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January 27, 2014 6:54 AM   Subscribe

"One night in August 2004, I awoke to a man and a woman in my room whom I had never seen before telling me that they were "escorts" and we were going to a place called "wilderness."...There is a legal process where parents can sign over custody of kids who need residential care, which makes sense, because if a kid has to be housed in a mental health facility, the staff needs to be able to make all of the day-to-day decisions for her care. But that same process works for "unruly" teens like me, which meant the company that ran my camp had total legal control over where I went and what I did." --Cracked.com takes on the Tough Love for Troubled Teen camps that, mostly unregulated, are "treating" more and more children every year.

Previously.
posted by Potomac Avenue (69 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
With the number of horror stories out there about these types of places, it amazes me that parents are still willing to send their kids to them. The same type of treatment that, if you didn't sign them up for it, would make a movie of the week about ogres running a cult is supposed to "cure" your kids of bad behavior? Awful.
posted by xingcat at 7:04 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


With the number of horror stories out there about these types of places, it amazes me that parents are still willing to send their kids to them.

Never underestimate the ability of adults, being miles and miles up their own asses, to ignore reality in favor of their own self-centered beliefs, and to see their own flesh-and-blood as "others".
posted by Thorzdad at 7:18 AM on January 27 [33 favorites]


With no background checks on employees and an environment where kids will be dismissed as manipulative drama queens for complaining, these camps are perfect havens for child abusers.
posted by dr_dank at 7:21 AM on January 27 [21 favorites]


Also, when a person is stuck with a seemingly impossible situation (such as understanding a teenager who hasn't become the person you'd imagined they would be at that age) a solution which seems to guarantee to show you a concrete change (i.e. "Send them to Montana as X, and they'll come back as Y!") can seem very seductive.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:21 AM on January 27 [10 favorites]


One of my younger sisters was sent to one of those camps. We grew up separately and weren't in touch at that time, so I didn't find out until years later when we reconnected and she told me about it. She has lots of horror stories - about the regimen, the counselors, and also about being bullied by the other teens there for not being enough of a 'bad kid.' Being the relatively good kid at a Bad Kid Camp is apparently not a great role to be in.

Like I said, I didn't know her then. I was in another state, I was a teenager myself, we hadn't been in contact in years, there was no way I could have known. But I'm still pretty sure that as long as I live, one of my biggest regrets as a sister and as a person is going to be that I didn't somehow find out and protect her from that place. And, frankly, from the parents who sent her there.

When I am queen of the world, setting those programs on fire is one of the first things I am going to do.
posted by Stacey at 7:27 AM on January 27 [22 favorites]


Also, when a person is stuck with a seemingly impossible situation (such as understanding a teenager who hasn't become the person you'd imagined they would be at that age) a solution which seems to guarantee to show you a concrete change (i.e. "Send them to Montana as X, and they'll come back as Y!") can seem very seductive.

Yeah, I think this is true. These camps are horrible, horrible places full of misery and bad practice but they don't sell themselves that way, obviously, and I think a lot of parents just don't know. Also, sometimes parents really just aren't sure what to do with a kid. That sounds dismissive, but some kids really do have very serious issues and when you have someone like that living in your house, especially if you have other kids you need to protect, there's not a clear answer on what to do and it can seem impossible to make a good decision or think rationally when you're genuinely fearful.

Many of the kids sent to these places are sent for terrible reasons (sexual orientation, general not-fitting-in-ness, basic teenage rebellion) but there are some parents who are genuinely terrified of and for their kids, both the ones they see as "problems" and other children in the house. It's not right and these places are terrible and immoral but sometimes they might seem like the only option if you have a kid you just can't handle. One of the real problems here is that many parents don't have any other resources when they're in over their heads.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:28 AM on January 27 [21 favorites]


dismissed as manipulative drama queens for complaining

Not for nothing, but have you met many teenagers ? I now understand why some species eat their young.

I won't say I seriously considered sending my kid there, but it certainly crossed my mind a few times. On preview, what Mrs. Pterodactyl said.

Not that I'm defending these places or their practices - there is some fucked up shit there, for sure.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:30 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]


That said, I do have some sympathy for parents who don't know better and this kind of expose can only help since lots of people actually just don't know.

I have ABSOLUTELY ZERO sympathy for the adults who run and work in these camps. Seriously, what the fuck, guys? How can you live like that? How can you do that day after day and live with yourselves? It reminds me of a quote from Catch-22:

“Yossarian marveled that children could suffer such barbaric sacrifice without evincing the slightest hint of fear or pain. He took for granted that they did submit so stoically. If not, he reasoned, the custom would certainly have died, for no craving for wealth or immortality could be so great, he felt, as to subsist on the sorrow of children.”

