Stranger in Your House

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

I think my parents would agree that I was a difficult teenager in some (most?) ways. My mother regularly caught me cutting school — bored by life, chain smoking — at the local coffee shop. This, of course, made me not only difficult, but monumentally stupid — why I couldn't find a hangout my mother didn't frequent, I'll never know. Years later, I think we can all agree that not only could it have been worse, but I was probably on the easy side. Parents with children who were affectionate and intimate in their early years, can end up with depressed, addicted, and venomous children who desperately need help, but cannot accept it. So-called "Boot Camps" have been in the news lately — they can be terrifying, costly, and worse, unregulated. But what on earth are your options when it feels like you've been through all of them? We'll talk to the author of the wonderful memoir Augusta, Gone (she described interacting with her troubled daughter, "like sticking my hand into the garbage disposal,"), and we're hoping that her story, along with help from Amy Dickinson and Maia Szalavitz, will inspire you to tell yours here. Parents, teenagers — what was your experience?

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A good Education consultant makes it his or her job to know these places well and to coach families through not only wilderness programs, but the identification and implementation of good long-term options as well. The scare stories are happening at the places that pray upon desparate programs. It will not be a matter of "luck" if you hire a good Education Consultant.

Sent by Douglas Bodin | 2:14 PM | 10-11-2007

My daughter start having trouble attending school in 8th grade. She never was in trouble with sex or drugs.

We did everything we could to "MAKE" her attend school. Confrontations would become physical.

We did send her a Wilderness program, and then a residential treatment program/high school.

The resources that we used were not Boot Camp style. We did not want that for our child, but we needed something to take her out of her comfort zone.

But I am grateful that we found these programs for our child. We did use an Educational Consultant.

Not all these programs are bad. The residential program that my daughter is going through reqiuires parental involvement which is an important point.
We are all working to change ourselves so that we can be reunited as a family.

Sent by M Ruoff | 2:20 PM | 10-11-2007

When is a teenager not a teenager? My son is nearly 24 and there seems to be no "light at the end of the tunnel" - the behavior that began in his preteen years has not abated. And now that he is over 18 privacy laws cut us out of the loop completely. And we haven't been able to find an effective loop/help/therapy/treatment to plug into.

Sent by holly | 2:27 PM | 10-11-2007

I chased my wild daughter for 4 years. She was sent to an out-of-state boot camp through a govt program that did no good. Kids were not supervised. They sneaked around in the middle of the night. There was sex. Poor supervision. She already knew how to survive on the streets -- the woods was no improvement whatsoever. It was a waste of taxpayer money.

Sent by Phylis | 2:28 PM | 10-11-2007

sister of a teen out of control. I am now 30 and he is 14. I do consider myself to have been a bit wild in my teen years, but never close to how i see my brother behaves. I believe as the times change certain behaviors are more acceptable among teenagers. Certain behaviors aren't looked down on and aren't "as serious" as when i was young. It's scary. I believe it all stems from the parenting they receive. My parents were strict with me and have become soft now with my siblings. But I also believe, teenagers nowadays are prone to get sucked into what the media shows life as a teenager should be.

Sent by Jessica | 2:28 PM | 10-11-2007

Please speak to the kids troubled about their sexuality. Kids who are, or eho are percieved to be, gay.

Our daughter was bi-polar and gay neither of which w realized until after her teens.

Sent by Forrest swall | 2:30 PM | 10-11-2007

Troubled kids are due to parents who dont treat their kids identical in all aspects of their lives. We are refering to how parents have their favorite kid or kids and then leave one child out on a consistent basis so that child feels left out and not part of the family on a regular basis.

That child then grows up to be one troubled adult who then attracts people to them who treat them as badly so the cycle continues.

Yes maybe these parents care about that kid but the reality is they dont. They only care about themselves and their favorites.

That child could be not on drugs or alcohol ; get good or great grades but they will never live up to not being one of the family since they have never belonged or been one of the favorites.

Amy feels they need to talk about it but who do they talk about it too? another family member who should know the situation but doesnt since they kept their heads in the sand? another family member who knows the kids are being beat up; not going to school; etc but wont speak up to take the kids to a foster home? a teacher or a neighbor who also stand by and does nothing?

There is no set answer but we do know its the parents and the other relatives who stand by and do nothing as well as neighbors and teachers who also stand by who are to blame for most of this and until they stop the favoritism and other nonsense is stopped; its not going to end either.

Sent by annoymous | 2:31 PM | 10-11-2007

Don't tar all programs with a single brush!
The program we used provided full contact with the parents, including a visit to the wilderness. There was no abuse. The counselors were trained and led by a professional.
Some of these programs are excellent - don't castigate the entire industry.
BTW, we tried all the "local therapy" being advocated - the local therapist was incompetent, although highly recommended.

Sent by Nick McCully | 2:32 PM | 10-11-2007

I sent my very out-of-control 15-yr old son to a 3-month troubled teen program 5 yrs ago. It was run by professionals, with awesome results. There was no abuse! I now voluntarily take calls from parents considering the same program, as a reference.

Sent by Vickie Johnston | 2:33 PM | 10-11-2007

What the program focuses on is very much the same in the youth corrctional facilities. Some of these use the same "boot camp" approach.

My experience as a social worker in these institutions demonstrated much the same as what is being talked about on the program.

The institutions themselves caused even more problems and did little, if anything, to address the needs of the kids and invariably they would be returned back to the same situation with no help provided.

