The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry

I have mixed feelings about the idea of teen boot camps and related enterprises. On one hand, I fully understand and believe in the value of hard work and structure for young people. This is especially true when mixed with a sense of purpose and adventure. Many moons ago I spent two years working at an all-boys residential adventure school called St. Johns School. It combined academics with canoeing, snowshoeing and outdoor expedition programs, and was instrumental in developing the character of so many students there. Not every student loved it, and some disliked the school from the time they arrived until their final day there. However, the school filled a need for adventure and belonging in a way that would be nearly impossible by any other means.

Therapeutically speaking though, I am not sure that kind of a school, or indeed a boot camp, would be sufficient to help an adolescent suffering from behavioural issues or drug use, for example. The primary reason, I believe, lies not in the presence of risk and danger from the program, but from the short-term nature of such programs. In other words, when a participant in a boot camp-type program returns home, often the root causes of the behaviours comes from the environment around him or her, such as family or friends practicing unhealthy methods of getting their needs met, or through chaotic living situations. Unless root causes of unhealthy behaviours are truly dealt with, it is tough for a person to create and maintain lasting change.

Tell me what you think.