How can you spend your life face-to-face with the misery and suffering of these kids and get up in the morning? How can you do it?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:33 AM on January 27 [13 favorites]


How can you spend your life face-to-face with the misery and suffering of these kids and get up in the morning? How can you do it?

Profit!

And God wills it.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:36 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]


If you're going to hire people to forcibly kidnap your child in the middle of the night, and it turns out that the place that they're taken to is a Hell on Earth, the argument that "a lot of parents just don't know" is a heaping pile of bullshit.

It is your responsibility to know - indeed, if you're a parent, no responsibility is so great as this.

On a somewhat different note, it's interesting that Cracked's articles have become increasingly solid - while still fitting into that "# [adjective] [noun phrase]" format.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:37 AM on January 27 [40 favorites]


Many of the kids sent to these places are sent for terrible reasons (sexual orientation, general not-fitting-in-ness, basic teenage rebellion) but there are some parents who are genuinely terrified of and for their kids, both the ones they see as "problems" and other children in the house.

It's also worth remembering that for some people, the things that most people on Metafilter (rightly) see as normal teenage behavior can be perceived as huge problems in need of dire measures to correct them. Minor drug or alcohol experimentation, being sexual active as a teenager, talking back occasionally, are the kind of things that can make some parents genuinely think their kids have gone completely off the rails, even if objectively they haven't. They're willing to take a risk with a harsh place because they think that it's the only option in a bad situation.

There's a million reasons why parents might make the choice to send their kids to a place like this, and focusing on those reasons kind of misses the real problem, which is that these places exist for them to send their kids to in the first place.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:38 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]


Before people jump up and down on the soapbox, this is Cracked.com. Cracked being the knockoff of Mad Magazine.
posted by Hasteur at 7:43 AM on January 27


They may be getting more popular with time, but it's not a new phenomenon. I can remember reading a (better written, as I recall) article about these places in Spin magazine (or was it Sassy?) back in about 1991, for example.

I don't want to sound like I'm defending these places, especially the really bad ones, but I can really sympathize with parents who feel like there is no other viable option and this is one of the last things possible to try. Now that I have friends with teenaged kids, I am seeing that age with different eyes, and a couple of them are really struggling with self-destructive behaviors and other serious issues. The hope is that they will age out of it, but getting them there without damage is the trick.

And at least for some people, some of the time, these programs actually work -- taking the problem kid out of a problematic situation can bring about a different perspective in a way that staying and talking about it sometimes can't. It worked that way for a friend's sibling, whose issues were helped by a summer in one of those programs where they hiked all day and slept on the ground. It gave both him and his parents a couple months of respite and he came back a more self-aware person.

But that was a good program, not abusive at all, and probably inadvertently well timed, right at a moment when he was open to change. Take away any of those factors and it would be a different story.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:46 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]


> Before people jump up and down on the soapbox, this is Cracked.com. Cracked being the knockoff of Mad Magazine.

And your point is... that we can therefore ignore the article? Or...?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:46 AM on January 27 [21 favorites]


These "camps" betray the parents, as well as the kids. These camps promise things to the parents that they do not deliver. These camps do not make kids "better". Few parents are psychotic enough to actually wish pointless torture on their children.

...

Relatedly: here's a trailer for Kids for Cash, a documentary about the Kids for Cash scandal, in which two Pennsylvania judges received kickbacks for sending kids to a private juvenile detention facility.

...

Before people jump up and down on the soapbox, this is Cracked.com. Cracked being the knockoff of Mad Magazine.

No more than Nintendo is a card game company. The rights to the Cracked name were bought out years ago. It is no longer a magazine at all. It is now a more-than-decent "listicle" site. Either way, the stories about these boot camps are old and various - simple googling will uncover the fact that they're true.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:49 AM on January 27 [27 favorites]


@lupis_yonderboy & @stitcherbeast

My point is that the site has a explicit intent to sensationalize and satirize the subject. The phenomenon of corrective/coercive bootcamps with a abduction/tough-love lead in is nothing new. I live in a urbanized area, but we still hear about parents who relinquish their children to these types of "organizations" to try and get a positive benefit. I'd be perfectly happy to have one of the legitimate news organizations headlines rather than the obviously link bait headline leading to Cracked and having the instant dismissal of the story.
posted by Hasteur at 8:03 AM on January 27


Channel 4 in the UK (that now has somewhat of a reputation for tabloid subject docs) did a series Brat Camp. I gather they went to the milder types of camps and for the most part the treatment seemed to be to bore the kids to death by placing them in time out until they conformed and did activities. Of course it was framed as at least a partial success for the kids involved. I've no idea if there was ever a follow up on how they might have faired later on. Once of the more stricter (and I think very Christian) camps I saw (not sure if it was the same series) which was long term (as in several years for some participants) had the kids just reading books and summarising what they read (or as punishment, lying in an empty room). I can't imagine that's going to be any good for your long term mental health or education.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:06 AM on January 27


But that was a good program, not abusive at all, and probably inadvertently well timed, right at a moment when he was open to change. Take away any of those factors and it would be a different story.

