There are about 32 million American teenagers, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that by the age of 15 just over
20 percent of them either have or have had a seriously debilitating psychological disorder including ADHD, mood and conduct disorders, anxiety and panic disorders, major depression, and eating disorders.
As teens tangle with these challenges and their aftermaths, they often do poorly or are disruptive in school, fall prey to substance abuse, upset the family dynamic, and dig themselves deeper into paths that point anywhere but toward life as successful adults.
In times past, a troubled youth might have been packed off to military school for a harsh dose of discipline that was meant to turn him around. The fact is, though, that real military schools are designed for teens signed on to the program and interested in a career in the armed forces, and are not equipped to deal with the serious underlying causes of behavior problems.
Today, fortunately, there are a number of alternatives designed to treat the underlying issues and redirect a struggling teen.
Outpatient Counseling and Therapy
For kids with specific challenges like learning disabilities, neurological disorders, ADD/ADHD, and issues of anxiety and depression, living at home and attending counseling and therapy sessions after school can be very helpful. These programs often have a strong family component, involving parents and siblings in group sessions to resolve the conflicts that often arise when one member of the family has upset the balance and made everyday life difficult for everyone.
These are generally part of a community’s regular school system, and are designed for kids who are struggling in and disrupting mainstream classes because of behavioral issues. Some provide programs for students with learning disorders and other special needs. Smaller classes and more individualized attention is sometimes all it takes to re-direct a teen who is having a hard time making it in the academic and social setting of a traditional school.
These are typically law enforcement and community-based programs designed for at-risk teens whose bad behavior has put them in jeopardy of entering the juvenile justice system. Their purpose is to deal with delinquent behavior in a more informal setting and while the offenders are still living at home in order to redirect kids before they make more bad decisions and have to be confined to correctional facilities where, sadly, they’re confronted with influences that can encourage even worse behavior.
Boot Camps and Wilderness Programs
These are not equivalent choices, though some boot camps are held in the wilderness.
Boot camps are typically modeled on a military template, with strict rules and rigid discipline. They were begun as an alternative to juvenile detention facilities, and then began being used as intervention for kids who were on the verge of getting into real trouble with the law.
The term boot camp is sometimes used as an easily recognized concept by facilities that treat things like weight control, but shouldn’t be confused with boot camps designed to deal with serious behavioral issues.
Wilderness programs focus on experiential therapy, with kids hiking and living in tents as they learn survival skills and accommodate themselves to situations where they can increase their self-reliance and develop positive peer relationships in an environment free of ordinary distractions.
Most wilderness programs also include therapeutic and academic components, and required stays range from four to ten weeks.
Residential Treatment Programs
There are a wide range of live-in facilities that offer counseling and therapies for a variety of behavioral, emotional, and other problems along with academics and ways to let off steam and develop new abilities in sports and creative endeavors. A residential school for troubled youth gives kids a fresh start in a setting away from the home-based triggers of old patterns, teaches interpersonal skills that boost self-confidence, and models positive behavior that leads to successful adulthood.
Resources for more information are available at The American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists