The teenage years can be a nightmare for parents of boys who are acting out. If your son’s defiance has reached unacceptable levels, you may be looking into boot camps for your boy. But is that the right solution?
Boot camps for boys are intense, short-term programs which can take a severely troubled teenager out of his comfort zone, provide him with structure, demanding physical activity, and a heaping dose of discipline. Boot camps are therefore like wilderness therapy that can put your son in a different mindset, but we find that boot camps alone are not the right long-term solution for most boys.
So what exactly is a boot camp? These programs began as an offshoot of military boot camps, where new recruits are molded into soldiers through high-intensity discipline and physical exertion. Obviously, boot camps for boys are not quite as intense as these professional, adult-level programs, but the goals and methods are very similar.
The defining characteristics of boot camps are discipline, structure, and physical activity. Most boys who attend these programs have gotten out of control in some way or another, whether it is disrespecting authority, growing lazy and unmanageable, or acting out aggressively in home or at school. Boot camps for boys aim to break teenagers of these behaviors by dramatically shifting a child’s world. The boy will be away from home, given a rigid schedule and tight supervision by drill instructors. They will be expected to complete tasks assigned to them, from cleaning their spaces to making their beds to completing physical training.
However, there is no proof that boot camps work. Research has been done multiple timesinto the effectiveness of boot camp regimens on troubled teens. From what has been shown in these studies, there is no significant decrease in recidivism rates for these program when stacked against traditional treatment facilities.
Critics of boot camps regularly state the potential for backlash against this style of “treatment.” It can cause a further disconnect and lack of respect by the teen for authority figures. It may harvest intense distrust, and even hate, for those same figures. It also endorses extreme negative reinforcement, which many experts state is an ineffective, dangerous means of working with teens already suffering from intense self esteem problems.
No matter what your home life is like, this will almost certainly be a huge change in your son’s life. He will very quickly have to adapt and learn to obey or his stay in the boot camp will become much more difficult. The goal is that this experience will have a significant impact on him, and these new behaviors will carry on once he leaves the program. However, most boot camps are short-term and therefore provide shot-term changes in your boy, who will likely shift back into bad behavior when he returns home, and sometimes with even more anger.
Sending your son to a boot camp can shake up your child’s thinking, but we find that any change in your son’s attitudes due to attending a boot camp will be short-lived and his anger may have even heightened.
If you’re at a point where you’re considering boot camp for your son, you’ve almost certainly tried just about everything you can think of at home. You might have tightened up his curfew, watched over his every move, tried to enforce more rules, etc. But nothing seems to work!
The reason for this is that some boys just need a higher level of discipline and structure in their lives. No matter what you try, you’re still the boy’s parents and at some point along the road, he’s grown complacent and apathetic about respecting your authority. At a boot camp program, your son will be away from all of his friends and family and forced to live with complete strangers. This will force him to learn how to follow rules and work with others to achieve goals in a way that he’s probably never had to do before.
The structure of a good boot camp will instill in your son a new kind of discipline. He will learn to be accountable for his actions, both good and bad, and take ownership of his own character flaws. You mustn’t expect a short-term boot camp to completely change a boy’s character, however. We find that boot camps that do the most good for the future of boys are either followed by a longer-term therapeutic program, or those that are designed to be a first step before a boy enters the military, which will do the job of keeping your boy on track.
What’s going on with your son? Is he the right candidate for a boot camp experience?
Boot camps aren’t right for every teenager. Teenagers nowadays suffer from all kinds of issues, some of which are much more complex than others. So is your son the right fit for a boot camp program?
Everyone knows that teenagers are difficult. They’re growing up, looking to develop their own identity and assert themselves as individuals. If your son has gone too far though, he might be completely ignoring your rules, cursing you to your face, and generally running amok. For this kind of a teenager, a boot camp could be just the right medicine. The punishing program of a boot camp is specifically designed to rein in defiant and disorderly teens and get them back to right thinking. It is NOT a program for depressed or anxious boys, or those who have psychological issues or who are suicidal.
On the other hand, your son may have just fallen in with the wrong crowd. Maybe he’s suddenly spending a lot of time with those kids you always warned him about. You know, the ones who ditch class and smoke cigarettes behind the gym, or the kids who stay out all hours of the night getting involved in all kinds of trouble. In this situation, a boot camp can get your son away from these negative influences and offer him a wholesome serving of discipline. He might just need a break from his friend circle in order to remember who he was raised to be.
If your son is suffering from more severe issues, boot camps are not the answer. Therapeutic boarding schools are a long-term, comprehensive solution for boys in need of more help.
We’ve covered what boot camps can do, but it’s important to note that these programs are not one-size-fits-all. Some teenagers have much more complicated, psychological or emotional issues which boot camps can do nothing to fix. In some cases, boot camps can even make these issues worse, so it’s vital that you know exactly what’s going on with your boy. Ask a professional therapist if boot camps would be the best choice.
If your teenager has clinically diagnosed behavioral disorders or trauma, he will likely need the intense ongoing therapy of a therapeutic boarding school. Therapeutic boarding schools are longer in duration than boot camps and provide a great deal more therapy. Many therapeutic boarding school also provide a period of aftercare, to ensure that your son has a good transition when he returns home. Your son will receive regular counseling from licensed therapists, along with education and therapeutic activities. Many of these programs also include a spiritual component, which can be vital to establishing life-long change in your son.
When your son is in need of real help for issues like ADD, ADHD, BPD, ODD, OCD, anxiety, depression, or many other behavioral or emotional disorders, therapeutic boarding schools are often the better choice over boot camps. He needs comprehensive, long-term care, and therapeutic boarding schools are specifically designed to help him turn things around.
Please note that for the safety of your child, our admissions assistance team will not recommend boot camps. Be sure your therapist or counselor recommends a boot camp before considering one. Boot camps can do more harm and cause more anger and distance from your teen.