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.

Outback is a wilderness therapy program for teens. Outback helps youth reassess their life choices and learn the skills necessary to make better choices in the future.

What are Scared Straight Programs
and Boot Camps For Troubled Youth?

Boot camps for troubled youth exist to punish children into submission.

The philosophy of boot camp for kids is that young people should already know the difference between good and bad behavior and have the social and emotional skills needed to become successful young adults. These camps assume that teens only act out because they were not punished enough.

This is the idea behind boot camp for teenagers. If one works the “juvenile offenders“ hard enough, makes them feel exhausted enough, and makes them feel bad enough, the teen will start acting appropriately.

Although there may be slight differences in how a boot camp for boys and a boot camp for girls are run, the general idea is the same. It is not like boot camps for girls go any easier on their attendees than the boot camps for boys do. Both are harsh experiences for teens to live through.

Scared straight programs increase the harshness of boot camps for teens. In the eyes of someone who runs a scared straight program, boot camps for teenagers do not go far enough in their punishment. While boot camps for teens punish attendees for acting badly, scared straight programs punish kids to instill a fear of coming back. They look to push teens to the point where they act properly outside of camp because they’re afraid of coming back.

Many people in school districts and in law enforcement (ie. your local police department, sheriff’s office, and the criminal justice system) encourage the philosophy behind boot camps for teens and scared straight programs. They like them because they are “tough on bad behavior.” But these people do not understand that these programs do not work.

There is a noteworthy problem with boot camps for teenagers, and other youth boot camp programs like scared straight camps. Fear, pain, and punishment are poor motivators for long-term change. They don’t fix the problem, they just punish these children for having a problem, resulting in sky-high recidivism rates.  In fact, a 2013 study found that juveniles participating in a scared straight program committed 28% more crime than non-participants.

Most youth boot camp programs for boys and girls end up encouraging teens to hide bad behaviors instead of changing them. When a kids boot camp is seen as a punishment, rather than a way to effect change, they are more likely to hide mistakes instead of improving themselves.

Teens make mistakes and that does not change because they attended a youth boot camp. If camp is a punishment, instead of cultivating a sense of responsibility, it incentivizes teens to hide future mistakes.

Before looking online for “Boot camps near me” or a “scared straight program near me”, look into the benefits of wilderness therapy and how it is different from boot camps for at-risk youth.

A Look at Wilderness Therapy Programs For Teens

Wilderness therapy programs are different from the other boot camps for kids.

The philosophy behind wilderness therapy is to help teach teens the coping mechanisms and social skills necessary to affect change in their own lives. Unlike boot camps for kids, wilderness therapy programs like Outback do not punish kids, but rather, teach them new life skills that will improve their mental health.

Teens are placed into wilderness groups where they hike, do therapy assignments, learn primitive survival skills, play games, maintain the campsite, complete group initiatives and study the wilderness. They do all this alongside having two days a week devoted to individual therapy sessions with a master’s level therapist using modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

It is while doing all this that the teens learn how to interact with one another and solve problems on their own as well as in a group. Therapy helps them work on the problems they had before camp. Teens can draw parallels between what they are learning at camp and what they need to do when they return home.

This is the main difference between wilderness therapy and the typical boot camp for troubled teens. Boot camps do not focus on teaching troubled teens how to act. They work under the assumption that the kids act poorly because they’re bad kids, they’re “delinquents”. Unlike these boot camps for troubled teens, wilderness therapy programs assume that these teens need help.

It is hard being a teenager. Physical, mental, emotional, and social changes happen at a rapid rate. It’s nearly impossible to keep up. Especially when coupled with lightning-fast social media notifications. It is easy for teens to lose their way and make mistakes.

Wilderness therapy programs like Outback help teens unplug from all that and focus on themselves. Out in the wilderness. With other teens in the same situation. All while under the stewardship of a certified counselor.

Who Can Benefit From Wilderness Therapy Programs For Teens

The person who benefits the most from wilderness therapy is the teen. Unlike in kids’ boot camps, teens flourish under the direction of camp counselors. But they are not the only ones who will benefit from taking part in a wilderness therapy program.

Outback offers coaching sessions for parents. These sessions teach them how to best handle family relationships when their child comes home from camp. It is difficult for teens to make a meaningful change in their life when everything else stays the same. Outback tries to make that transition as easy as possible.

Outback teaches parents through clinical webinars, the skills they need to better care for their children when they come back.

Parents also receive weekly phone calls from wilderness therapists to update them on their child’s treatment plan progress. That way parents can rest knowing that their son or daughter is being taken care of, as well as progressing in their respective program.

This ignores the other relationships a child has in their day-to-day lives. From extended family to teachers to friends and neighbors, everyone will benefit from the skills these young people learn in therapy. But no one benefits as much as the teen who is now better prepared for life.

How Do I Know If My Child Needs Wilderness Therapy

Outback has made a child assessment survey to answer that exact question.

The survey contains 13 different statements. The parent simply checks off each statement that applies to their son or daughter and moves on to the next step.

After checking all of the statements that apply, Outback will reveal the results of the assessment to the parent. Outback’s assessment might say there is nothing wrong with the child. Or it might say that the child needs therapy but not something as extreme as wilderness therapy.

If it turns out that the child does need wilderness therapy, Outback will forward additional contact information so that the parents can speak with an Outback representative and learn more about the program.


Being a teenager is hard and raising a teenager is not any easier. Outback is here to help both parents and teens overcome bad behaviors, from drugs to poor academic performance to video game addiction and everything in between.

Although Outback is in Lehi, UT, it is for teens all across the United States of America. The idea is to help kids unplug from their normal lives in order to focus on making positive changes in how they deal with the world. This does not require the parents or the child to be a current resident of the state of Utah.

No matter the problem, Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is here to help you get your child on the right path.

Where are Outback Students From?

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

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.

COVID-19 Update

Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is continuing to support families through this unprecedented time. We are closely monitoring information related to COVID-19, adhering to recommendations set forth by CDC, and have implemented additional safety precautions to mitigate risks. To learn more, contact us at 800-817-1899.