Sent by Forrest swall | 2:33 PM | 10-11-2007

This is a terrible problem caused by the local repeal of laws which were actually enacted in the 1960's. A stupid federal law offers grant money to support "services and programs designed to prevent delinquency." The federal law (42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq.) should be repealed. It is responsible for so much trouble in our society.

The skeptic on the line is absolutely correct.

Sent by Phylis | 2:34 PM | 10-11-2007

As a teen, I was very lucky to have strong support and avoid many of the pitfalls I saw my (1950s) peers fall into. I was definitey at risk, being the only child of an unstable single mother who managed to keep my father at bay, while she was obviously uninterested in effective parenting, and unable to engage in a healthy manner with anyone. Other family members, teachers and people in society at large stepped up to the plate and gave me an amazing amount of respect and support. I count myself among the luckiest who have ever walked this Earth.
As an educator and psychiatric nurse, I worked with many teens who were miserable and suffering mightily. One 14 year-old-girl who was hospitalized for emotional problems and out of control behavior had been passed around as a party favor at her father's cocaine gatherings. The memory of that girl, and wondering whatever happened to her helps lionize me in my efforts toward recognition of the fact that our children are little more than the pawns of a materialistic and inattentive society. Now, we also see the militarization of our youth, not the wealthy of course, but those who see little else 'out there' for them. They are fed either the poisons of material acquistion or vengeance against a whole plethora of enemies that must be overcome for the glory of democracy - a smoke screen for protecting the interests of the international corporations and the aristocracy that continue to smother opportunity and genuine respect for our youth. Thank you for having this very important conversation today.

Sent by Kate Walsh RN | 2:35 PM | 10-11-2007

My daughter is currently in a program. I agree with your callers. I think more than time is needed to heal; therapy and family therapy is a must. We didn't know what our daughter's behavior was caused by. Finally we found some terrible news on this, but she was in such a safe place to reveal what had happened to her. She couldn't talk to us, and in fact took her pain, shame, and humiliation out on us. The other factor in helping the teens is having longer than 30 days or 60 days to accomplish real change where it's up to the child's own work that determines completion. Usually 9 months or more.

Sent by Kit (annonymous please) | 2:37 PM | 10-11-2007

I was amused by the young mother/former troubled teen who reported that her own daughter was safe because, at 11, she's "sweet & grounded." The astonishing thing about this phenomenon, among girls, at least, is that it seemingly strikes anyone. At 11, a girl is at the "old age" of childhood, balanced & wise. A year or two later even the most saintly of girls might metamorphize into Ms. Hyde. Her emotional balance at age 11 is utterly, utterly irrelevant.

Sent by Michael Chervenak | 2:38 PM | 10-11-2007

Teens don't self distruct for no reason. It is either a cry for help because they are hurting or it is a symptom of damage caused by a traumatic event or series of events. These events may be physical abuse, sexual abuse or divorce. The big factor I think is divorce and the abandonment by one or both of the parents. These teens were use to a solid and reliable home and when that is taken away, parents become self involved in their own problems and little by little dismiss that their teens may need help.

I use to work with troubled kids. All of the kids that I knew that went to camps did what was forced of them but as soon as they went back home they usually resorted to their distructive ways becuase the problem was not solved.

What needs to happen is that the parents and kids need to sit down and let everything that is on their mind out. And afterwards parents can't just go back to life as usual, parents need to change their daily routine and make their child priority.

Sent by Ben | 2:42 PM | 10-11-2007

I am a 23 year old recovering form a form of Boot camp for trouble teens: Foster care system. There I was juxtaposed in a setting where children were met with apathy, and a physically dilapidated system.
I overcame tmy disadvantaged situation. Internally I used education as a life preserver.
life's journey from birth to a genuine noetic experience comes from a tumultuous climb up to adulthood. The idea that there are bad kids seems to me flawed . Being that no child or family situation is the same. Nothing is fair;However the only continuity is the psychological birth into adult understanding. Some adults never get there. But the experimentation and the rebellion is a healthy tool needed for catharsis.

For census purposes I'm only 23

You could see me and never think that an articulate woman such as my self is a product of an abusive home, or at one point I was angrily debating about the subtleties of chaurcers work's with policeman.

I think its imperative that America let go of the rosy ideal of family. It may help take a lot of pressure off of the parents who have kids that are out of control. Give the needed compassion and understanding. because scorn and judgment do not heal wounds.

Boot camps are dehumanizing and often do not get to the root of the problem.

Sent by Sarah | 2:50 PM | 10-11-2007

I was a troubled-teen. I suffered with depression, drugs, anger, an eating disorder and suicide. I was not sent to a Boot Camp, rather a good resident drug treatment facility (3 mos resident, 3 mos after care). I also attended NA meetings and received counseling at my high school once I came back to school. They were very honest with me in treatment about how I was, yet they were loving and worked to help me find news ways of being. I was like the teens in the story, made to admit I was an "addict" which at the time served its purpose. I don't call myself that, nor do I feel I am an addict. Drug counselors and Anonymous program people would say that's my addition talking - I'm not on drugs, not a smoker, not a drinker, so... I took what worked for me from program and use the tools to help develop balance in my life. More mportant than getting me off drugs, I needed to learn how to function in the world and lead a balanced life. Calling myself an "addict" for the rest of my life and being fearful of a relapse doesn't serve me. I was very lonely when I went back to my high school after treatment because I couldn't hang out with any of my "old" or "using" friends. So, still not knowing how to deal with life's issues, I turned to an eating disorder as an outlet. I actually believe that the eating disorder wreaked more havoc on my life in terms of health and social relationships.

