“Wilderness growth programs” for teens deserve special caution.
Numerous teens have died or been seriously injured in these programs, often within the first few days of enrollment.
Many parents say they agreed, at first, to enroll their child for a stay of a few weeks or months at a wilderness program—and were later pressured by wilderness program staff into sending their teens to a multi-year program at a boarding school.
Families are often told that their child will relapse if returned home, and that the child’s life might even be in danger if he or she does not remain in a program. Beware of programs that warn of dire consequences—such as that the child will wind up dead, in a mental hospital, addicted to drugs, or in jail—if you do not continue paying for enrollment in a program.
Data collected from 1999-2006 showed that an alarming 40% of children enrolled in wilderness programs are later sent to long-term residential behavioral care facilities (Source: Summary of Research from 1999 – 2006 and Update to 2000 Survey of Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs in North America Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative By Keith C. Russell, Ph.D.).
Thus the industry’s own data suggests that for many, many youth, wilderness programs do not provide the kind of sustained long-term “transformational wilderness experience” often promoted as the reason to enroll the child.
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Last updated 02/05/14