Boot camps for teenagers

Updated July 19, 2017

If you have a defiant and unruly teenager, you may have thought about sending them to boot camp. These have gained wider exposure due to coverage on TV programs including ABC's "Brat Camp" and "Oprah." Before sending your child away, there are many considerations and serious decisions to make, as you must choose from a wide variety of camps.

Options for Unruly Teens

Decide if a camp or residential treatment facility is the right option. Could their behaviour be modified through counselling or non-residential treatment? Most residential options have a referral system. The youth will be referred to a program by entities including the juvenile justice system and the child's school. Some programs are state run and are the alternative to a juvenile detention centre. In juvenile justice cases, the parent may not have a choice if or where the child goes.

Boot Camps

The theory behind boot camps is that tough rules and physical training will cause the child to fall in line and begin respecting authority. They are modelled after military boot camps. This "tough love" approach has garnered criticism. According to, the rate of juveniles repeating negative and illegal behaviour is as high as 94 per cent after attending a boot camp.

Traditional boot camps are designed to be short programs that are only a few weeks long. They are less expensive than other options and can be free if the juvenile justice system is involved. However, due to the lack of success, many states have discontinued this approach.

Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy is an alternative to boot camps. SageWalk and Red Cliff Ascent are two camps that were featured on separate seasons of ABC's reality show "Brat Camp." Most have counsellors or psychologists on staff, but a wilderness camp greatly differs from a boot camp in the approach to changing the child's behaviour.

Though the program will vary from camp to camp, a wilderness camp will take a group of teens into the wilderness for weeks or even months at a time. Students will be given time to speak to the counsellor, be expected to care for and pack their own gear, and help with all aspects of camp life. They will learn teamwork and responsibility.

Military Boarding Schools

A boarding school is a longer term commitment than boot camp and wilderness programs. Sending your child away for several months or an entire school year is a big decision. There are many boarding school options that offer different programs and benefits. Research all of the options to be sure it will be a right fit for your student.

Military boarding schools will prepare students for a future career in the military. They have strict structure and expectations for the student. Known for academic excellence, they are also an option if you are not satisfied with the public education system.

Making the Decision

It is important to consider all of the options carefully. If you feel your child would respond to the harsher environment of a boot camp, that may be the best choice. They also tend to be less expensive. However, for a greater chance of long-term change, consider a wilderness camp. Get advice from teachers and other adults who work with your child before making the final decision.

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About the Author

Harmony Hopkins is passionate about recreation and the outdoors. She has a Bachelor of Science in Recreation with a minor in Outdoor Education and eight years experience in this field, with a focus on youth programming. She has been a writer for newspapers and has written many creative works.