I struggled for a very long time with my eating disorder and depression. My grades in college suffered for several years, as did many relationships. I am mostly healed now as an adult - and I say mostly b/c there will always be ups and downs in life and I'll never be perfect. I am married, have a successful career, and 3 advanced degrees. More important than those "achievements" - I have done a lot of internal work to help myself recover and grow. I have also been loved and supported by some very caring individuals. I attribute much of my current healing to my yoga practice and teachers I meet wherever I go.

When I think about "troubled-teens" and teens and children in general, and I reflect on what it was like being one and what I wanted and needed at the time when I was engaging in self-destructive activities - I just remember feeling lonely, afraid, and that I didn't know where to turn, nor did I feel that anyone was really taking my thoughts and feelings seriously. I felt like the world just expected me to deal with it - to deal with personal and situational challenges, but the things was, I didn't know how to deal. I was doing the best that I could to deal with myself, my feelings and my situations, but my ways of dealing weren't working. And I was very aware of that fact - I didn't want to be screwed up on drugs and trying to die by starving - but I didn't know how to just stop and start being another way. I needed some real tools and ways to be and that's what I think many of these "troubled-teens" are looking for. They need to be heard, valued, and equipped with tools that will help them deal with the big and little stuff of life. Take away the drugs, the eating disorders, the rage and anger and there's still all sorts of other things to learn how to handle and our kids just aren't given opportunities to learn the skills of dealing with life's challenges. And some kids just need more support than others.

I think that kids need they kind of tough love that is compassionate, but not humiliation - they need love, compassion, respect and support. They need to be taken seriously, yet given ways to start making better choices. They need honesty and sincerity. You can't papmer them, but emotionally beating them up in boot camps sounds horrible. The kids are already angry and fearful - they need to learn to find love and guidance from others and then to cultivate it within. And they need to find ways to start creating meaningful goals and then help in achieveing the goals.

I'm asking to remain anonymous - for professional reasons, but hope my post is taken seriously

Sent by Wish to remain anonymous in cleveland | 2:59 PM | 10-11-2007

It was disappointing, if not appalling, to tune into one of my favorite NPR programs today and to hear the rabble rousing, heavily biased statements about Teen Wilderness Programs.
Why didn't you have any representation on your broadcast of parents whose children's live have been saved by reputable well run professionally managed programs? And why didn't you say that these horrific programs can only be found on the Internet as they are not licensed or listed in any respected Directory?
You didn't even bother to give parents a clue as to how they can prevent this happening to their families. The clue is never never choose a therapeutic program (or any other educational placement) based on an Internet listing. There are reputable professionals throughout the United States who will help you with this process.
Absolutely nothing of value was presented by NPR on this broadcast. Frankly it is hard to believe you would stoop so low as to present such a program and not have any balancing comments from dedicated professionals who have committed their lives to saving children who are troubled and at risk.

Sent by Alice Jackson, MS | 3:04 PM | 10-11-2007

I would feel my private boundaries had been violated if my mother went to the media talking about my private life and wrote a book about it for anyone to read. If my mother did not respect my personal feelings that much, I would build up a lot of pain and anger about it during my life. Her inability to intuit how I would feel would create an environment of unreality in my experience, where denial abounds about how I feel deep down. I might not even let my deeper, wounded feelings surface to my consciousness. Everything I saw around me would signal those feelings were wrong and had no place.

Deep down, I would still know my human feels were right for a human to have. This would create a seething sense of injustice in me. As I grew into an adulthood and gained a sense of independence, I would begin to assert my power to define myself as separate from my family and their ways. I would seek to bond with someone, something else -- something that made some room for my feelings to express themselves.

Sent by inspra | 3:16 PM | 10-11-2007

It's too bad people are lumping Wilderness Programs in with Boot Camps. They couldn't be more different.

Boot Camp is about breaking you down and military style discipline. The wilderness programs I know, and I know many as I have been in the field for over 20 years, are nuturing, supportive and kind. They provide a safe environment for a child or young adult, to identify where their self-destructive behavior is coming from. And more than that, they hire licensed therapists to help their clients find healthier ways to respond to these issues. Quality programs include the family in this process, as they know this is not any one person's issue, but the families.

As our political leaders start to jump on this bandwagon, please remember: for many of these children the next step or two may include the juvenile justice system. Anyone who has helped families and troubled youth at all in the past knows all to well how that system addresses their needs. I know the number of lives changed for the better, not to mention saved, is in the tens of thousands.

Many states regulate these programs, do your homework as a parent, and make sure you work with a program that has a long and healthy track record.

Sent by Jeff JOHNSON | 3:42 PM | 10-11-2007

I'm glad that parents are finding out about an industry that can help. I've worked at 3 wilderness programs, the latest for 10 years. Like John Krekaur's original diatribe in Outside Magazine, your show gave airtime to Ms. Szalavitz, whose anger skewed her perspective to cover ALL programs. Second Nature, which I worked for, and many other Utah programs takes great pains to assure that kids remain physically safe at all times (satellite phones and 2 way radios, call-ins 2x a day, therapists and medical staff visit group 2x a week, etc.) I'm sorry to say TOTN did little service to informing the public about what to look for, if parents need help; Ms. Szalavitz' hyperbole only reduced some parents' options.