Right. And if more of these programs really were structured more along the lines of taking hikes and getting out of your headspace, then people wouldn't have a problem with them as a class. However, the total lack of regulatory oversight, plus the frequently deceptive marketing, makes these camps categorically untrustworthy. I mean, is there a Yelp for these kinds of camps? How would one figure out which camp is humane?

I don't even see anything wrong with the basic idea of taking "troubled" kids and giving them a collective summer project. If farming activities were treated responsibly, and not as stupid punitive measures, then that could be okay.

The devil, however, is in the details.

This is especially true when many of these "troubled" kids have problems that cannot be fixed by spending a few months milking cows, such as problems at home, parents objecting to perfectly unproblematic behavior, etc. Let's say that a teen has been sent to camp because he's gay and has been caught with a beer - what is he supposed to take away from camp? Let's even say that the camp is basically well-run - not only is he not being tortured, but counselors talk to him, and they quickly figure out that he's an alright kid in a not-alright situation. Do they try to teach the kid how to survive at home until he can move out? Are the counselors supposed to abduct the parents now? Will the camp counselors report the situation to CPS?

Or, let's say that a kid truly is deeply troubled - antisocial personality disorder, or what-have-you. Milking cows isn't going to fix anything here. What then? How would sending a kid here be any different than sending a sick kid to a quack?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:07 AM on January 27 [13 favorites]


I'd be perfectly happy to have one of the legitimate news organizations headlines rather than the obviously link bait headline leading to Cracked and having the instant dismissal of the story.

Then you'll be happy to click any of the other links in the post, many of which I sourced from the excellent first hand reporting in the Cracked article.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:09 AM on January 27 [39 favorites]


Hasteur, I didn't notice any dismissals in this thread prior to your comment, (which sounded like an explicit dismissal itself.)

In any case there have been previous links on Metafilter to legitimate news stories about these facilities. Here's one from Time and here's the article from The Guardian which eventually became the stage play Hope Springs.
posted by the latin mouse at 8:13 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


My point is that the site has a explicit intent to sensationalize and satirize the subject. The phenomenon of corrective/coercive bootcamps with a abduction/tough-love lead in is nothing new. I live in a urbanized area, but we still hear about parents who relinquish their children to these types of "organizations" to try and get a positive benefit. I'd be perfectly happy to have one of the legitimate news organizations headlines rather than the obviously link bait headline leading to Cracked and having the instant dismissal of the story.

Here's a NYT article on a GAO report regarding these boot camps was on the first page of the Google results. Here's the GAO report itself, as a PDF. Here's Help At Any Cost, a book on the topic. Here's a longer article from Reason Magazine. Here's a more recent NBC story.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:15 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


...a book on the topic

a book which is cited in the article
posted by thelonius at 8:18 AM on January 27


a book which is cited in the article

Indeed, and the associated website is also in the FPP itself!
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:18 AM on January 27


When I was a teenager my family was very heavily entangled with a residential program (more an institution than a camp) in rural Vermont. My parents sent my sister there, and following her discharge they volunteered their labor (and my own) in various other capacities. Eventually, my mother "taught" school there in return for my own and my younger brother's tuition... although the position required little of the skill one might expect of a teacher, since the curriculum was entirely composed of PACEs and LifePACs.

The outfit was run by an imposing Italian-American man with a thick mustache, a degree in Counseling, and a fondness for the Christ-centered variant of Temperament Theory advanced by Tim LaHaye and other great minds of the evangelical movement. I had several conversations with the guy, particularly as I began to chafe under their authority structure, and he eventually "diagnosed" me with a mixed Melancholy/Sanguine temperament, a label I accepted for years.

If the man had any education relevant to his occupation, he might have noted my flattened affect, stereotyped speech, extreme discomfort with physical contact (particularly unanticipated), dislike of loud noises, obsessively narrow interests, and complete fucking inability to maintain eye contact, and concluded what ended up being the truth: that I have a mild autism spectrum disorder, or (as it would have been called at the time) asperger's syndrome.
posted by The Confessor at 8:21 AM on January 27 [8 favorites]


Cracked.com has put up some surprisingly good content over the last couple of years, so I'm not going to dismiss the article as false merely because of the source.

These tough-love wilderness camp places should all be shut down or regulated to within an inch of their lives -- the horror stories coming out of those places stretch back many, many years, and cases of kids dying in their "care" are not unheard of.

