You've probably seen “get tough” boot camps on TV talk shows or reality programming. They show how “problem” kids with bad attitudes and usually lazy dispositions lace up combat boots, crumble and cry in front of oppressive camp leaders, tromp through brush and rocks to build fences or go on quests, and come out of the program tougher, wiser, and more respectful. It's an effect created for entertainment purposes, and it doesn't work.
Did You Know … ?
Did you know that boot camp-style programs are largely undocumented, unregulated, and run by unlicensed professionals? That's right. If you dig deep enough, you will probably find that the only programs that are documented and run by licensed professionals are government-run, and are usually mandatory care facilities for children who have been removed from their homes or who are in a kind of halfway house after leaving juvenile hall.
If you voluntarily send your child away to a boot camp, don't expect the results you've seen on television, where producers and writers script what will happen so that viewers can have a sense of triumph when a mean bully gets what he has coming. The ends of these programs are tied up as neatly as thirty-minute sitcoms, but most people know that life doesn't work that way. You are your child's parent and the only one who can protect her. When she's away at an extended care facility, you don't know what types of dangers she'll confront — violent peers, unclean conditions, abusive or deviant leaders — and no one will have her best interests at heart the way you would at home. Because of this, boot camps usually make behavior worse as your child tries to fend for herself among violent and aggressive peers and leaders.
What Your Child Learns from Boot Camp
Voluntarily sending a child away to boot camp, or any place you can't care for her daily, tells her two things: you have given up on her, and you don't care about her and want her out of your life. She'll see you as weaker than she is and lose respect for you. It also teaches her that violence, aggression, and force are the only way to get things done, because that's how boot camps operate. Finally, it teaches her not to trust anyone and to remain emotionally detached, because people who supposedly love her can ditch her at any time.
If you are considering boot camp because you must remove your child from a dangerous peer group for an extended period of time, it would be much more effective for your whole family to go to a specialty camp on parenting skills and relationship improvement. You could use this time to bond and to show your child that, rather than abandoning her, you are right there beside her during the hardest times. You may even consider moving, which is expensive and inconvenient, but will be much better for your family than sending your child away.