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Do Scared Straight Programs for Teens Work?

June 29, 2017

Do Scared Straight Programs Work?

Parenting a teenager is anything but easy. Even well-behaved children can cause plenty of problems during the teenage years, pushing boundaries and fighting back against rules and regulations. In most families, screaming fights or bouts of sullen brooding are likely just as common as wonderful family bonding moments.

Exploration and independence are big parts of adolescence, and for some teens, this unfortunately means drug use. While most parents don't want to admit this possibility, it's more common than you realize – over 60% of teens drink alcohol and 40% try drugs – and it could easily happen to your teen. A new friend group, a problem at school, fights at home, or simple boredom can be all it takes for your teen to begin experimenting with illicit substances.

Discovering evidence of drug use, however, is only the beginning. How you act next will dictate your child's ability to leave behind his habits and embrace the benefits of sober living. While the right treatment program can provide a solid foundation for future growth, a controversial scared straight program may not be the saving grace your family needs.

Confronting Drug Use

As a parent, finding strong evidence of drug use or addiction can be a crushing blow. You may find yourself second-guessing everything your child does, or you may wonder where you as a parent went wrong. Your gut reaction may be to ground him, kick him out, or otherwise punish him for his behavior. You may feel sick to your stomach with worry or furious that your child would make such a silly mistake.

All of these feelings are normal and even expected. Handling something so emotionally challenging is never an easy task, and there's no right way to help your child understand the gravity of his actions. The logistics of how to handle drug addiction aren't covered in any kind of Parenting 101 class, and there's no medication or doctor that can provide a quick fix.

As such, knee-jerk reactions aren't uncommon and many parents pick boot camps or scared straight programs to try to frighten addiction away. While perhaps marginally helpful for some teens, the end result is likely far from what you're expecting.

Scared Straight Programs for Teens

What Is a Scared Straight Program?

As the name implies, a scared straight program is a rather controversial approach to teen misbehavior that is focused on fear. Also known as juvenile awareness programs or prison programs, this concept attempts to frighten children into obedience and compliance.

Instead of focusing on proactive assistance, these courses utilize reactive strategies, showing teens what they can expect should their drug abuse continue to worsen. Some work in conjunction with prisons, providing tours to teen participants to demonstrate what can happen to drug dealers and petty criminals, while others take teenagers to morgues or hospitals to offer a first-hand look at what drug addiction can do to the body. Some are residential, providing teens with housing in a military style-facility punctuated by harsh conditions and physical labor, while others are outpatient in style.

No matter the format, the features, or the end goals of scared straight programs, however, one thing stands: these facilities often do more harm than good, and rarely result in an overall improvement in behavior.

The Problem with Scared Straight Programs

Scared Straight programs for teensFor teens with behavioral problems or a rebellious attitude that can't be controlled, looking for a way to provide structure and discipline is often a first stop for parents. Reform-style programs are appealing for this reason, providing a convenient option that claims to make a difference.

Unfortunately, the research doesn't match with the results these facilities promise. A Cochrane Review study even found that teens who experience scared straight programs are actually more likely to increase delinquency rather than improve behavior. The outcome of this research can be explained by several different features of these programs.

Unlicensed and Unregulated

Unlike licensed rehabilitation centers that employ physicians and undergo intense scrutiny from state oversight boards, most boot camps and scared straight programs have little, if any, regulations. There are no licensing bodies for these facilities and no consistency in how such programs are overseen. Furthermore, many facilities employ individuals without the proper professional backgrounds or who have not undergone background checks, putting children in the hands of unsubstantiated, untrained employees.

Psychologically Damaging

Some teens use drugs to rebel, while others use to cope with stress, self-treat mental or behavioral disorders, or to feel less isolated and lonely. In many cases, these teens need support, stability, and compassion, not anger or fear. When psychological troubles are at the root cause of drug abuse, these programs only make the problems worse as they fail to provide the therapeutic resources necessary, scaring adolescents and making them more likely to use, not less.

Failure to Address Root Causes

Identification of the drivers behind abuse is often one of the principle functions of a rehabilitation program, helping those suffering from addiction to overcome their demons in a safe, secure environment. Scared straight programs ignore this step, attempting to force a change in behavior rather than fostering the development of healthy habits and coping mechanisms. Without finding a way to target the reasons behind drug addiction, it's unlikely that substance abusers will find adequate motivation to get clean and stay clean.

Why Rehabilitation Matters

For adolescents using drugs or alcohol, discipline is important, but so is a licensed, accredited rehabilitation facility that can provide medical detox, group and individual counseling, and a personalized approach to care. At a rehabilitation center, your teen can get the help he or she needs, utilizing techniques that specifically target the root causes of addiction, the unique issues facing adolescents, and the strength of a peer community. Instead of fear, your teen will learn from comprehensive education and proven therapeutic techniques to promote healing and change.

If your teen is showing signs of alcohol or drug addiction, the right approach to assistance can make or break recovery. At Teen Treatment Center, the help you need is here, offering a safe, stable environment for your teen as he goes through detox and rehabilitation.

Facing the reality of drug abuse is frightening, but we can make a difference. Contact Teen Treatment Center at (844)319-5239 today to speak with a member of our intake team.


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