With all the negative influences out there grabbing our kids today, sending teenagers to boot camps may very well be a reasonable and loving choice when teen behavior starts to erode the family bliss. Most parents and caretakers struggle with this decision the same way that they would struggle with whether to let their child spend the night in jail after their 4th DUI arrest. Sometimes loving a child means setting firm boundaries and creating scenarios that force them to learn and grow. Hopefully.
Teenage boot camps have made a name for themselves in the “tough love industry” through many successful camps that have literally kept kids out of jail and turned them back toward the college track. With a higher success rate than housing our kids in jail and other behavior modification institutions, why wouldn’t a parent engage the help of a boot camp to help their struggling teen?
For the parent on the brink of packing their kid’s bags, the only word of advice to offer is choose wisely. The terms “tough love” and “injury” should not go hand in hand. When checking out various camps (and you should check them out thoroughly) insist on seeing incident report summaries that indicate a true injury ratio. A high incident of injury can lead one to believe that the love received might be a little too tough. There have been cases of abusive behavior by either students or staff members reported throughout some boot camps.
Of course, a certain amount of physical risk is to be assumed. These camps are designed to push kids to their emotional and physical limits and to train them in the fine art of self discipline. This may mean serious exercise sessions, overnight trail hikes, and the introduction of outdoor survival. In other cases, the student body has initiating rituals that all new inductees must go through, which usually involved physical violence. This is not a pretty aspect of the boot camp industry, but it is a reality.
Sending teenagers to boot camps is generally a last resort, saved for kids who are literally heading toward gangs, drugs, violence, and eventually death. Sending your child off to boot camp for failing math might be considered a bit harsh, especially if they have an otherwise average teenage existence. Boot camp is also not an alternative to parental involvement. Parents need to be sure that they have stepped up, tried various parenting methods to turn their teen’s attention toward more positive influences, and have dealt with any obvious trauma before signing their child up for a camp session.
Sometimes, teenage boot camp is enforced by a juvenile judge as an alternative to a jail sentence. This is usually prescribed for special cases, first time offenders, and times when the judge feels that jail would be detrimental to any chance the child has of recovering from the situation. In such cases, parents can request that they be permitted to select the camp for the term, pending judge’s approval. This is recommended for concerned parents who want to be sure that their teenager receives the best experience possible while minimizing any potential dangers that these camps may foster.
Boot camp leaders have noted that those kids who have family support, family involvement, and at least one parent who stands behind their child’s success are those who end up doing well at the end of their term. Many lives have been turned around quite successfully by these programs, but generally not without a caring adult on the other side to help keep the progress going. These kids face a lot of pressure to return to their old friends and their old ways after their camp session concludes. Some kids even “owe debts” to their former gangs and friends that could be collected upon at any time. These debt collections can come in the form of some pretty gruesome attacks that no teenager wants to experience. Some kids find that even if they want to do well and apply their new knowledge after camp, the threat posed by their former associates is stronger than their will to overcome. After all, who wants to find their face slashed in the hallway in between Science class and the gym? These pressures are very real and these kids need supportive parenting when they return home.
Teenagers in boot camp and those who are coming out of camp need a plan. Kids who find themselves on the fast train to juvenile detention, jail, or boot camp didn’t end up there suddenly and unexpectedly. There has been a long history of behavioral mischief that has escalated over time. Many kids start visiting the principal as early as the first grade and wind up culminating their educational career with an expulsion. Because these behaviors and problems have been developing for a period of time, parents can not expect that there will not be overnight changes in their child. Boot camp is designed to strip away what these troubled youths have been building upon. However, once you strip away a kid’s issues you then have to replace is with positive involvement. For some kids, this might be nothing more than the introduction of a passionate endeavor. For other kids, it’s going to take some time, effort, trial, error, and a lot of devotion to the plan.
So how do teenagers that have attended boot camps feel about their experience? I managed to track down three kids, between the ages of 15 and 17, who have come out of their camp experience within the last eighteen months. Two feel that they have successfully turned their life around. They feel as though they were able to take responsibility for their own future and one even stated that he didn’t “need to become a statistic just because the school expects him to be one.” One teen felt that boot camp was used as punishment for not being “good enough” around the house and that the punishment was unfair. On the plus side, he hasn’t ditched a day of school or done any drugs since he returned home at the beginning of summer.
Boot camp is decision that only a parent can make based on the information they have in front of them. When kids are in trouble, drastic action can be the only recourse. There are countries that require kids to spend two to four years in their national army upon their eighteenth year to help instill discipline and to teach many of the same principles. In this country, we offer our kids a choice. When kids are making dangerously poor choices, parents and caretakers need to step in and help them save themselves. Sending teenagers to boot camp is often a decision that saves lives, and futures, without the scar that jail time leaves on their record.