Troubled Teen Industry: Help or Harm?
When looking for treatment options for your troubled teenager, you've likely found wilderness boot camp and therapeutic boarding school programs that advertise residential treatment for defiant and troubled teens. Beware: Not all programs are the same, and many do not provide safe, effective treatment for troubled youth.
The troubled teen industry has grown rapidly, driven by corporations that may be more motivated by profit than by providing quality services. It can be confusing and frightening for parents trying to make the best decision about care for their child, and for professionals trying to advise families about these difficult choices.
We can help you ask the right questions about treatment options. ASTART is a volunteer organization of parents, professionals and advocates here to protect teens and their parents from the abusive practices of some of these programs.
ASTART is not affiliated with any residential treatment program or company. We do not make referrals to programs, evaluate or distribute information about individual programs, and we are unable to provide any specific recommendations for your family. We strongly advocate keeping children in the home or as close as possible to home.
Please read Keeping My Child at Home.
Read more about Widespread Abuse Found in Residential Programs.
Get the Right Help for Your Troubled Teen
Parents of troubled, at-risk teens struggle to find answers, or have not found effective resources for teens who have emotional and behavioral challenges, and for their stressed-out families. Many anxious and vulnerable parents are being sold expensive “tough-love treatments” at facilities for angry or troubled teens. Often, these are residential programs known as boot camps, wilderness programs or therapeutic boarding schools. Official investigations have shown that abuse, maltreatment, and neglect of teens are widespread in this for-profit industry, and some deaths have resulted.
It is vital that parents recognize how their own emotions and relationships may be affected during the teen years. Seek help and support for yourself before placing a child in someone else's care. Please investigate your choices carefully and with great caution so that your family does not become victim to a fraudulent or abusive program. Read more about Help for Parents and Teens.
Why Warn about Therapeutic Residential Programs for Struggling Teens?
Therapeutic residential treatment programs for teens have become a billion-dollar industry. Though they go by many different names - teens wilderness programs, struggling teen boarding schools, emotional growth boarding schools, behavioral therapy boarding schools, residential treatment centers for troubled teens, juvenile boot camp programs, teen drug addiction treatment centers, behavior modification programs - many share similar "treatment" approaches that cause concern.
Some programs offer to treat nearly every teen behavior imaginable, including low self-esteem, lack of motivation, trouble with teachers, poor grades, depression, confrontational or defiant behavior, substance abuse and addiction, sexual acting out, defiance toward authority, lying, manipulative behavior, entitlement, and/or video game addiction.
They enroll children with almost any learning disability or mental illness, including ADHD, ADD, Asperger’s Syndrome, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sexual behavior problems, reactive-attachment disorder, non-verbal learning disorder, anger management, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), developing personality disorders, and/or trouble with the law. They often assess a child's needs using nothing more than a questionnaire on the program’s web page—and then recommend immediate enrollment in their program.
Astonishingly, the “treatment” offered is almost identical for all the above conditions: a rigidly-controlled environment, strict discipline, a “levels system” of behavior change, and confrontational “transformation therapy.”
Accepted standards of treatment and plain old common sense suggest that this one-size-fits-all form of tough love “treatment” cannot possibly be suitable for children with all these different issues, disabilities and illnesses.
ASTART advises families to avoid a program that attempts to diagnose a child by phone or Internet. One-size-fits-all programs should be approached with great skepticism. Pushing you to enroll your child immediately should be a red flag.
Last updated 3/16/15