I had a "difficult" child in the house -- sexually precocious, and curious about drugs from the age of 9 or 10. She developed a problem with prescription pills (whatever she could get her hands on at school -- an often potentially lethal combination) and we took her to her first lock-down treatment facility at the age of 13. It was a gut-wrenching decision, but she willingly got into the car, & was in a pretty highly-accountable facility with trained medical staff & pretty strict ethics, from what we could see. Still, driving away, with her inside a barbed-wire fence was one of the hardest things I have ever done as an adult. Her second and third treatment centers, at 15 & 16, were only lock-down in the sense that she couldn't voluntarily check herself out -- there were no fences or guards. She stuck through the 2nd one for 30 days, and we had six good, solid sober months after that until she discovered heroin at the only charter school that would take her, the public schools having already expelled her. She walked out of the third treatment center after 5 days, then ran away from home. We had the cops haul her back a couple times, but having an active heroin user in the house wasn't a good idea, so we let her stay runnoft the third time.

Never once did we even discuss one of these so-called wilderness camps, as she was just the sort of person that they like to sit on until they stop squirming… or breathing.
posted by Florida Lee at 8:22 AM on January 27 [28 favorites]


These camps also strike me as one part of a growing industry that appeals to people -- predominantly extreme fundamentalists or extreme conservatives -- who genuinely seem to believe that parenting is about molding a child's every thought and action in order to resist the conventions of a "fallen" mainstream society. This is where you get, say, James Dobson explicitly comparing child-rearing to dog training; it's why even minor "disobedience" or nonconformity requires a trip to an abusive boot camp. Isolation and ideological closure are the goals, and given the rigidity of the norms these parents or guardians wish to construct for their children, it requires various forms of force. After all, the outside world is the enemy, and that's what you use against enemies: force.

There's even something of an archipelago effect, in which a child might be shuffled through several such institutions in a row if the household or the more conventional institutions prove too porous to "mainstream" values: the bad kid camp, Dominionist home schooling, and finally someplace like Patrick Henry or Liberty University. They're the parallel institutions of a culture war, a right-wing counterpart to the widely-mocked sorts of "crunchy" parenting and New Age-y "boundaryless" classrooms that are also the outposts of a political fringe at odds with the major contours and institutions of American culture. The difference seems to be the strongly authoritarian and explicitly marshal culture of these camps and of this entire approach to childrearing.
posted by kewb at 8:24 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]


Geez. I am voyeristically horrified by these stories.

I remember when I first read the book and then saw the movie "Holes". I remember thinking, "This is clearly unrealistic fiction. What judge would send a kid who didn't do anything wrong to a camp that gave no rehabilitative treatment, run by people who had no qualifications and in fact were crooks?"

I thought at the time that the utter "Orphan Annie"-ness of the situation was being played for laughs, or just serving as a plot device for a young adult novel. I think I need to re-read the book, because I feel now that it is eerily accurate of these kids' experiences.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:27 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]


I worked a semester for a Military Boarding School for troubled youth during University. It was a very different situation than the types of places the article describes... really it probably is the kind of place that Parents imagine they are sending their kids. It was essentially live in high school for kids 12 to 18 but there was a 21 year old student there when I worked there.

180 students, probably 10 teaching staff, 4 senior admin staff and a smattering of cooks and utility people, plus us 5 university kids as "Staff sergeant" basically in charge of the day to day discipline and keeping order. Most of us had some kind of Military background.

Everyone there really did care about the kids, but it was a total pressure cooker situation for me. 3 days on 2 days off, with the 3 days being likely two 20 hour days in the barracks with the kids and a 12 hour doing grunt work to keep the place running.

I really did not like working there by the end. I was constantly on edge, angry a lot of the time and very very frustrated. If you can imagine a parent trying to deal with one trouble kid imagine 180 of them packed together with no breaks.

So I can see how places can get like the hells that the article describes... That doesn't say I feel that the people running them deserve a pass. But I can see how people who are in over their heads could end up creating a place like that even if they started out with good intentions. That of course is why there needs to be more oversight for places that are looking after kids.
posted by cirhosis at 8:35 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Do none of these parents know of the cheesy maxim, "Be nice to your kids, they will choose your care home"?

It might not be a surprise that the USA still has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It's only them, Somalia and South Sudan who have failed or refused to do it. (And those other two are apparently seen to be working on fixing that.)
posted by BuxtonTheRed at 8:35 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


How would sending a kid here be any different than sending a sick kid to a quack?

Airfare.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:36 AM on January 27


I remember when I first read the book and then saw the movie "Holes" ...

