Some teenagers have emotional problems. Eating disorders, depression, psychological problems, drug problems. More frequently, when a parent of a troubled teen has tried numerous ways in order to get their kids help, either through therapy or family counselors or medication, and none of these tactics are providing helpful for their teen or the behavior, parents can then have them kidnapped in the middle of the night and sent off to a “rehabilitation” facility, a “tough-love” camp where their teen will be “scared straight” into changing their behavior. At the very least, these programs have been shown not to be very effective when it comes to changing a kid’s behavior. At the very worst, time spent in these facilities results in post-traumatic stress disorder, a lifetime of anxiety attacks, more severe drug use, and sometimes death.
There is a television show aired on Lifetime entitled “Teen Trouble” where host, Josh Shipp, who has no credentials in psychology or addiction treatment works with a team of unnamed “experts” on showing teens the ramifications continuing embarking on whatever behavior is seen as detrimental to their particular situation. The teens are not treated for their drug use, chemical dependency or depression, Teen Trouble instead relies on scare inducing fear through confrontation,and showing the teens the consequences of their actions, whether these be homelessness, disfigurement or death. From Time.com:
In one episode, for example, a girl is forced to lie down in a coffin and touch dead bodies; in another, a boy is put in casts and a wheelchair. A third episode includes a “make over” where a teen girl’s face appears covered with scabs and sores; another sees a young woman spend a winter night on the streets with the homeless. Afterward, many of the teens are sent to tough wilderness or “emotional growth” boarding schools.
There are over one thousand of these “boarding schools” in the US alone. They are easily recognizable by their code names: therapeutic boarding school, wilderness program, juvenile boot camp, behavior modification program, or residential treatment center. They range in type from large prison-like facilities to secluded cabins in the woods. Parents pay around $50,000 a year in order for their kids to be “rehabilitated” by hard labor, isolation, military-style drills and worse. From Reddit.com:
The Workouts usually took three hours, though any defiance or lagging by one person would earn punishment for the whole group. I was told of one workout that lasted for over 7 hours.
During the rest of the week, we went on hikes or did forced labor on the ranch. If someone was still being defiant they had to shovel piles of horse manure (wearing their own shoes of course) or made to dig 2′x 6′ x 6′ hole in the ground or fill another hole up.
And another account:
That continued until a couple of weeks later, when I went to one of my counseling sessions. On the first night, I had been ordered to strip down, but it seemed really odd to me when my counselor told me to strip down to the waist. I didn’t fight it though for fear of being sent back in the program and/or corporally punished. My counselor then started fondling my breasts as I sat and watched in horror, but I was too afraid to complain.
This continued into a cycle of sexual molestation and/or powertripping by this particular counselor. I tried eventually to complain, but was only told that ‘I didn’t have Jesus in my heart’ and then paddled.
There are many stories of teens being raped, forced to eat their own vomit, beaten and starved. Recently there has been a lawsuit filed claiming fraud, breach of contract and abuse by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools and its affiliates filed by 350 former students and 150 of their parents. According to The Huffington Post:
The details in the lawsuit include being exposed to extreme hot or cold temperatures for extended periods; being forced to eat raw or rotten foods or to eat their own vomit; being bound by the hands and feet; and being placed in isolation, including being locked inside small boxes or cages.Some students also allege they were emotionally and verbally abused, were forced to wear unwashed clothing for weeks, were prevented from using bathrooms, were deprived of sleep and were deprived of any religious affiliations other than Mormonism.
There is a memorial page set up for kids who have died due to the Troubled Teen Industry here.