Sent by Patrick Logan | 3:49 PM | 10-11-2007

I don't understand how Maia can make the comments that she has, on such a public medium, without having had personal experience! I have worked at a wilderness program for 2 years and it has done wonders for hundreds of teenagers and tens of staff who have too grown tremendously by working with these kids. We have 5 highly trained and licensed therapists, in their mid-30's or older, a nurse, a teacher, an initiatives instructor, after care, and a student:staff ratio of 3:1. And someone like Maia crashes down on everyone like us, stereotyping, like she is at this moment, is just scare-based, asinine, and immature.
She just said many are 3 years! Name one! Even give a location!! If it's that long it's an emotional growth boarding school, not a wilderness program...

Sent by Steve | 3:54 PM | 10-11-2007

My son was a troubled teen. In third grade his teacher suggested that he had ADD. Our nightmares began when he was given ritalin and then other combinations of anti-depressants and speed. We spent time in family and individual counseling at the conclusion of which the psychiatrist told him he didn't have to take medication if he didn't want to. He struggled in school and eventually repeated 8th grade. Our salvation was the high school wrestling program which partnered him with an older student mentor. Everything was great until we relocated to Arizona and the school had a very harsh grade policy - he didn't know he was failing until report cards came out. I begged the school to keep him on the wrestling team or he would become a drop-out-he did. He became involved in a bad crowd, drugs and with the police (minor). When he turned 21 he enlisted in the Army-went to boot camp at Fort Knox and is now serving in Iraq. He has come out the other end o.k. but now my worry is his safety in a war zone. I feel that if I had it to do all over again I would never have traveled down the path of medication and put him in an small educational environment that cared about him as an individual and worked at a pace that he set.

Sent by Susan | 4:32 PM | 10-11-2007

I was a troubled teen...

my parents did something novel.... they sent me to a third world country to visit family I'd never met...

sometimes all they really need is perspective...

btw, I knew a friend of the kid who died in the camp in arizona whose father spoke in congress the other day.. it affected our friend group... we all dealt with "tough love" as a life threatening issue and helped eachother to runaway from parents who were talking about these programs thereafter...

Sent by anonymous | 4:35 PM | 10-11-2007

I applaud today's guests.
On the recommendation of his psychiatrist, my son was "treated" at a residential treatment, and he only withdrew further and worsened under the compassionless-punitive-behavior modification modalities I tried to mediate what sounded like humiliting and abusive punishment, and the therapists treated ME with disrepect, arrogance and humilitation. It was an excruciating situtation. When it was apparent that he wasn't responding, they kicked him our. The manager was a former prison guard, and this was the premier residential treatment in my state.
Later, on the advice of another psychiatrist, I placed him in a 4-star wilderness program. Again, he did not respond, and sunk deeper into his passive-aggressive, self-destructive mode. The "therapists" gave him the tough medicine - either you do what we say, or you'll suffer the life and death consequences. He threw out his food, wouldn't make camp, or change his socks. Consequently he suffered frost bit. It was an horrendous ordeal.

Now 22, my son is imperiled by his mental-emotional ills, and will not go near any therapist or couselor nor entertain the notion. He says that he was betrayed and abused by counselors, and betrayed by his parents for being sent there. Of his own volition, he lives in a far-away land. I worry daily for welfare and survival.

It is not as simple as "do your homework" nor go on the advice of a consultant, as blogers have said. I agree with Maia - Teen treatment needs a whole new paradim that is based upon empathy, support, and relationships, instead of the punishment- cruelity model.
Thank you to Maia and Amy. If you have a suggestion for helping my son, please let me know.
Finally, for those who say troubled teens are the parent's fault, I suggest humility and the wise adage: Don't judge another until you've stood in their shoes.

Sent by CatherineJ | 4:53 PM | 10-11-2007

It looks to me that the unfortunate outcome for a small few has the potential to mis characterize the field of wilderness programming. The reality is that accidents (rarely, but sometimes resulting in death) happen during all types of treatment, outpatient, in- patient and wilderness. At the same time thousands of youth who remain in their home environment and don't receive treatment are dying from the consequence of addiction and mental health issues. We all know what these are, drinking and driving, overdose, STD's, suicide etc... These are the very issues they are getting help with at wilderness therapy programs. If we limit people and programs from operating because of rare and outside occurrences, there are going to be many more people dying from addiction and mental health issues. How many kids??? lives have literally been saved by wilderness programming, not to mention just helped? Ask those with experience and make sure you understand the differences in types of programming, Boot camps, wilderness therapy etc...

Sent by annonymous | 5:26 PM | 10-11-2007

I was a troubled teen. Arrested thrice. Drugs, sex, etc. Wound up doing 14 months in prison.

Eventually graduated from college and then medical school and now completing a residency at an ivy league affiliated hospital.

Cannot believe what I am hearing from these mothers! "I asked myself all of those questions, 'was it me? did I work too much? was it the divorce?'..."

The answer is emphatically YES. It was you. You DID work too much. It WAS the divorce. You chose yourself ans your happiness/needs over your child's. You needed to make decisions that sacrificed your own comfort and preserved the child.

The school's are intended to EDUCATE, not provide parenting. You've have found a novel use for them as a convenient scapegoat. This is not a comfortable realization, but to persist in such self-delusion is only harmful to children and will encourage other parents to excuse themselves from responsibility.