I immediately thought of the same thing when I read the post.
posted by etherist at 8:49 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


These camps also strike me as one part of a growing industry that appeals to people -- predominantly extreme fundamentalists or extreme conservatives -- who genuinely seem to believe that parenting is about molding a child's every thought and action in order to resist the conventions of a "fallen" mainstream society.

Its not new; the Pilgrims came to America in large part because they feared that their children were, in the words of Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford, being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses” due to the influences of a more liberal Dutch culture. They looked at America as a sort of boot camp on a larger scale.
posted by landis at 8:50 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]


So I can see how places can get like the hells that the article describes... That doesn't say I feel that the people running them deserve a pass. But I can see how people who are in over their heads could end up creating a place like that even if they started out with good intentions. That of course is why there needs to be more oversight for places that are looking after kids.

The problem is that the "good intentions" of the "hell"-like places are rather flawed from the start. They seem to being with a default assumption that children have no rights: I'll wager the place you worked didn't bring students in via an abduction-like process, for example, or define "troubled" so broadly as to bring in everything from non-het sexual orientations to wearing short skirts or listening to "evil" music.

(Also...did I really not notice "marshal" in my previous post until after the edit window closed? Grr.)
posted by kewb at 8:50 AM on January 27


You have to take a test before you can drive a car, but anyone can have a kid. Our priorities are pretty screwed up when it comes to this stuff.

If we properly funded and supported physical and mental health coverage across the board, we could do a lot more to nip in the bud the actual serious issues that affect our kids, like substance abuse (providing factual information and addiction treatment rather than fear-mongering and jail time) and mental health care (depression is a significant health issue for adolescents, giving rise to self-harm in the form of everything from cutting behaviors to eating disorders and even suicide).

Instead, we have places like these, which actually make things worse for kids whose biggest problem may actually be their parents' refusal to accept them as individuals. Gay and transgender teens thrown into boot camps because their parents can't accept them as they are just breaks my heart and infuriates me all at the same time.

That said, I do sympathize with those parents who are genuinely looking for answers for complex and difficult situations and can't find the help they need. I know of a couple very loving families personally who simply did not know what to do when their child, as a result of drug addiction, became a stranger to them. What do you do when the child you raised develops into a manipulative, lying thief to support a drug habit? That child's behavior is harmful to the whole family, and yet they do not want to cut off contact or give up on their child. They are lost.

Now, I may think to myself, as a parent, "Oh, that wouldn't happen with MY kid because I would not have made choices x or y with MY kid!" It is comforting to think that because I love my children and take my responsibilities as a parent seriously, our lives won't go that way. But I know these parents love their kids, too, and they're struggling. Not every screwed up family situation is the result of neglect or abuse. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

It is in our best interest as a society to have support networks set up to help families through tough issues like these.
posted by misha at 8:53 AM on January 27 [9 favorites]


What's distressing to me in general is how many adults regard teenagers to be some kind of alien species who are completely and totally irrational and therefore impossible to control. No, they don't have the same judgment as adults, but they're also not toddlers, and that "control" and "conformity" are seen as the most desirable things to achieve bothers me a lot. None of these groups advertise that they will return your child home "still weird but in better shape to tackle adulthood" or whatever, so it's the parents who are making the ultimate decision about their priorities, and I can't support that set of priorities.
posted by Sequence at 8:55 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


>Before people jump up and down on the soapbox, this is Cracked.com. Cracked being the knockoff of Mad Magazine.

It sure looks like you joined this site to make an ad hominem attack on Cracked for writing a critical article about kidnap camps.
posted by exit at 9:05 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


I'd be perfectly happy to have one of the legitimate news organizations headlines rather than the obviously link bait headline leading to Cracked and having the instant dismissal of the story.

Your first two comments on the site are baseless gripes. Cracked has some decent content, deal with it.
posted by planetesimal at 9:06 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


More stories from these places posted here and here
posted by TedW at 9:12 AM on January 27


Punishment is the only language we speak in this country.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:14 AM on January 27 [9 favorites]


This is so damn sad.

I've also noticed, from my time as a teenage weirdo, and in growing up and watching my peers start having kids or process getting older, there's a tendency in some adults to still see kids, from teenagers on down to very young toddlers, to peers or equals. And they react to any manner of "disrespect" (from teenage 'attitude' to just not showing enthusiasm in the things they want them to) with some great display of "power": In addition to the "didn't know any better/at the end of their rope" types mentioned upthread, I can sadly too easily see some insecure puke of a parent reacting to their kid mouthing off or making them look bad in public with some sense of "Oh yeah? Look what I can do to your whole life!"

Seriously, I remember some of the overcompensating shitheads I worked for as a teenager who were around the age I am now, and childless people my age who advocate beating kids just a little too gleefully, and I find it both devastating and rage-inducing that people with adult lives and agency would take out their own shortcomings on still developing minds.