I’m sure that there are some programs that work in conjunction with therapists and doctors that actually do help troubled teens. There are even accounts on the Reddit page from both parents and kids who claims some of these programs saved their lives. But reading the majority of the stories it’s hard for me to believe that the best way to treat the majority of kids with issues is sending them away from their families into a situation where they are at risk for a lifetime of stress-induced issues or even death. In a sense it is easy for me to say because I am not a parent of a troubled teen. I don’t know what it’s like to have a kid who is a heavy drug user or who beats me or his siblings. I don’t know the day to day reality of what it’s like to live with a child who is a danger to themselves or others, but I do know that reading the experiences of the majority of kids who attended these “schools” scares me to death.
A Cochrane review, published in 2009 about Juvenile Awareness Programs For Preventing Juvenile Delinquency states that the television shows, these “edutainment” reality series like Teen Trouble and Scared Straight, in which troubled kids are sent to experience prisons and “learn from inmates” do little to curb the behavior they are attempting to correct:
Results of this review indicate that not only does it fail to deter crime, but it actually leads to more offending behavior. Government officials permitting this program need to adopt rigorous evaluation to ensure that they are not causing more harm to the very citizens they pledge to protect.
The end result of a lot of these shows depict the troubled kids being sent off to the trouble teen “boarding schools” to receive additional “treatment.” Josh Shipp promotes some of these programs and they waive the fees due to the publicity generated from appearing on the show. Copper Canyon, a “therapeutic boarding school” which is featured on Teen Trouble, is part of a network of teen programs run by Aspen Education, which also operated a school known as Mount Bachelor Academy in Oregon. In 2009, Time Magazine ran an expose on some of the tactics used at the Mount Bachelor Academy, included forcing girls who had survived rape or sexual abuse to do lap dances and participate in other sexualized role play. This expose helped spur an investigation which led to this schools closure. From the Time article:
For instance, in required seminars that the school calls Lifesteps, students say staff members of the residential program have instructed girls, some of whom say they have been victims of rape or sexual abuse, to dress in provocative clothing — fishnet stockings, high heels and miniskirts — and perform lap dances for male students as therapy.
Just as horrifying are the stories that comes from accounts of “religious homes” for troubled teens, where you can read stories about unlicensed group homes that operate out of Florida. A lot of these places operate under a “religious exemption” which means that they are closed to state licensing officials and that their inspection records are not made public. Girls, some as young as ten, are subjected to a practice called “flooring” in which a girl is held to the floor by a group of her peers for an hour or longer. After a girl is “floored” she is usually sent to a small, windowless cell, sometimes for days at a time, called The “Grace” room where a girl can contemplate how she misbehaved. From Tampabay.com:
Former residents complain they would be held there for days, with limited bathroom breaks, nothing to do and no one to talk to.
Other girls, they said, had soiled the carpet, out of necessity or spite.
“It was a disgusting little box,” 18-year-old Ali Reichle said. “Whenever you walked in that room, you could smell just the puke and the urine.”
The makeshift cell has an opening where a door would have hung. When a girl is banished, the opening is blocked with a table and manned by someone who makes sure the troublemaker stays put. Cookston said an adult is always present; residents said girls were often watched over by other children.
After reading so many of these accounts, one starts to feel like your own troubled kid may be better off in prison. I don’t know what the answer is for parents who are at their wit’s end dealing with a child they find out of hand, one who is participating in illegal activity or uncontrollable behavior. I do know that when we embark on this journey of parenthood we make an unspoken vow to these children to raise them, feed them, clothe them, teach them, love them and protect them. That shouldn’t end when the human we gave birth to exhibits problems. I’m sure a lot of parents who send their kids off to these places do so because they love their kids, they fear for their well-being and safety and they feel like they have no other choice. But along with this love of wanting what is best for our kids we owe it to them to fully research these places before we watch a scandalous reality show or see a special on Dr. Phil about how these programs can “fix” our kids and we arrange to have them kidnapped from their beds in the middle of the night.
No one ever said raising kids is easy. No matter how troubled they are we owe it to them to get them the help they need without worrying about them being subjected to abuse and trauma that will affect them when they become adults. For more help, information and resources, you can check out the Troubled Teen Reddit here.