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Teen Boot Camps and Teen Treatment Programs: What's the Difference?

July 8, 2016

Teen Boot Camps vs. Teen Treatment Programs

There’s no doubt that a structured, disciplined environment will help a troubled teen struggling with substance abuse get back on the right track; but how far is too far?

There are a variety of ways to seek help for a teen who is abusing alcohol or drugs, which can be extremely difficult for a parent to sort through. There are teen boot camps, military schools, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment programs, and the list goes on. So what is the difference and how do you decide what’s best for your teen? 

Teen Boot Camps and Military-style Programs

With boot camps for teens being seemingly popular, it’s important to understand their origin and nature. In the early 1980’s, teen boot camps began surfacing as an alternative to juvenile incarceration. These military-style camps, modeled after basic training, are known for their intense and disciplined structure. As time went on, more private facilities began opening juvenile boot camps and military-style programs as a way to treat troubled teenagers and “whip them into shape”. 

Numerous studies show that programs such as boot camps for teens are ineffective in reducing the recidivism rate for teenagers, among many other dangers. In addition, the disciplinary style of boot camps and military schools negate the rehabilitative efforts. By putting teenagers in an environment filled with intimidation and aggression, they are more likely to experience trauma. This puts already struggling teens at risk for developing a substance use disorder and/or a variety of other mental health conditions. 

Evidence-based Teen Treatment Programs

Teens who are struggling with behavioral issues, substance abuse and mental health conditions require a lot more than tough love. While boot camps and military schools mainly focus on the discipline aspect, the most effective treatment for troubled teenagers is an integrative approach. It’s important to find a treatment option that will treat any underlying issues that are contributing to their actions and help them learn the coping mechanisms needed for a successful future. 

Effective teen treatment programs will utilize evidence-based treatment methods such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). These therapies help teens avoid negative thought patterns and teaches them how to change unhealthy behaviors. In combination with other therapies and services, the physical, psychological and emotional needs of the teenager can be addressed. Recognizing that each teenager has a unique background, circumstances and needs, it’s vital for teenagers to have an individualized treatment plan that incorporates these methods. 

If your child or a teenager in your life is struggling with substance abuse, mental health or behavioral issues, the best option is a reputable teen treatment center. Be sure the program you are researching has been accredited by a third party verifying body, such as The Joint Commission, and is a state-licensed facility. Troubled teens deserve to receive the proper care and treatment in a safe and well-supervised environment. 

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