A Better Alternative To Scared Straight Programs & Boot Camps For Kids

Scared straight programs and boot camps for kids can do more harm than good. Wilderness therapy programs like Outback Therapeutic Expeditions are a better alternative and ARE NOT the same as a scared straight program or a boot camp for kids.

Although Outback is located in Lehi, Utah, we encourage all parents to consider Outback’s effective treatment methods for their troubled teen. Even those from California. Part of wilderness therapy requires the teens are removed from their normal surroundings.Taking kids from their Californian homes and putting them into the Utah wilderness does exactly that.

Wilderness therapy programs are a more effective form of treatment than juvenile detention. They are more effective than boot camps for troubled youth and scared straight programs too. This holds true for programs in California and elsewhere.

Boot Camps For Troubled Youth And Scared Straight Programs In California

Boot camps for troubled youth and scared straight programs are different from wilderness therapy programs.

Boot camps try to change bad behavior by putting kids through hard labor until they are exhausted. Boot camps are a punishment for children. These camps expect teens to drop bad behaviors to avoid coming back to the boot camp.

Scared straight programs, in California and elsewhere, work like boot camps for youth. They both use punishment to get rid of bad behavior. But scared straight programs instill a sense of fear in teens so they will not want to return.

Both boot camps and scared straight camps try to change bad behavior. But neither of them focus on replacing bad habits with good habits. Some teens do not know how to resolve problems in their lives and need to learn how from trained therapists. Sometimes family members need similar training to learn how to help their child.

The problem is, people usually avoid punishment by hiding their bad behaviors from others instead of changing them.

Most boot camps likely have the opposite effect they intend to have.

When camps associate bad behavior with severe punishment, the teen will try to hide that behavior. Rather than helping the teen become better, hiding bad behaviors in the real world makes the problem worse. This only makes the situation worse for all involved.

Wilderness therapy is not about punishing teens. They exist to give them the tools and knowledge they need to replace bad behaviors with good ones.

Boot camps and scared straight programs want to teach kids that camp is the problem and avoiding bad behavior is the solution. Wilderness therapy programs want to teach kids that bad behavior is the problem and healthy life skills are the solution.

A Look at Wilderness Therapy Programs For Teens in California

Studies show wilderness survival camps are more effective than boot camps for troubled youth and scared straight programs. That is because of the differences between wilderness therapy programs and scared straight boot camps available to parents.

The idea behind wilderness therapy is a simple one. Remove the teenager from their regular surroundings and use survival skills as a springboard to teach other life skills.

What better way to do this than take a kid from California and put them in Utah’s wilderness?

Wilderness therapy allows teens to start over. There is no vacillating between making positive changes and appearing strange to their peers. In the wilderness, teens can focus on themselves.

They learn important survival skills out in the wild, with other teens in similar situations as them. They also have camp counselors who are there with the group at all times. The group tries to solve different problems together and they learn new skills along the way.

Teens learn important lessons about problem solving which they can apply to life outside of camp. They learn to recognize good and bad behaviors. They learn about good and bad relationships. And how to take action to resolve their problems in a way that is healthy and productive.

The outdoor challenges and therapy help these teens gain the tools to make changes in their lives. They learn to resolve problems, cut ties to toxic people and build productive routines.

How Can Wilderness Therapy Benefit Teens in California?

Any troubled teen can benefit from wilderness therapy and it does not matter where they are from. Outback Therapeutic Expeditions has a long history of helping kids with depression, those engaged in dangerous behaviors and those who are doing poorly in school.

Whether these behaviors are hurting family relationships, the teens personal well-being or discouraging them from being social, Outback can help arm teens with the tools they need to make things right again. Outback also helps teach the family about what they can do to help their troubled teen find their way back. It might not take two to hurt a relationship, but it takes two to heal one.

Wilderness therapy is for anyone with serious, negative behaviors. One does not have to wait until their teen ends up in a courtroom to seek out wilderness therapy. Some teens who complete Outback’s program suffer from video game addiction and need to be taught that there is life outside of their game console of choice.

If your child is going down the wrong path, whatever that path is, Outback is here to help them find the right one again.

Your teen doesn’t have to hit rock bottom first.

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Wilderness Therapy

How are parents supposed to know whether Outback is right for their teen? How do parents know when their child’s behaviors cross a line that requires therapy?

Outback has created a child assessment survey to help us get an idea for where one’s teen is in their life.

Outback’s survey consists of 13 questions in the form of a checklist about the child’s behavior. The number of items parents check-off will determine whether the child’s behavior warrants wilderness therapy or some other form of help.

After the survey, we email the results to the parents with contact information so they can speak with an Outback representative.

People make mistakes and teenagers are no exception to that rule.

Growing up can be difficult, especially when life situations are less than ideal. Friends make life-changing decisions. School does not seem very important, even though it will affect the rest of the teen’s life. Hormone production is increasing. And everyone is trying to find a place to belong. On top of everything else, there is peer pressure and social demands enhanced by the break-neck speed of social media. It is no wonder why studies show that teens experience stress at the same level or higher than adults.

Stressful circumstances lead to bad decision making which can lead to bad actions that affect both the teenager and those close to him or her.

If things get bad enough, jail time is an eventuality.

In the state of California, criminal recidivism among teens is quite high because most parents, teachers, and law enforcement officials either do not know how to fix the problem or cannot fix it because of the red tape. Parents worry that their child is heading down the wrong path in life and may not know what to do to fix it.

No matter the reason, juvenile detention is no place for a teen to find a better way to live, but neither are scared straight camps or boot camps.

Wilderness therapy programs like Outback help give teens and their families the tools they need to turn things around.

Raising teens can be hard, but there is no reason to lose hope.

Child-rearing is never a hopeless endeavor. Sometimes parents and teens need help.

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is there to help you and your teen leave those bad behaviors behind and replace them with good behaviors that will let everyone enjoy a happier, healthier and more productive life.


While Outback is physically located in the beautiful state of Utah, students come to us from all over California, the country, and the world, including (but not limited to) the following:










About the Author

McKay Deveraux, MSW, LCSW, is the executive director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions

McKay has over 17 years of experience working with troubled teens in wilderness therapy. Before becoming the executive director at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, McKay received his Masters of Social Work from Brigham Young University, worked as a field staff, field director, program director, and as a primary therapist at Outback.

He is honored to have served as Battalion Operations Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.