticed that many of the program web sites have payment support options listed. Although not cheap, it is priceless. You cannot place a price on your child’s life.
  6. Having said that, it is critical that if you elect to work with a consultant and place your teen in a therapeutic program that you follow through on all their recommendations and parent together with your spouse if they are in the picture. If you don’t follow their (often tough, very tough) recommendations to the letter, you may be throwing your money out the window.
  7. Surround yourself with support. The forum on this web site is one such resource. And never give up!

(This excerpt from Winning the Drug War at Home was used with the publisher’s permission.)


Kathy has four children, aged 9, 12, 24 and 26. Her second son was seduced by marijuana when he was 16. Kathy is now a published author of "Winning the Drug War at Home". She is also a childbirth educator and is writing a pregnancy and childbirth book. Kathy graduated from Brown University with a degree in Health and Society, and also has a BSN in Nursing.

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  1. Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor Report

    To ‘schoolteach’: It can be so difficult when kids are acting out of control. James Lehman felt that kids act out because they don’t know how to solve problems effectively—problems like not getting their way or feeling angry for example. Boarding schools and camps can be helpful to some parents, but since that doesn’t seem to be a viable option for you right now, it might be best to look into making some changes in your home, as that is where the problem is occurring. Sometimes a simple, new parenting strategy can go a long way. For example, after her next tantrum, talk when things are calm about what was going on for her, what was she thinking before she started to scream and cry. Listen to her carefully—her answer will tell you what problem she was trying to solve. Then, talk about what she can do differently next time that problem comes up. Putting a strong emphasis on helping your granddaughter learn new skills to manage herself will be very helpful, as will walking away from her when she tantrums and not giving in to this behavior. I am including an article about meltdowns that will detail a plan of action for you to try. The key is to be consistent here, even if it doesn’t work for the first couple weeks of trying. Kids need repetition in order to learn. Stick with it for a while and see how it goes. We wish you and your granddaughter the best. Take care.
    Managing the Meltdown

  2. schoolteach Report

    I have an 11year old granddaughter who is totally out of control whenever she is with me. I am a grandparent / guardian and I Have had her for 10 years. She appears to follow th rules for everyone else ,but me. She has always been strongwilled and stubborn, butt now when she doesn’t get her way over the most simple thing she has tantrums. i called the p olice yesterday; they came but they said there was nothing they could do.I have looked up boarding schools and schools for troubles teens, but none of them will accept a child until they are 12. She is on medication , but that doesn’t help. I am a 71 year old step grandmother and I don’t have 30,000 to 50,ooo to send her away for a year, I am on social security and i have a small pension from my work with the airlines. If you have any suggestions I am open to heaaring them. Thanks Carolyn

  3. SuzannaHK Report

    My son and daughter both went so wayward that
    almost everything involving them, came in multiples! I.e. court cases and jail/rehabs – over 30 times. It was due to very dysfunctional parenting, plus peer pressure. But these two were so angry that they resorted to more than multiple drugs and alcohol! They actually broke their own bones or had someone else do it….my son by punching walls, etc. and fracturing his right hand 16 X. He was a gifted technician and repair svc. man in a
    managerial position (later on), but it didn’t last..sadly, even after having a wife and 2 kids. My daughter had a friend break her wrist with an aluminum baseball bat, so she wouldn’t have to go to work. So much more I could write, but only one is alive today. People ask me how I ever survived this kind of thing for 38 years. Being an inventive multifaceted obsessed artist that never should have had children, and who has several disorders like OCD, ADD, 3 PTSD’s, etc., I must give all the credit to God for the work he has done in my life. The horrible guilt I carry over not meeting my kids’ emotional needs still haunts me, but I am getting there. Their father was another story, and it wasn’t pretty!! My son died a most egregious death at age 41….NO rehab was able to help him!!! My daughter found the Lord at age 19 and lives…she is 50 now. I may publish his story one day, but readers will have a hard time believing it!!! All the best to you all.

  4. cmas447 Report

    I think that some of these kids who abuse drugs may be undiagnosed on the autism spectrum. My very high functioning asperger 9 yr old son thinks that rules don’t apply to him. He wants to be in control of all aspects of his life and others’ life as well. I wonder if it is all related?

  5. Kathy Pride Report

    Greetings and happy New Year…Just an update on our son…who continued to smoke and then drink, heavily, which perhaps has finally allowed him to crash at his bottom. He is now 25. He graduated from college and moved out West, where he is learning how to take care of himself and sink or swim. He is too far away (an entire country) for me to either strangle him or bail him out…he just had a DUI, and that seems to have finally gotten his attention. But I think we as parents need to continue to set clear and firm boundaries. And illegal behavior, even if “everyone” is doing it, which they are not, is a lie.

    Keep us updated; we care.

