Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wilderness Programs and Problem Teens

Wilderness Programs (Brat Camps)
What is a "Wilderness Program?"  If you are a parent that is struggling with a teenager that is out-of-control, you will surf the Internet and attempt to find help.  Many parents first think of boot camps as a resolution - a way to teach our teen a lesson.  Then you realize that maybe that is not the best avenue and you are somehow directed to wilderness programs.  Not always, but especially if you have hired an Educational Consultant, their first recommendation is commonly Wilderness programs.

There are many very good Wilderness Programs in our country, however the question remains, are they necessary or should you go directly to where most teens eventually end up:  Residential Therapy program.

Wilderness programs are mainly designed to break a teen down.  Although they are not punitive, in comparison to a boot camp, they are primitive, forcing your teen to appreciate the luxuries he had at home. 

However, a residential therapy program can do the same thing, since many are not designed by Hilton (TM).  Have you also thought about this:  Your teen is already broken down, why do we need to continue to break him/her down?

Let's look at the pro's and cons. 
  • Wilderness programs can cost you up to $500.00 a day. Yes, a day.  Some start as little as $250.00 a day (Yes, as little as).  Now multiply that by 30 days or actually 6 weeks, since the average stay in Wilderness is 6-9 weeks.  At the low end: A month in the mountains will cost you $7500.00.  That is questionable to many, as well as out of the financial means of many more.
  • Wilderness program rarely have academics.  Fact is your teen is probably not focused on academics and could care less about them.  Working on their emotional stability is the goal here, however it shouldn't be an excuse to delay education.  Although your child may not care about their education, you do. 
  • Wilderness programs are short term.  Short term program, short term results and a lot of money.  In most cases they go on to residential programs which will run you about another $5000.00 a month and up for another 10-12 months.  Wouldn't it make sense to start and finish at the same place with the same therapist and the consistency of recovery?
  • Wilderness programs are sadly where we hear of the most deaths or accidents in teen help programs.  It is true, accidents can happen in any program, however when listening to speakers in congress while attempting to pass a bill to stop abuse in residential programs, it seemed the parents that lost a child in a program were mainly in Wilderness programs.
Some positives:
  • If your teen has not escalated to a point of serious concern, and is just starting to make some poor choices, maybe a 6-9 week wake-up call is all that is needed.  As long as you can afford it, and remember, if they decide he/she needs more than the 6-9 weeks, you need to be prepared to go the next step.
  • The teen is removed from their home environment.  They are put in a place of isolation and maybe this is just what they need to reflect on their current negative behavior.
  • There are some excellent Wilderness programs with very good and caring staff in our country.  Many teens that had a wilderness experience really feel it was very good.  Many parents also believe that the Wilderness program helped their child get ready for the next step, residential therapy.
  • Wilderness programs offer a great opportunity for your teen to live outdoors and experience outdoor therapy.  With some teens this is very beneficial. 

This is a personal decision, and although I am not an advocate of Wilderness programs I can appreciate and respect parents that believe they need this extra step and it has worked for them.  It is my philosohy that starting and finishing at the program is part of the consistency of healing.  Having to switch programs and therapists (especially) and starting over, can feel like you have fallen back to ground zero. However, each family is different with different needs, so this is an individual decision.

Is Wilderness right for your teen?  Only you can answer that.

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