Many parents who believe their child needs a reality check may believe their child needs a strict routine that teaches them discipline, accountability, and structure. Tough-love approaches are assumed to keep kids in line.  Summer boot camps for troubled teens became popular in the 1980’s that used evidence-based military-style interventions to instill these principles. However, military training was designed to prepare people for combat, not for personal success. Teens were scared straight rather than guided towards the straight and narrow with the skills they needed to be able to continue on their own. Alternatives to choosing summer boot camps for teens include wilderness therapy programs that combine adventure activities with survival skills and emotion regulation techniques.

Military Structure of Boot Camps

The connotation of boot camps can be misleading. We’ve incorporated their foundations into high-intensity exercise classes and intensive job skills training programs that acknowledge the effectiveness of its structure; however, it takes away from the relational part of learning. Boot camps are a form of behavior modification therapy that use positive and negative reinforcement but do not offer therapy for underlying issues. Instructors are trained as commanders rather than mentors. Program activities include physically challenging manual labor and community service and restrict time for self-reflection. Progress is measured by physical strength and completion of tasks rather than individualized growth.   

The main criticism of boot camps is the way they instill fear into their students to teach them to submit to authority. Many boot camps use physical aggression scare tactics to teach students that their consequences have actions.  Many students complete these programs with a fear of failure rather than personal goals for success. Although many students have positive outcomes, they struggle to stay away from negative behaviors long term, as they were taught to break the habit but not taught to deal with other problems. The structure of boot camps can be hard to transition out of. Sometimes, boot camps can do more harm than good. If your teen is struggling with following rules and respecting your authority at home, the militaristic style of boot camps can lead to deeper anger and resentment. Fighting fire with fire can amplify negative effects.  

Therapeutic Environment of Wilderness

While many students sent to boot camps are referred through the justice system or struggle with externalizing behaviors such as aggression, truancy, theft, and substance use and may benefit from a tough-love model, therapeutic wilderness programs are designed to help students connect with nature and learn to manage their emotions. Our students struggle with emotional issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Our objective as a therapeutic program is to help students:

Manage their emotions by learning how to communicate about their emotional experiences. We teach self-regulation skills like mindfulness to help students when they feel overwhelmed.

Rebuild and strengthen family relationships through regular family contact and family therapy. Relationships, between staff, therapists, and family, are an important part of our students’ experience in wilderness. Many of our activities require group effort and teach students how to collaborate with others and to apply leadership skills in their personal lives.

Take personal responsibility for their actions without a fear of consequences. We encourage students to look at what situations brought them there, but emphasize the importance of moving forward. We teach personal responsibility through outdoor skills, cooking, and self-care.

Build greater self-confidence through participation in fun, but emotionally challenging adventure activities.

Redefine their internal locus of control by realizing what situations they do and do not have control over and to gain skills to help them make autonomous decisions.

BlueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with mental health issues and addictive behaviors. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allow them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Students engage in adventure activities to increase their self-awareness, strengthen their self-esteem and explore their long-term goals. BlueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to address problem behaviors and move forward to lead happy and healthy lives. We can help your family today!

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