  6. Dawn Report

    Suzanne, I felt like I was reading my story about my daughter. Our stories are almost identical. How are things going for you? Mine is 17, a Junior & a year ago I said she was the perfect child. She isn’t horrible… and the fact is that I know that if I turned the blind eye that most parents turn my life would be so much easier but I can’t seem to do that. I worry so much about her. She refuses to stop the pot smoking & I am losing my mind over this!

  7. Shellyb Report

    I am needing some help with my teenage daughter and have been reading all the blogs and wondering what does and does not work for pot smokers. My question is Suzanne have you implemented the Total Transformation Tools??

  8. Suzanne Report

    We have a son who just turned 17. About 3 months ago we found out he was smoking pot and also selling it to his friends. We were shocked as the child had been the perfect son for years. We had him in a drug outpatient program, but after two weeks we took him out. We were not comfortable with it and wanted to have him go to a therapist for individual counciling for a while. We found someone that he went too and we thought he was doing well with her, but after two months he told her last week he wasn’t coming back. He is blaming her for making him feel bad because he has to think about all the reasons he is behaving the way he is. We did find out he was suffering from depression and are treating him for that now. He has been on his medication for about a week, so I am hopeing things will start to improve soon. It is terrible as he goes through such ups and downs. One minute he is crying telling us how much he loves us and then the next he is telling me (he seems to still like his dad) how much he hates me and that I am not his mother. Last weekend, he went beserk and trashed his room along with our living room and garage. We took him to a hospital that has a teen behavioral unit associated with it. They put him on a hold and kept him there for three days. Of course, when we went for the family meeting he was promising to do everything that we asked. He did agree to go back to the drug outpatient program and we are planning on going to a meeting there this week. He had a melt down tonight and wound up eating in his room and closing the door, two items that were on the list of rules that he is not suppose to do. He also threw some of his food on the kitchen floor as he was mad at me. My husband wanted to leave it alone for tonight and let him calm down and then he would review the rules again with him tomorrow. At this point, I am not sure what to do with him. He is a senior and I hate to send him some place for his senior year, plus this behavior is new so it breaks my heart to do that until we have exhausted our local resources, but I also can’t live a whole year like this. I am stuck in my bedroom tonight because it is better for me not to be in the living room if he comes out. My husband is caught in the middle as he is the one who can better talk to our son and also make sure that I am doing ok. I have thought about going to live with my sister in another state for the remainder of the school year, but I can’t leave my husband alone. It is just so hard as we all got along so well until 3 months ago. Not sure if everything just hit him at one time with the depression coming to a head, wanting to be independent and hormonal changes. Any advice would be greatly apprecitated.

  9. gilgo Report

    I have an 18 year old who cannot be sent away unless he wants to go himself. I get very frustrated with these comments because there is always the assumption that people have $30,000 a month to spend on wilderness camps and therapeutic boarding school and “consultants.” Even if they have a sliding scale, it’s ridiculous — especially if your son has just dropped out of his first semester at a private college where he had a scholarship and you will still need to start paying loans on, etc.

    For those of us who don’t have money — I have found some help from Daytop Village in NYC & New Jersey (don’t know if they are in other states) — they take medicaid and other insurance but there are kids there that have been mandated by the courts to go. But keep in mind that violent and drug addicted kids come from all walks of life — and sometimes when a kid is in a tough environment they learn even more to appreciate what they have. I recommend that if you can get help for your kid before they turn 18 take it — because when you get to the point where you have to kick them out of the house — it’s the most painful and difficult thing you will ever do. You won’t sleep and you will question your judgment every minute — but you will have no other choice.

  10. Cat Report

    I really feel for jw! My son is in a wilderness therapy, 12 step program on Montana. He is a junior in High School, he attends a public high school and lives with a loving family who have worked in the addiction field for a long time. My husband and I are at a very difficult crossroad in not knowing when to bring our son home. He will have been in this program for 20 months this June when he finishes his junior year. The problem is that the leaders of this program feel that our son is not yet “buying into” their program. They feel he needs to come back next year. My husband thinks we need to bring him home. I am not sure what to do. Honestly, I am weary of all decisions we have had to make in the last 2 years. Any advice?

  11. Kathy Pride Report

    That program sounds wonderful…I don’t like the term boot camp myself…conjures up the wrong image in my mind.
    The program where Matt went was full of independent work, responsibility giving, empowering healing and wilderness survival.

    Peace to you.


  12. Lola Report

    I know of a program you should definitely look into. It is called Anasazi and it is located in Arizona. They take young people from around the nation. Boys and girls (13-18) are separated and young adults (18-25) walk together. It is a wilderness program but it is truly unique to all others. It is not a boot camp nor does it practice “tough love”. Rather, the children are surrounded by love. Staff and young people are there…working together. There is such a feeling of unity. Boys come alive out there. They are doing something extremely challenging…and they are succeeding. However they were seeing themselves before going there, they stop and begin seeing themselves for the amazing people that they are. Their confidence and feelings of self worth increases so dramatically that they naturally want to stop all self-destructive behaviors. They want to become different…better people. I have know of this program for a long time. My six year old son is a dream but I am saving my money now so when he is 15, I can give him Anasazi as a gift of love. You can probably google it: anasazi and arizona. Best of luck.