Sent by Brandon | 7:03 PM | 10-11-2007

I was faced with having to make the most difficult decision in my life when my daughter's therapist told me that my daughter needed to be in a residential treatment program. He gave me the name of one he recommended in Utah, we lived in Colorado. I interviewed and selected the recommended out of state treatment program. I monitored her progress very closely and had numerous calls with her therapist every week. I knew that my daughter would not be alive if I did not take this measure. I will never ever forget the day I left her at the airport with a staff that would take her to the facility. She thought we were going on vacation; I had to trick her into getting on the plane. Eventually I was able to visit her and then she had home visits. After one year she came home, just in time to celebrate her 16th birthday. Today, she understands why I sent her to this facility and is thankful. The down side to this facility is that they had a few employees at the center that tried to keep her at the facility longer by telling her therapist and me that she did not pass her drug test when she returned from a home visit. I did not believe them and the therapist at the facility did not believe them. Today she is a happy and thriving young adult and I am glad I had the courage to get her the help she needed.

Sent by Stephanie's Mother | 7:19 PM | 10-11-2007

I am literally sitting here in tears listening to this program.

These mothers have convinced themselves that the schools are to blame, blithely denying their own culpability. Children need parents. Both parents. Schools are not a substitute.

My father was gone by the time I was seven. I have an outstanding relationship with my mother, but she could not be there for me when I was young. She needed to work in order to feed and house me and my brothers. Without parents following up on the child's activity and progress, kids WILL get into trouble.

It is convenient to blame it on "the wrong crowd", but the "wrong crowd" exists precisely because of parental absence/indifference.

Sent by Brandon | 7:20 PM | 10-11-2007

The National Institutes for Health issued a consensus document in 2004 that said tough love didn't work and that such behavioral treatments could make kids worse.

Sent by anonymous | 10:56 PM | 10-11-2007

I am a big TOTN fan and I was sorely disappointed by the abysmal, lopsided and fear-based treatment you gave to the critical issue of appropriate interventions for struggling teens.

When I think of all the desparate parents who might have been listening to your program in the hope of hearing about some GOOD options for their children, I am appalled that your program played to sensationalism and made little distinction between "abuse camps" and all the other truly therapeuatic programs out there that are staffed by professionals, structured for safety and that truly seek to reach out to and help the confused, hurt and angry children in their care.

My son spent eight weeks at Second Nature Wilderness program in Utah and then attended an excellent therapeutic boarding school for 17 months where he was given an immense amount of love and support as well as the opportunity to know himself and explore the issues that had brought him to the brink of despair. It not only saved his life but has given him a degree of self knowledge and empathy that most adults could envy.

It would be wonderful if you could revisit this issue on a future program and this time include guests with a broad background in the positive options available to kids and their families who are in need of help. My advice to both TOTN and to those families: start with a good independent Education Consultant. It's their job to know this "industry" inside and out and to sort out the "bad apples" from the programs that can save lives.

Sent by Sara | 11:14 PM | 10-11-2007

As the mother of a 17 year old son who went through a fantastic wildernss program (Second Nature) for 8 weeks at the beginning of the year, and is now in his sixth month of an 18 month program at a top notch therapeutic boarding school, I was extremely disappointed in your broadcast today. My husband and I believe with all our heart that our son's life was saved by these programs. He was never in any physical or emotional danger while in the wilderness or at his school...quite the contrary, he has been helped by highly competent, dedicated and educated professionals who have mentored him with honesty, skill, love, understanding, and compassion. Our family has been kept in the loop since the beginning and has been included in our son's journey. Yesterday, I spoke for over an hour with our son's college counselor at his boarding school. This in itself is a miracle...with the kind of substance abuse our son was involved in, we very well could have been talking to law enforcement, hospital personnel or even a morgue instead of a college counselor. My heart goes out to those parents who testified before Congress yesterday. I believe there is the need for oversight, however, there are so many wonderful, clinically sound programs out there that need to be highlighted. Many, many lives have not only been saved, but the teens have gained the tools to live full, wonderful, productive lives. Please do not throw out the baby with the bath water. I would like to encourage you to do a follow up program that shows both sides of this issue. I particularly found Maia Szalavitz to broadbrush all programs and to irresponsibly sensationalize the issue. Yes, parents must be extremely careful when sending their child away for help, but they must also be aware that there are safe, effective options available. Using a reputable educational consultant is a must in my opinion.

Sent by Marla | 12:18 AM | 10-12-2007

My son attended a caring, professional and therapeutic wilderness program. It was a positive intervention for our family. He is now attending a therapeutic boarding school and is doing well to date. We could not have navigated these choices without an education consultant. While I enjoyed hearing the perspective and experiences of writer Martha Dudman, and am heartbroken to hear about abusive boot camp-style programs, like Ms. Judson who comments above, I was disappointed by the lack of distinction between "unregulated boot camps" and the kinds of programs that are well-supervised, licensed, and above all, dedicated to the growth of troubled youth and the whole family. Don't lump these programs together with those programs that should be closed immediately. The "entire industry" is not unregulated, heartless, abusive -- or, in fact, un-researched. And there is at least one good journalistic account of a therapeutic wilderness program. Admittedly, more research (and more responsible journalism) would be welcome, but there are studies out there, I believe, from the Univ. of Minnesota. I hope you return to this topic again, and more responsibly.

Sent by Anonymous in Texas | 10:19 AM | 10-12-2007

I see that the industry shills are out here in force.

1) How can you have an industry serving troubled kids with psychiatric problems that doesn't have controlled trials that prove that what it does helps and doesn't harm?

