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5 Alarming Facts the Troubled Teen Industry Does NOT Want Parents to Know

when i was seventeen years old, my parents put me on an airplane. they said they were taking me to a therapeutic boarding school in arizona and gave me no choice in the matter. they told me that if i refused to go, a man would come to take me by force, handcuffs and all. so i complied. (learn more about the legal kidnapping of youth.)

i was a pretty compliant kid, believe it or not. my parent's biggest complaint was my depression.

following a series of traumatic events in high school, i was hospitalized for my mental health a number of times. i obviously needed more support than i was getting. my parents were desperate for a solution but they'd just gotten separated and were struggling too much in their own lives to care for a child in crisis.

my therapist at the time referred them to an education consultant, who sold my parents on the idea of this therapeutic boarding school.

my parents had no idea what they were truly signing me up for, because there are a number of alarming facts about behavior modification programs that education consultants and program employees will never share with prospective parents.

upon arrival, i was strip-searched by two staff members and had all my belongings taken, i begged my parents not to leave me there. my parents, convinced they were making the right decision, drove off into the desert despite my pleas and didn’t come back.

i spent the next 13 months at this isolated compound on a hill alongside 70 other girls, receiving pseudo-therapies (at best) that cost more than a college education. i emerged more traumatized than i was before.

the #breakingcodesilence movement is a survivor-led initiative to expose the rampant institutional abuse in the troubled teen industry.

spring ridge academy is just one of the hundreds of programs within the “troubled teen industry” - an extensive network of residential treatment centers, wilderness programs, bootcamps, and therapeutic boarding schools. they target struggling teenagers and their parents, yielding mass profits every year. these programs have long been known for their cult-like tactics and abusive practices.

i‘ve heard from so many parents/guardians who say they would have make a different decision for their kid if they’d known the truth about the troubled teen industry before it was too late. my parents included. parents/guardians deserve to be FULLY informed. most of all, children deserve to be protected before it's too late. in some cases, this information has proven to be the difference between life or death.

so without further adieu, here are 5 facts the troubled teen industry does NOT want you to know. thank you to the national youth rights association and mother jones for making this information accessible online.

1. the U.S. government has documented thousands of abuse allegations at troubled teen industry facilities.

In 2008 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published the report "Residential Programs: Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing." The report 'identified thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which resulted in death, at residential programs across the country and in American-owned and American operated facilities abroad.' (national youth rights association)

2. the majority of behavior modification programs can trace their treatment philosophy to a violent anti-drug cult: synanon.

Founded in 1958, Synanon sold itself as a cure for hardcore addicts who could help each other by 'breaking' new initiates with isolation, humiliation, hard labor, and sleep deprivation. Today, programs use Synanon-like tactics, advertising themselves to parents as solutions for everything from poor study habits to substance misuse. (mother jones)

3. most residential treatment facilities are operating as for-profit organizations.

The “troubled teen” industry receives “an estimated $23 billion dollars of annual public funds to purportedly treat the behavioral and psychological needs of vulnerable youth." ...The “therapy” provided varies, but it generally includes food and sleep deprivation, vigorous labor, verbal and physical abuse, and humiliation... young people have experienced solitary confinement, sexual abuse, and have even been killed, yet the industry profits $1.2 billion a year while doing it. (national youth rights association)

4. no legislation has been in place to protect youth + regulate residential treatment programs.

Despite these findings more than a decade ago, there is no federal regulation or oversight of these programs, nor are there consistent regulations among states. Furthermore, many states completely exempt religious boarding schools from licensing requirement and from oversight from education and child welfare authorities. States and facilities do not even keep track of the number of placements nor length of stay. (national youth rights association)

5. behavior modification programs are not evidence-based and there are no documented positive outcomes.

Discipline interventions like these programs have been calculated to increase recidivism by as much as 8%, compared to counseling intervention which decreases recidivism by approximately 13%. Not only does the extreme isolation and daily abuse of these discipline camps statistically raise the chance of re-offending; it is also infamous for causing lifelong emotional damage. (national youth rights association)

see this list of non-residential alternatives for parents by

when it comes to the troubled teen industry, knowledge is power. especially if you are a survivor or prospective parent.

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