Yeah, teenagers are shitty and obnoxious and even dangerous sometimes; they need help, not a show of force (and a cowardly, out-sourced one at that)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:17 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]


Holy cow, there is a whole wiki on this phenomenon.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:18 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


kewb, I totally agree with you on the flawed "good intentions" underlying these places. The kids who came to us were by and large real problems, juvenile records, tossed out of regular schools, lots on various prescription drugs. No actually violent kids though.

So yeah I totally agree the the selection method really is bad, and the way they 'recruit' is terrible. But even if that can be resolved there still exists a situation that needs so much more outside supervision that it's astounding.
posted by cirhosis at 9:23 AM on January 27


From the article:
In 2006, a journalist named Maia Szalavitz published Help at Any Cost, an expose so shocking, it prompted a congressional inquiry and a Government Accountability Office investigation.

...a book on the topic

a book which is cited in the article


And whose author is a MeFite
posted by TedW at 9:24 AM on January 27 [8 favorites]


Ha! I was just about to post that!
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:25 AM on January 27


See also
posted by Navelgazer at 9:29 AM on January 27


It's worth revisiting this thread on the blue, about the suicide of David Sedaris' sister Tiffany, and in part about her experiences at a similar program.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:37 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]


Not for nothing, but have you met many teenagers ? I now understand why some species eat their young.

In conversations about family planning, we spend a lot of time focusing on whether women are in a stable enough relationship or are making enough money to have kids. We spend relatively little time asking people to consider whether they're prepared for this zygote to eventually become its own person, full of willpower, who might make some mistakes.

I would so, so much rather grow up the child of a poor single mother who loved me than be born to two wealthy heterosexual parents whose response to teenage rebellion is to hire a private company to kidnap me to a work camp in Montana. And if you don't have the emotional mettle to avoid making that decision, you shouldn't have kids.
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:43 AM on January 27 [12 favorites]


Before people jump up and down on the soapbox, this is Cracked.com. Cracked being the knockoff of Mad Magazine.

...and both Buzzfeed and Gawker (and even Vice) have been occasionally putting out high-quality, tightly-researched, long form journalism lately. I don't know that you can judge an article by its platform anywhere, and I think it's a great thing that a financially-viable website with a long reach will do a sort of "carbon offset" by providing space for this kind of work to hit the same viewership as Doge, puppy videos, and 5 tricks you learned growing up in the 90s that you won't believe today.
posted by blue suede stockings at 9:59 AM on January 27 [6 favorites]


Before people jump up and down on the soapbox, this is Cracked.com. Cracked being the knockoff of Mad Magazine.

Cracked has been functioning as a pulpit for serious discussions and writings ever since David Wong signed on.
posted by ocschwar at 10:18 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]


At this point, no, I don't have any sympathy for parents who send their kids off to these places. Maybe when the information wasn't out there, and there was some reason to believe they were legit.

But of course, not even then, because, as the writer points out "troubled" is not a medical or psychological diagnosis. It can mean anything from "My kid has an actual mental illness" to "I'm a shitty abusive parent who revels in thinking about my kid suffering." There is no failsafe on this to prevent that last one. And no evidence that these places do anything for the first one...and lots that they make it worse.

If my kid were suddenly acting out and being self-destructive, I wouldn't want to make him disappear; I'd want to know what the hell was going on. I'd take him for counseling, do family counseling, see if he needed meds, try to get to the bottom of it. And that is the bare minimum of what parenting is.

It should be illegal to pay someone to kidnap and abuse your kid. If your kid needs actual treatment, they should get it from actual mental health practitioners in a transparent and regulated way, not from a bunch of hired abusers in secrecy.

I wish every one of these kids could turn around and sue the shit out of their parents and these companies for trauma and abuse.
posted by emjaybee at 10:34 AM on January 27 [10 favorites]


I first heard of these camps 30 years ago when an acquaintance of mine got sent to what was called a "punk farm". As in "interested in punk rock". But its really nothing new. Take a look at any National Geographic from the 50's and 60's and view the pages and pages of ads in the back for "military school", which was always the threat hung over "bad kids" in those days. I wonder if the former military school owners realized they could make more money by enrolling both sexes.
posted by telstar at 11:05 AM on January 27


Similar to chainsoffreedom's experience with Holes, I remember being fascinated by the book The Grounding of Group Six when I was in middle school, and also thinking that it was too outlandish to be possible. Of course, in this book, the school is actively trying to murder the students, but at my most cynical, I could see a future where these reform programs would be a perfect front for such a product - for an added fee of course.

