Fact Sheet Index

Is a Military School the Right Choice for a Troubled Teen?

“What your kid needs is just some good, old-fashioned discipline!”

As a parent of a troubled teen, you may have heard this more times than you care to remember. Chances are as a parent of a defiant teen you have tried just about every disciplinary tactic in the book, but are now exasperated at the lack of effectiveness. Generally, by the time your child is out of control, standard and acceptable methods of discipline rarely transform your child. They simply stop the behavior for a day or a week until there is another “scene.”

The emphasis on discipline as the seemingly sole method of controlling a rebellious teen has created a bumper crop of discipline-oriented programs for these adolescents, from short-term boot camps to longer-term military schools. One of the problems with these solutions, however, is that they do not address the unique needs of adolescents with real emotional and behavioral problems. For example, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, clinical depression, or other psychiatric or behavioral problems need more than a swift “kick in the pants” to get them to act appropriately.

Military schools are most appropriate for children and teenagers who do not have any underlying emotional or behavioral problems. Military schools do not generally offer appropriate therapy or other types of psychological interventions. They administer discipline, not therapy. In fact, some psychologists would argue that the disciplinary nature of military schools could prove a disservice to teens who are truly suffering from an emotional or behavioral problem. Although the child might begin to show an improvement in behavior when under the strict supervision of the school, parents will often see a complete reversal a few weeks after the child returns home for summer break or other vacation periods. Parents may needlessly delay essential interventions because they think the military-style discipline is working when it is not helping the child with the issues that underlie his or her behavior.

Children with behavioral problems need focused, individualized treatment so as to help them develop the skills and strategies necessary to grow and mature into responsible adults. Following orders might work for a teen who is simply belligerent, but it will not cause any significant improvement in the behavior of a truly emotionally troubled child.

When deciding if a military school is the most appropriate choice for a troubled teenager, parents need to look past their frustration and anger and honestly ask themselves what the underlying issue might be. Some characteristics that would suggest your adolescent is in need of a more therapeutic environment, such as an outdoor therapy / wilderness program of therapeutic boarding school (sometimes known as emotional growth schools) are:

Signs of depression
Signs of ADHD (link to factsheetadhd.html)
Signs of a substance abuse
Self-destructive behavior that puts the child at risk of injury
Extreme mood swings (unpredictable behavior)
Changes in appetite or weight

Generally, these signs indicate an underlying behavioral problem that is best addressed by a therapeutic intervention. Residential treatment programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and therapeutic outdoor / wilderness programs are designed to treat the child’s underlying problem while at the same time offering a structured environment where appropriate discipline helps the adolescent learn the consequences of his or her behavior and develop more positive ways of coping.

Although angry, frustrated parents might feel a sense of vindication by sending a child to military school, it is important for the parents to ask themselves if this is the right solution for their adolescent.

Aspen Education Group has a number of programs that can help pre-adolescent and adolescent children who have self-defeating behaviors. These intensive programs can quickly narrow down the issues your child is experiencing to help him or her on a positive life path.

The Academy at Swift River offers a challenging curriculum for adolescents designed to be integrated with their emotional growth. The initial component of the residential program is the merit-based Wilderness Base Camp experience, a multi-stage process using low-impact outdoor learning and the introduction of basic principles of healthy living. Talk to a program representative for more information.

Our Assessment Test can help you determine if a residential program might be best for your particular child.