No help for troubled teens

“Tough love” boot camps are “ineffective, based on pseudoscience, and rooted in a brutal ideology that produces more harm than most of the problems they are supposedly aimed at addressing,” writes Maia Szalavitz in Reason. Tough love also is lucrative.

Several hundred programs, both public and private, use the approach. Somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 teenagers are currently held in treatment programs based on the belief that adolescents must be broken (mentally, and often physically as well) before they can be fixed.

To avoid U.S. laws, programs are moving overseas where controls are weaker.

About Joanne


  1. I trust that the boy did die, but I couldn’t read past the following line: “But like the drug war itself, tough love programs are ineffective, …”

    Anyone who can write that line isn’t providing facts, they are providing proof for their own way of looking at things. Read broadly to see whether they have conveniently omitted inconvenient facts.

  2. This physical and mental breaking seems to work in Army boot camp, but perhaps that’s a different situation.

    Does the author provide one shred of scientific evidence to support the foregone conclusion?

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Physical and mental breaking is neither necessary nor paricularly effective in basic training. This was demonstrated when the Dolittle commission recomendations were initiated in 1950 when I was basic training cadre [nee DI]
    Sadly it crept back, in the nature of hazing, possibly motivated by the Hollywood depictions of DIs.

  4. Cardinal Fang says:

    I’ve read about the difference between something like Army boot camp, which does often turn around troubled youths, and “tough love” camps, which, as the article says, are ineffective. There are crucial differences between the Army and the tough love camps. In the Army, there is a real goal, and although there are some troubled privates, there are also quite a number of young soldiers who want to be there (or, in the case of a draft, who are willing to go along). Those young soldiers create a climate of success for the problem privates. No cadre of good kids is available in the tough love camps.

    It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of the tough love boot camps. We see troubled kids lacking discipline, and we think that rules, regimentation and consequences are what they need. It seems like such a good idea. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read, it doesn’t work. I wish it would work, but it seems it doesn’t.

  5. I almost hate to bring this up but I wonder what the differences and similarities are in measures of efficacy between military boot camp and “tough love” camps? How is the performance of DIs, their officer’s and the camps measured by the military and how’s that compare/contrast with whatever passes for similar measurements in civilian boot camps?

  6. wayne martin says:

    > what the differences and similarities are
    > in measures of efficacy between military boot
    > camp and “tough love” camps?

    According to the article: “Less than three hours after his admission to Florida’s Bay County Sheriff’s Boot Camp on January 5, 2006, Anderson was no longer breathing. .. A video recorded by the camp shows up to 10 of the sheriff’s “drill instructors” punching, kicking, slamming to the ground, and dragging the limp body of the unresisting adolescent.”

    I don’t know much about these “tough love” commercial boot camps, but nothing like this goes on in the US Military. While every DI is different, the point of Boot ‘Camp is to toughen up young men and women, give them a sense of mission and purpose, instill the beginnings of what “military discipline” is all about, insure that they are physically and mentally fit to advance to more focused training in their military occupational specialty (MOS). The military operates on a very fundamental principal—that compliance is voluntary. If you create an atmosphere of doubt, mistrust or fear, then the soldiers produced by such a training program will not operate at their peak capabilities, or be voluntarily compliant with direction from their superior officers.

    If a trainee were to end up dead only three hours after arriving at a training center, there would be one hell’a’va investigation going on shortly thereafter. It’s a pretty good bet that the training DIs and cadre involved would be up on murder charges too.

  7. Army Drill Sergeants are taught how to train recruits and deviations from the norm are punished. Losing a recruit to death or injury is seen as the Sergeant’s fault. Too many wash outs is also considered suspect. I doubt this kind of oversight is gong on in the tough love camps.

    Has anyone met an Army Drill Sergeant who volunteered for the job? I only met one and he was court martialed before he could be sent to Drill Sergeants School. This is in spite of getting extra pay for the year. I do know a few who volunteered for an extra year.

    I think the kind of man who would be attracted to having this kind of power over young men is dangerous.

  8. Catch Thirty Thr33 says:

    What a surprise. A Libertarian magazine editorializing against law enforcement and drugs. In their world, it’s “anything goes” and to hell with the consequences to American society.

  9. It wasn’t so much this particular incident I was referencing when I asked the question I asked. It was more in the way of wondering how the efficacy of a DI in the military is measured versus how efficacy might be determined in civilian boot camps?

    The reason I ask the question is that an organization that has useful, timely methods of measuring efficacy is, in my naive estimation, less likely to close ranks around an employee whose criminal misdeeds put the organization in a bad light. Effective measures of efficacy are an announcement of organizational pursuit of the goals implied by those measures and that puts any counterproductive action or individual in a harsh light.

    I believe the comparison to the military is useful in that both organizations have, at least theoretically, somewhat similar goals: inculcation of discipline, responsibility, confidence.

  10. wayne martin says:

    > .. wondering how the efficacy of a DI in the military is measured
    > versus how efficacy might be determined in civilian boot camps?

    Well, results would be one way. Military boot camp is designed for people who are otherwise normal, reasonably fit, and with at least an eight grade education to complete in eight weeks. There training is not designed to deal with people with “attitude” problems, drug problems, or people who intend to “drop out”. Generally the kinds of people who end up in a rehab boot camp either have a change of heart and “get with the program”, go AWOL and then have to deal with another set of issues, or in some cases, are released from Military Service.

    In the Volunteer Army, people with problems that exceed a certain level-of-effort to deal with are easily discharged. People who go into military boot camp are generally not there because of personal problems, but because they want to be there.

    The notion that military DIs are ogres is a myth, perpetrated by Hollywood. DIs have been to a DI training school (, and conduct themselves within a clearly defined framework, and training schedule. Basic training is pretty much the same at different training centers within each branch of the military. “Tough love” boot camps are operating more-or-less as independent entities, so there is little similarity in their programs.

    The military goal is to build a “unit”, or “crew”-oriented mentality, when the individual understands his/her importance, but subordinates this importance to the unit/crew. The “tough love” camps may develop a group mentality, but their goal is to rebuild the individual, who will probably never have any relationship with the other individuals in his/her class.

    It’s not clear that these two kinds of boot camps have a lot in common, other than their goals.