  13. kathy pride Report

    Dear JW,
    Wow, I feel for you…but commend you to getting to a great place with him (even though he doesn’t htink so) much sooner than we did.

    After Christmas our son (now 24) backslid a bit, but I calmly wrote him a letter and also spoke to him.

    The events recently have really taken some dramatic twists and turns in my life, that have catapulted us all into reavaluating what is truly important…my dad died suddenly two weeks ago. He fell down a flight of stairs, sustained a head injury and never regained consciousness.

    But we have been blessed by many gifts through these difficult times. One has been that Matt seems to really get it and is caring in many ways he seemed to only be moderately engaged in before. Don’t give up, stand firm, and be in touch.

  14. jw Report

    Thanks, for your comments. I believe you are right. The next morning after calmly signing and agreeing to the house rules contract my son smoked pot in his room. How in my face is that. He denied it of course but I could smell it half way down the hallway. I tore up the contract, and told him for a smart kid he was acting really dumb. After he went to school I searched his room, took the door off, put the mattress on the floor and left it like that. There is very little communication with him. He seems determined to go down this path and does not care if he has nothing. It is really a heart breaker, this was a gate kid! I will look for a program to get him into. If anyone in the inland empire of Calif. reads this and knows of something, please let me know.

  15. Kathy Pride Report

    I agree that you need to do something and get a respite
    yourself. When our son went away, I was relieved. Can you mandate meetings? Working a program may help.
    There is much I would do differently now than we did several years ago. We (me) kept making excuses also. If only I could just trust him this time…there are still untruths (ha, doesn’t that sound better than lies?) but I am much firmer in my approach and will love him no matter what, but that isn’t the same as putting up with the abuse and heartache of having them live under your roof. Your roof, your rules.

  16. Enlightend Report

    To jw,
    I feel for you, You must be my twin. I was in the same situation as you when my son was 15 we did everything you did -but we kept making excuses, hoping we could turn him around. Well believe me right now that you son is not ever going to change, you are best to call the state if you have no other options. I regret that I lived with it like you and to afraid to send my son away. My son never changed one bit, and is now doing more than Pot and charged with two felonys and is on the road to Prison. Your son does not know how to solve his problems and even counseling may never help him but what you are doing is not working either. I would let someone who is trained help you. Please do not give him a car – if you keep him at home put him in re-hab right now – there are places that are less expensive if you look. Kids that cannot solve their problems can’t seem to stop doing what they do. At least with Re-hab he will get drug tested and some re-habs will put them in lock down for 3 weeks if they test neg. Bottom lime he needs help and you need him out of the house.

  17. jw Report

    I am also dealing with a belligerent, cursing 15 year old that thinks he is immune to consequences. I know he has been using and possibly selling pot. The other night we picked him up from a store for stealing and sniffing dust off. He had already lost his phone, dirt bike, snowboard and equipment, plus anything else he could sell to purchase pot. He had been cut off from any way of earning money. That morning we had the police out to take him to school because he had broken a chair leg, loosened a door jam, and cracked the dashboard on my car when he realized I had taken the charger for his phone. I didn’t see the point in grounding him after all that because he had nothing. Wrong again, He went with some friends to the store and gets busted for shop lifting. I have just about had it! I’ve written up a contract with 4 house rules and consequences for breaking them. I also included a reward program to earn back privileges. The biggest carrot I had was that if he tests clean for 90 days from pot and other drugs, he will be able to begin the process of getting his learners permit. We have warned him that he will not drive until he is 18 otherwise. Of course he is demanding immediate return of all his things he he signs the contract. I told him no deal! He has to earn back everything by complying with the rules. No Abuse, physical or verbal, No use of any type of illegal drugs, Honesty, to rebuild the lost trust, and No violent or Destructive Behavior. I’m at my wits end with this kid. I have no option of treatment programs on his insurance. I cannot afford to send him to a therapeutic camp. I am considering turning him over to the state. Does anyone have any ideas???

  18. gourmetgal Report

    Thank you for your great blog. Just the other day I posted one about my 15 yr old PDD son who I just got tough enough to take the TV away from for an extended period of time.I would very much like to read your book and will look for it in the library next week. I am far away from boot camp or boarding school but I like to let my son realize that there are places to go for noncompliant teens. I will also consult the web site. Currently waiting for an anger management group to start up soon at the HS. If anyone else has this kind of beligerant, apathetic , cursing, teen and has successfully dealt with it, it would be nice to hear from you on this blog.



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