2) Why should we trust these profit-making amateurs with our kids?

3) Every other business that works with troubled kids is strictly regulated to prevent abuses-- why would you send your kids out in the woods with one that isn't?

4) Educational consultants are not required to have any qualifications and many take kickbacks from these programs. No one polices them to prevent this.

5) Numerous programs-- all of the "emotional growth boarding schools" hold kids for 18 months to 4-5 years routinely. For example, Cross Creek Manor, Elan School, Academy at Swift River, Tranquility Bay, MidWest Academy... dozens and dozens of others.

6) Personal experience cannot tell you what works and what doesn't-- if it could, quack medicine would be a success. Many people believe in cancer cures that when studied proved useless or harmful. The same is true with these programs. When you study the results of confrontation, "breaking down" and humiliation, it does harm or has no effect, but it doesn't work better than just doing nothing.

If you could produce several *controlled* *peer reviewed* *published* trials that supported any of these programs, I'd favor having them, with strict regulation. But if you cannot-- and currently all the industry has is uncontrolled research based on surveys-- why should we take the risks?

7) Many wilderness programs claim to be kind and gentle and not "tough love." That's exactly what Aaron Bacon's parents were promised before the program they sent him to starved him and denied him medical care until he died. Similarly, Catherine Freer is widely seen as a "good" but not a tough program-- it has had three deaths and one was because it didn't know even the most obvious fact about methamphetamine use-- it often kills by overheating. While Erica Harvey died, the staff of this supposedly good program, as did the staff of the "bad" programs, thought she was "faking."

Without strict regulation, there is no way for parents to know whether they are getting a tough or kind program. The shills sell the parents what they want to buy-- not what the program actually is.

--- Maia Szalavitz

Sent by Maia Szalavitz | 11:00 AM | 10-12-2007

I would advise parents to use a reputable educational consultant and to distinguish between "boot camps" and therapeutic wilderness programs. Our son's experience at Second Nature, a therapeutic program, was absolutely transformative. Their concern for his physical safety was paramount with a high staff/student ratio and layers of built-in safeguards. Every event was used therapeutically. Our son learned to identify his feelings, gained tremendous insight into his behavior, developed assertive communication skills, and became a believer in the value of a good therapist. In fact, he would like to work for a wilderness program in the future.
It is too soon to say what the ultimate outcome will be, but under the theory that all that happens to us becomes a part of who we are, he will always have the experience of the wilderness to draw upon. I now know many teens and families who have had over-the-top wilderness experiences.

At the same time, we have learned that they are not all of such high quality. Oversight and regulation would be fine - even advisable - but don't paint them all with the same negative brush.

Sent by Julie | 11:55 AM | 10-12-2007

i personally have been in a program for the last year and have known quite a few people who went to wilderness problems. from what i have heard anasozi is one of the best, it is based in arizona. however i think that in patient, long term is needed for situations that are unhealthy. mainly because it gets down to the things that triggered that kind of reaction. i have done both short term and long term, however the stats are that 1/3will go in and out of institutionsand jail, 1/3 will die, and 1/3 will live. when i look at it that way, i would rather have a better chance with it. all that a short term program taught me was how to use. it was more of a baby sitting center. i had been using for 6years and now i have a year of sobriety, it has been worth the money, time, and effort my family has sacrificed.

Sent by sarah | 2:30 PM | 10-12-2007

The emotions stirred up for me in reading through this are too many to express. I am a licensed clinical social worker(LCSW) who has worked as a counselor in two different programs that provide emotional growth in a wilderness setting. I have integrity, compassion, ethical and moral values, great education and training and several regulatory bodies that keep an eye on me and on the work that is happening in the field. Maia's comments always get to me and I love that about her passion, regardless of how intently I disagree. Tragedy has occurred in our industry, just as it has in placements that provide treatments that have been scientifically proven effective, studied inside and out and approved through APA(American Psychological Association) standards in addition to being audited by a number of regulatory agencies. It is sad to discount the personal experiences of those students and families who have had life changing, non traumatic experiences in these settings. Should we not then also discount the personal experiences supporting the negative view? We should honor both sides in fact, continue to demand integrity from the industry, Ed. Consultants included, generate longitudinal studies(several of which have already been done and continue to be in progress)to help support the deep process of change that can safely begin in these programs; we should continue to uncover powerful treatment methods such as those implemented in wilderness programs that provide for experiences that our society continues to lack as our teens head further and further down hill. I am whole heartedly a believer in the powerful experience that can only occur in the out-of-doors and that is deepened by trained staff who believe in the power of our teenagers.

Sent by Anonymous | 3:45 PM | 10-12-2007

Sarah, those statistics you just cited are complete nonsense-- made up by programs to scare parents and teens into believing that they are necessary.

If that were true, there would be hundreds of thousands of addiction-related deaths every year and there would be far more people incarcerated the the two million currently in our prisons and the psychiatric hospitals would be overflowing.

For example, the total number of teen deaths each year is roughly 20,000 (including diseases and non-behavior-related problems)-- the Surgeon General estimates that there are about 10 million teens with serious mental illnesses and addiction.

So, where are the 3 million dead kids?

Sent by Maia Szalavitz | 4:40 PM | 10-12-2007

Some children have problems socializing, and some get anxious. Fifty percent have some neurologic defect, but only 10% fail to figure out how to deal with it.