These places sound like a horrid combination of a teenage psychiatric ward an underfunded YMCA nature camp led by a sadistic gym teacher. Guess what I've had bad experiences with in the past?
posted by bibliowench at 11:12 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


It's funny, I'm listening to older episodes of the still-quite-young cracked podcsat today, and Jack O'Brien opens one of them by saying, "Welcome to Cracked, formerly the poor man's Mad, nowadays the rich man's Buzzfeed!"
posted by Navelgazer at 11:13 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]


Through no fault of their own, I blame Outward Bound for popularising the foundations of this model. OB is not without issues, but in the late 80s and 1990s they made lengthy, no-contact and expensive wilderness expeditions The Thing for turning around a problem kid. I don't know how long it lasted, but for a solid period in that timeline, having OB on your teenaged credentials was seen as a major plus when applying to Ivy universities. The fact that this model was adopted, bastardised, and abused by untrained and evil operators, often with religious agendas, isn't their fault of course, but for the now 20 years I've been reading horror stories like this (and often worse) I always think "Outward Bound gone spectacularly wrong."

Of course, these days, we don't need to rely on the Lifestyle section of the NYT to slowly popularise this kind of thing through trickle-down media; camps in this vein are being promoted through multiple reality TV shows. Of course the kids, being minors, don't have to give their consent to be filmed when the custodial camp gives it for them, so that's doubly marvellous for them. (Because what you really want, having survived this horrorshow, is for all your friends to see your ongoing humiliation on cable.)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:25 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


punishment, lying in an empty room

I would have absolutely raised hell if that happened (and probably smashed through the door to get out) as a teenager in some involuntary camp thing, and I'm absolutely OK with myself for that.
posted by jaduncan at 11:30 AM on January 27


Many of the kids sent to these places are sent for terrible reasons (sexual orientation, general not-fitting-in-ness, basic teenage rebellion) but there are some parents who are genuinely terrified of and for their kids, both the ones they see as "problems" and other children in the house. It's not right and these places are terrible and immoral but sometimes they might seem like the only option if you have a kid you just can't handle. One of the real problems here is that many parents don't have any other resources when they're in over their heads.

I agree completely, and I think that's overall a health care issue. It doesn't stop with children, either -- anyone who can't live independently but who isn't doing well in their family home really doesn't have a whole lot of options (and neither do their families). The real problem, to me, is that there's a vacuum for these organizations to fill.

To be honest, it reminds me of the Creigh Deeds shooting. That someone like Creigh Deeds wasn't able to find and get appropriate help for his son before things came to a head as an attempted murder-suicide highlights so strongly for me how helpless a lot of families not only feel but actually are. That's not to justify parents' choices to send their children to places like this, but it's to say that we need viable alternatives to places like this where they *can* send their children.

Through no fault of their own, I blame Outward Bound for popularising the foundations of this model. OB is not without issues, but in the late 80s and 1990s they made lengthy, no-contact and expensive wilderness expeditions The Thing for turning around a problem kid. I don't know how long it lasted, but for a solid period in that timeline, having OB on your teenaged credentials was seen as a major plus when applying to Ivy universities. The fact that this model was adopted, bastardised, and abused by untrained and evil operators, often with religious agendas, isn't their fault of course, but for the now 20 years I've been reading horror stories like this (and often worse) I always think "Outward Bound gone spectacularly wrong."

I agree, I think these are the Kidnap Camps are some kind of sick mishmash of OB, "military school," and Bible study.

It's really too bad, in that I think that OB actually could be a great thing for kids. My boyfriend in high school went on OB (in the late nineties/early aughts), and not only absolutely loved it but actually did turn his life around afterward. He even wanted to be an OB teacher for a while. But for him, OB was a *more* supportive, nurturing environment than his "normal" life, and that was why he was sent there and that's why he got so much out of it. He also didn't have any health issues (including mental health issues) that would have made OB irrelevant or a nightmare.
posted by rue72 at 11:35 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


They do deceive the parents -- not that the parents are always completely unaware, but part of the deal with keeping the kids from communicating is to keep the parents from finding out exactly what is happening to them because the kid would then be pulled and the expensive tuition would cease. IIRC, the last fatality I read about regarding these camps...

(and I think it says something that a casual interest in the subject is enough for one to refer to "the last fatality" in an undifferentiated mass of them)

... was a kid was depressed and out of shape, and had no significant disagreement with his parents. They sent him to a wilderness program, not without his input, because they were under the impression that it would be something akin to Boy Scout camp -- a chance to go out in the woods and enjoy nature while working on his fitness.

