Teens struggling with depression, learning differences, defiance, and risky behaviors, like substance experimentation, may benefit from more daily structure. However, there is a difference between helping them develop routines that teach them accountability and using discipline to take away unstructured time. Many parents believe tough-love strategies will give their child a reality check, however, it does not always lead to long-term success. Wilderness therapy programs are a great alternative to boot camps for troubled teens that empower teens to make their own choices by learning the natural consequences of their unhealthy behaviors. 

Problems with Tough Love in Boot Camps For Troubled Teens

Programs like boot camps are not designed to address teens’ underlying emotional or behavioral issues. Instead, they focus solely on surface-level behaviors and quick fixes. They often run on the idea that these struggling teens just need to be scared into acting right–when in reality they need serious therapeutic aid. Their goal is compliance to authority and rules, rather than encouraging teens to reflect on how their choices have gotten in the way of their goals. 

The problem with a “tough love” approach is that it can often reinforce negative feelings about oneself and their relationships by suggesting that they are not worthy of acceptance and praise. Although parents are well-intentioned in recognizing that their struggling teen needs a dramatic change in perspective, boot camps often do more harm than good.

Benefits of Self-Discipline

The problem with discipline isn’t the goals it sets, but rather where they are coming from and how they are explained. Wilderness therapy programs encourage teens to make more autonomous decisions and discipline themselves, as they understand that discipline from external sources leads to resistance. In a wilderness environment, teens are removed from distractions of their everyday life, including technology, and are better able to focus on their personal growth.


  • Instills personal values in teens
  • Helps teens develop a sense of responsibility
  • Teaches teens how to regulate their emotions
  • Creates consistency in one’s life

Healthy Types of Discipline for your Teen


  • Collaborate with them in creating a structured daily routine. Teens who lean on unhealthy coping mechanisms and risky behaviors often feel overwhelmed by their future and struggle to stay in the moment. Excessive free time leads to boredom, restlessness, and lack of motivation. Especially on weekends and vacations from school, teens struggle with finding structured activities and environments to keep them organized and distract them from unhealthy behaviors. 


Introducing teens to a variety of adventure activities helps them explore their passions and learn new positive coping skills to use. While some consistency is useful in settling into a routine, changing it up helps teens stay engaged and motivated.


  • Pay attention to their needs. Often, defiance, problems with authority figures, and aggression stem from an inability to voice what they want in relationships. They may try to express their needs, but struggle to use an appropriate tone of voice or body language. 


Listen to things they complain about and validate how they feel in these experiences. Encourage them to come up with solutions for themselves rather than giving too much input unless they ask for it. 


  • Teach them the importance of following personal values. While a lot of teens feel pressure to meet certain goals, encouraging them to be more intentional about their actions empowers them to make their own decisions that are aligned with things they care about. This encourages them to consider their motivations for risky behaviors and ways to become more engaged in living a fulfilling life. Instead of criticizing unhealthy behaviors, ask them to consider whether they’re acting in line with their values. It is possible that they may believe they are.

Developing Personal Responsibility in Wilderness

Every day, students review their daily goals and tasks and work together with others to meet shared goals and support one another. Personal responsibility and self-discipline are important parts of our wilderness therapy program. In working together with others as a team, teens become more aware of how their actions impact others and learn how to be receptive to feedback. 

From cooking meals and cleaning up campsites to practicing leaderships skills in adventure activities, like rock climbing, mountain biking, and backpacking, teens work on their communication skills and gain a new sense of confidence. While they may continue to face challenges, taking responsibility for their experience and their response helps them manage their emotions and overcome these obstacles where they may have felt hopeless and angry in the past.

blueFire Can Help 

blueFire Wilderness is a wilderness therapy program for teens, ages 11 to 17, grappling with depression, bullying, anxiety, addiction, and other emotional or behavioral problems.We incorporate adventure therapy and family therapy into the program to help students build confidence, improve communication skills, and gain leadership skills that help them repair relationships and rebuild trust with their parents. Our goal is to help teenagers rediscover their inner spark.

Call 1 (844) 413-1999 to learn more about alternatives to boot camps for troubled teens!

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