We should try to build institutions to help children use their strengths and weaknesses. The industrial model of compulsory education that just began 150 years ago may be an added stress to some. Education in coordination with public safety and health promotion should be supportive yet challenging at the appropriate level for children and young adults. Information should be shared in a private and secure manner to help people best while protecting them from identity theft and exploitation. Evaluation of programs should be done on a continuing basis.

Sent by Phillip C Gioia, MD, MPH | 10:51 AM | 10-13-2007

I was woken up at 4am and escorted to a wilderness program out of state where I spent 4 months in the wilderness and four more in residential. After leaving the program I went back there to be an instructor. Years later I worked for two years at another wilderness program.

As someone with experience in the industry on both sides, I found the so called "experts" on the show to be uninformed and uneducated about the reality of these programs. First of all there is a big difference between wilderness boot camps and wilderness programs, which was not discussed. I have spent three years in the trenches with some very troubled kids and have saved many of their lives with compassion and empathy not humiliation and abuse. The hearings only gave a small glimpse into what wilderness programs are about. I am not saying that every instructor in every program in the country is always acts in the best interest of the kids. After all, it is a BUSINESS.

The guests on the show demonized the programs and their people who run them. Unless they have spent any real time in the wilderness with these kids, than what they say is speculation and hearsay.

I tried to call in but was unable to get through. I hope next time Talk of the Nation gets people on the show that are in the industry not people outside of the box looking in.

Sent by Wolf | 2:54 PM | 10-13-2007

I just wanted to say one more thing... I have little doubt that a wilderness experience in the hands of trained therapists or even simply trained outdoor guides who love nature who were *not* using tough love could be tremendously healing for the right kid.

The problem is, without regulation, parents have no way of knowing if that's what their child will actually get and there is no way for a child to complain if they are being maltreated.

As a result, I think that the best way for kids to get the benefits of a wilderness experience is either to do something like Outward Bound (*not* the one for troubled kids) where regular teens go voluntarily so there's little chance the guides will think they are "faking" because they are troubled-- or even better, for the whole family to take some kind of wilderness trek with appropriate guidance.

Using Nature to scare and deprive kids is not healing-- but allowing kids to take on a challenge for themselves voluntarily can show them that they can do more and be more than they might believe.

When you are voluntarily challenging yourself, the experience is very different than when you are being forced into harsh conditions.

Sent by Maia Szalavitz | 5:55 PM | 10-13-2007

Maia, you just don't know what you're talking about. You make sweeping statements that have no basis in reality. You lump all programs into one bunch, as if they all operate the same. Of course there are bad programs, just as there are bad car mechanics, bad doctors, dentists and on and on.

What would you have parents do? Rely on the state systems?

Sent by Anonymous | 6:26 PM | 10-13-2007

My heart bleeds for the families that have lost sons and daughters to abusive or negligent "wilderness therapy programs". However, I believe the recent spot-light on the wilderness therapy industry was too narrowly focused. The broader issue in the teenage wilderness therapy discussion is certainly about educating families in crisis. There will always be ignorant, abusive and negligent people who disregard regulations and are willing to put clients at risk. Generalized attacks on the adolescent wilderness therapy industry are inappropriate (an industry that provides critical help to children and families). The focus should be upon the very few who take unnecessary risk and are willing to disregard licensing, regulation and common sense safety practices. The focus ought to be upon improving awareness and support for families in such crisis, so they can steer clear of the very few who would take great risk with their children. Credible professionals in our industry support licensing and quality oversight. This discussion needs to be balanced with existing research and experience that shows many wilderness therapy programs having a safety record superior to the average teenager's level of risk at home (Keith Russell has done this kind of research). I am a partner in a wilderness therapy program that has logged over 200,000 'student days' of safety during the past 10 years (10 students enrolled in the program for one day equals 10 'student days'). When reputable programs are used, the wilderness can be a very safe and highly therapeutic place for adolescents. The wilderness therapy story needs to be told more thoroughly.

Sent by Devan Glissmeyer Ph.D. | 2:02 AM | 10-17-2007

The media coverage of this and similar stories has, in general, taken on a sensationalist tone and has failed to acknowledge important distinctions in categories of adolescent care. I recently wrote a friend who anchors a major television news show and who has an interest in our industry and work; I requested that she do a more balanced and educative piece on the topic of treatment (and mistreatment) in adolescent programs. Here are key points:
Hello Friend:

My concern is that this piece and other media treatments of similar topics fail to make even the broadest distinctions between adolescent mental health organizations and categories of treatment. They use various terms interchangeably that actually have strong distinctions in the mental health industry. Terms such as "boot camp," "therapeutic program," "wilderness camp," "residential program," "treatment," "wilderness program," "tough love program," etcetera are all jumbled together as if they're all the same. The result, I fear, is not a better educated or informed public, but merely a more fearful one.

As a result, I don't think this type of story functions well as either a news piece or a public service, though it poses as both. Many families who need mental-health services will grasp for any reason they can to avoid engaging those services--often because of simple fear.

Fear-mongering stories, therefore, as opposed to balanced expository stories, can cause real harm. Furthermore, since no one wants dangerous programs to be put out of business more than good programs do, it's troubling to have all adolescent programs seemingly lumped into a single category.

I think it might be both educational and interesting for you to do a piece that taps into the news of these hearings on abuses in residential programs, but also does the following:

Describes some of the broad categories of residential and non-residential support

- Drug and alcohol, LD, specialty treatment, general treatment, emotional growth, non-public schools, boot camps, public, private, military, etc.

