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A Therapeutic Summer Camp Alternative for Troubled Teens

If you have a troubled teen, the prospect of summer break may fill you with dread. The school year provides at least some structure and support, but the long summer stretch leaves at-risk teens ample time and opportunity to engage in dangerous choices. If you’re a working parent, you may be especially concerned about the lack of supervision for your adolescent and your ability to enforce consequences. Summer break is a perfect time to send your teen away for an intervention.

You may be tempted to send your teen to a boot camp, with the promise to straighten out your delinquent youth through strict discipline and military structure. The idea of sending your child away to return with a changed attitude, now respectful of your authority, can be appealing to exhausted parents who feel in over their heads. Boot camps, however, are not all they’re cracked up to be. The boot camp environment may work to instill discipline in some teens, but this often doesn’t apply once teens return to their home environment. More problematic, the harsh, and even abusive approach many of these camps take can be damaging to teens. Often, teens act out when they’re experiencing internal mental or emotional distress. Not only do boot camps fail to identify and resolve these underlying problems, but the measures they use can also exacerbate teens’ mental health problems.

Short-term treatment centers and wilderness programs are safer and better options for teens with moderate to serious issues. They’re more beneficial to troubled teens and their families and usually are part of a treatment program to help teens get the help they need to reduce problematic behaviors. These programs are about healing teens in a supportive environment instead of just training youth to be subservient through harsh tactics. This approach, with its focus on mental and emotional health, creates lasting positive change.

For teens with mild to moderate problems, mental health summer camps are another option to consider. These programs are also far less risky than boot camps for teen’s physical and emotional health. Mental health summer camps can help prevent teens’ issues from spiraling out of control.

How can a mental health summer camp help my troubled teen?
Going away interrupts negative patterns. Often, when teens are struggling, they’re involved in social groups and have developed routines that reinforce negative behavior. Even when youth recognize their behavior is unhealthy, they often feel unable to break away from those patterns. While away, adolescents are removed from negative influences and are allowed to start fresh.

The goal is to support, not punish. Though your teen may still feel like being sent to a mental health summer camp is a punishment, that isn’t the goal of their stay. Instead of spending their time being punished and told they’re bad, teens experience interesting, engaging, and even fun opportunities designed to help them succeed.

May be run by trained staff and counselors. Mental health summer camps may have staff and counselors who are trained and licensed and who want to help your adolescent. These professionals understand psychology and development and are experienced in working with at-risk teens. Therapy sessions for both individuals and groups may also be part of the program, which provides structured support and a safe outlet for talking about the challenges teens’ are experiencing. If you’re considering a mental health summer camp for your teen, ask about the credentials of the camp’s staff. 

They address mental and emotional health. When run by mental health professionals, summer camps focus on imbalances in mental health and emotional wellness that lead to bad choices. This approach aims to fix the core problem instead of temporarily treating the symptoms.

Lessen feelings of isolation. Many mental health summer camps offer sessions for teens facing the same problems or with similar disorders at the heart of the youth’s struggles. The programs provide opportunities for group sessions with other teens they can relate to and work with together.

Nature is inherently healing. Studies show that exposure to nature and the outdoors can help reduce anxiety and depression–two common mood disorders among teens who act out.

Activities promote interpersonal growth. Mental health summer camps have team-building activities. These help participants learn to work with others successfully and communicate more effectively. The programs are also good bonding experiences. Teens can make positive connections with others while working on changing their lives for the better.

Activities lead to personal growth. Counseling and other activities help teens to build confidence in themselves by accomplishing tasks and learning to set goals and be responsible. An improved positive view of themselves and the self-confidence gained from learning new skills can lead to better choices.

Clear connection to home life. Counselors and staff understand that to have a lasting effect outside of the program, they need to help teens make connections to the real world. Staff support teens in taking the lessons they learned and apply them at home for more authentic changes.

They promote physical health. Teens engage in healthy habits like appropriate physical exercise, exposure to fresh air, and eating, or even preparing nutritious food. Improved physical health supports mental health and teaches young people habits they can continue at home.

The summer months provide the perfect opportunity for getting help to turn your teen’s life around. Summer camps with a mental health focus provide a positive experience and support the development of better mental health and connection with others.

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