The Effectiveness of Boot Camps for Troubled Children

In circumstances where parents cannot control a teen, they might seek additional help through a boot camp. These camps are meant to provide discipline for troubled teens in hopes that they can turn their lives around. Some teens are even sent to boot camps when they are found guilty of a delinquent act, reports 1. The goal is to rehabilitate them and help them return to society, rather than placing them in the penal system.

Boot Camp Components

Boot camp are meant to turn the life of a troubled teen around in a short period. Most of these camps include intensive training, which is similar to what those who enroll in the military would do daily. The goal is to develop self-discipline, self-esteem, teamwork and responsibility through this training. In addition, these programs often help the teens finish high school by devoting several hours each day to academics, according to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service 2. The subject matter includes writing, reading, mathematics and phonics because these are the main skills needed to graduate and begin looking for jobs.

While at Camp

Research completed by the National Institute of Justice for a 10-year period starting in the late 1980s found that boot camp has a positive influence on people while they are confined there 3. These individuals were likely to have a positive attitude and to exhibit better behavior while at camp than before they arrived. They also develop better coping and problem-solving skills during their stay at boot camp, which shows that the program does have some potential.

After Camp

At the conclusion of camp, the teen is usually released and able to return to his home. Unfortunately, boot camp programs have not been shown to reduce recidivism in those who attend. While placing some teens in boot camps does allow them to avoid jail temporarily, there is a lack of focus on the teen's re-entry into society, which can lead to discipline problems down the road. There is also concern about the short tenure of these camps, according to the National Institute of Justice, as the average stay is between 90 and 120 days. This is not enough time to rehabilitate someone, which can lead to a high rate of return into the justice system.


If boot camp is an option for your child, it is important that you weigh the pros and cons. The effectiveness of boot camp is up for debate and there are some safety concerns involved as well. Between 1990 and 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that thousands of abuse allegations were reported at these camps 4. In addition, investigations into the deaths of 10 teenagers who died at the camps from 1990 to 2004 revealed "significant evidence of ineffective management," according to the GAO report. As a result, parents who have a choice might want to visit the camp before enrolling a child to see exactly what she will go through during her stay.