Of course, when the kid found out otherwise he was not exactly in a position to call home, and his parents figured everything was going well since he surely would have called if he was having a bad time at camp. Which all would have been a darkly amusing / traumatic event in the kid's life had he not developed one of those easily treatable yet potentially fatal medical conditions that occasionally comes up, particularly when one is unfit and hiking all over everywhere at altitude, at which point the usual script played out.
posted by sparktinker at 11:37 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I cannot imagine that the relationships these parents have with their erroneously-incarcerated children ever recover.

Parents who outsource the kidnapping and abuse of their children should be shunned forever, and not just by their grown children. I mean by everyone.
posted by uberchet at 12:56 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Ugh. Right before the holidays, I interviewed a woman who had just made a documentary on this (Kidnapped for Christ), and unfortunately didn't get to write it up because of both getting totally slammed by some referendum bullshit by the usual gang of idiots, and because when we looked into tying this to legislation, the answer is basically that there's no US jurisdiction, and parents can send their kids pretty much anywhere. I do know some legislators are looking to turn this into a law that results in child abuse charges leveled at the parents, but even that seems pretty hard to enforce on any real level.
posted by klangklangston at 2:29 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


What the hell.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:04 PM on January 27


It looks like these places have expanded their focus from drugs and alcohol problems to, well, pretty much anything.
posted by thelonius at 4:20 PM on January 27


From the beginning the phrase "tough love" reminded me of Marquis de Sade. And, sure enough, every time I hear how it's implemented there's the Marquis again.

It's "love" in the same way that Fernald and Dozier (where they're just about to finish the excavations) were "schools".

What do we have to pay to avoid learning this lesson over and over and over?
posted by Twang at 4:57 PM on January 27


You have to take a test before you can drive a car, but anyone can have a kid. Our priorities are pretty screwed up when it comes to this stuff.

Didn't they used to make you take a test before you could vote, too? I think the lack of child permits speaks to other priorities.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 7:43 PM on January 27


How in the world would you institute a test to bear children without becoming a complete totalitarian state? I don't know why people even mention this silly idea anymore.
posted by planetesimal at 7:46 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]


Names, time, tracking, and adulthood. Doxicizing the folk that do stuff like this for employment or profit, well. It is not quite a holocaust; but for myself I could care less for people that work at these places.

Isn't is time to call Charter Hospital?
posted by buzzman at 9:02 PM on January 27


It was great to see that article and Cracked did a wonderful job with it (of course, being cited, I would say so ;-).

One thing I should note, however: these places are actually not expanding. The survivor movement, the internet, and I'd like to think my book have all had a role in shutting down quite a few of the worst offenders. But the biggest factor in the industry contraction was the crash of 2008: since these places are not covered by insurance by and large (a few licensed places unfortunately do use these tactics on the sly), most parents could afford to send their kids only by second-mortgaging their homes. That's, um, not very easy to do any more. But since the book came out, the Elan School, most of WWASP, the last remaining Straight descendant in the U.S. (sadly, there's still one in Canada) and many of the Aspen programs have closed and while some new ones have opened, the industry really is in decline.

That's not to say it won't make a comeback— it always has before. But before the net and before my book linked these programs (the vast majority of prior exposes tended to present them as isolated cases), it was possible for parents to say "I didn't know." Now, there's too much information out there: there simply are no "good programs" because "troubled teen" is not a diagnosis and for real diagnoses, there are now real, known treatments.
posted by Maias at 3:29 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Victoria Jane (the primary author of the cracked article) mentions the "sunk costs fallacy" with regards to the money her grandparents spent in sending her to the camp, but there's another related issue there which I fear allows these camps to keep operating and for sincerely concerned guardians to send them there. Basically, by billing the camps in this "tough love" way, I have to imagine a lot of concerned parents factor in the emotional cost of "I wish I didn't have to put my child through this" and assume a balance with "so it must be that much more beneficial in the long run."

And then once the kid is there, if the kid is even able to tell her parents what is really going on, it will come across as, "well, that is what we sent her there for..."

And then once she's home, well Victoria Jane already discussed that.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:08 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Btw, anonymous has recently taken on these places as a cause.
posted by Maias at 4:12 PM on January 29 [2 favorites]


Fifty-Five Bodies, And Zero Trials, At The Florida School For Boys
This week, the remains of fifty-five bodies were found in unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Florida School for Boys, in the panhandle town of Marianna. The reformatory school, which was operated by the state of Florida, and which closed in 2011, was notorious for its mistreatment of its students. In 1968, Florida’s governor at the time, Claude Kirk, said of the school, “Somebody should have blown the whistle a long time ago.” There have long been allegations of beatings, torture, and sexual abuse there; it now appears that some students were killed. The total number of bodies buried at the school has not been determined, but the forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, the leader of the exhumation effort, which has been under way since September 2013, has said that it may exceed a hundred.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:52 PM on February 1


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