- Residential, inpatient, outpatient, community based, wraparound, day treatment, home-based (Beth and I currently work for Vive, which delivers support to families in their home environment--a very interesting alternative)

- Teases out the question of how to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater

- Where is the line between appropriate regulation and hyper-regulation (the absence of the former opens the doors for abuse, the presence of the latter has doomed many mental health programs to static mediocrity)?

- Are there programs that can provide the rest of the industry with models for best practices (the answer is yes)?

- Are there alternatives to residential care?

Give the public (consumers) some ideas for evaluating the quality of programs

- What is an educational consultant?

- Types of professional credentials for caregivers and categories of program regulation, licensure, and accreditation...

- Questions to ask of any program...

- How to tour a program and what to look for...

- How to evaluate if short or long-term residential treatment, outpatient care, or home care is the most appropriate option...

- Etc.

Sent by Will Laughlin | 6:53 PM | 10-17-2007

My friend worked at a wilderness program in Utah for troubled teens. There was also therapists to work with the children. It was about survival and learning to work with the other kids, otherwise you will have a very difficult time out in the wilderness.

These programs aren't meant to be easy. If these teens want to be "tough", they should learn what being "tough" really means. Show them what true survival is about and hopefully they will come out a stronger, more respectful person, not only for other human beings but also for the environment.

Sent by Kristine | 11:00 AM | 10-18-2007

Will Laughlin, if you actually read my book Help at Any Cost (or even the website www.helpatanycost.com or my many posts on this on HuffingtonPost), you will see that I am intimately familiar with all of that stuff and that I have a "Questions to Ask" of providers that is on the website. The book includes lots of information on alternatives for parents-- but my conclusion is that because inpatient is so fraught with risk, it should be limited (just like for adults) to people who have the most severe problems. That means daily users, injectors and people who are a threat to selves or others-- ONLY. And only for the short time needed to stabilize.

For the rest of the time, community based care is not only cheaper and safer, but more effective because the biggest part of healing comes through repairing family relationships and friendships and this can't be done from 1000's of miles away.

I have been literally begging mental health professionals for years to speak out against this stuff-- it would seem that no one would have more to gain that legitimate addiction and mental health programs from putting amateurish, harmful ones out of business.

But, unfortunately-- until the recent founding of A-START, (a psychologist member of this group testified at the hearing)-- very few have done. It astounds me that legitimate professionals wouldn't speak out against abusive treatment, wouldn't say straightforwardly that being "tough," humiliating and confronting and degrading is not only ineffective but can be harmful.

But unfortunately, many legitimate professionals at some point bought into the dangerous "tough love" ideology-- and though many have backed off, they still seem embarrassed to take this on.

You would think that the country's top treatment professionals would be leading the charge against this stuff-- even on sheer business grounds of reducing competition-- but the silence of addiction, psychology, psychiatry and social work as professions and from individual practitioners has been deafening.

This is almost as scandalous as the development of these programs themselves-- professionals have abdicated their duty to care and in some instances have rented their credibility to legitimize abusive programs by serving as things like part-time "medical directors" without even knowing the policies and practices of the organizations to which they lend their names.

Sent by Maia Szalavitz | 7:17 PM | 10-21-2007

my daughter was taken from me by a family member (not a husband) and put into one of these programs. I was not allowed contact or visitation, even phone calls were prohibited. The operators only responded to large amounts of cash (from the person who put her there). I never gave permission for this. The police refused to get involved (custodial interference applied). How can this even be legal? My God ... (She got out and came home a year later.)

Sent by mom4 | 6:49 PM | 10-29-2007

I live in Europe where we do not have such involuntary programs.

Here is the statistic for youth aged 13-15 for my country.

http://www.espad.org/sa/node.asp?node=652

82% percent has been drunk the last year. Did they die? Did they end up in jail? Did they later kill people by DUI?

The answer is No, No and No. We only have 1/10 of the total population in jail compared with your country. Deaths caused by drinking too much alcohol is so rare that is national news every time and 2006 marked the number of people killed on Danish roads to an all time low. Most claim that it was due to the introduction on an 16 year limit on alcohol purchase, which enabled the youth to discover the dangers of alcohol two years before they can drive.

We can even see the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the mayor killer in our society. Overweight among teenagers.

Our tactic: Make it OK for the teenagers to approach adults whenever they need to quit alcohol or drug use. We allow them to fail well knowing that eventually they have to stand on their own feet and it is without question easier to coach a 11 or 13 year old than a 18 or 21 year old when it comes to teach them about the hard reality of the world.

Then it is too late because "now they are adults". They think that they know all about life and that they are going to live forever.

I think that you as a nation needs to discuss the full impact that the double income society has on you as families. Life is basically try and error. Parenting even so. Some of the errors can be avoided if their is adult presence when life is tried. So laws making it illegal to serve alcohol for your own children is equal to order a kill on the road some 5 or 10 years later.

Speak with your children without condeming them. Then the issue regarding the so-called troubled youth will disapear.

Sent by Jonas Petersen | 9:20 AM | 10-30-2007

Maia, community based care has proven time after time not to work for the majority of the clients who attend these programs. To think a child can attend 2 or 3 times a week for a few hours, or even daily for an hour or two, is fooling yourself. I have worked with literally hundreds of families who have seen their child fail for years before they give up on "community based" support. Structure is the main ingredient in successful recovery, and that certainly isn't what home based community programs can provide consistently.

Sent by Jeff Johnson | 11:44 AM | 10-31-2007

Support comes from: