being a mom

Troubled Teen Industry: Where Helping Kids Includes Rape, Abuse & Starvation

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A Cochrane review, published in 2009 about Juvenile Awareness Programs For Preventing Juvenile Delinquency states that the television shows, these “edutainment” reality series like Teen Trouble and Scared Straight, in which troubled kids are sent to experience prisons and “learn from inmates” do little to curb the behavior they are attempting to correct:

 Results of this review indicate that not only does it fail to deter crime, but it actually leads to more offending behavior. Government officials permitting this program need to adopt rigorous evaluation to ensure that they are not causing more harm to the very citizens they pledge to protect.

The end result of a lot of these shows depict the troubled kids being sent off to the trouble teen “boarding schools” to receive additional “treatment.” Josh Shipp promotes some of these programs and they waive the fees due to the publicity generated from appearing on the show. Copper Canyon, a “therapeutic boarding school” which is featured on Teen Trouble, is part of a network of teen programs run by Aspen Education, which also operated a school known as Mount Bachelor Academy in Oregon. In 2009, Time Magazine ran an expose on some of the tactics used at the Mount Bachelor Academy, included forcing girls who had survived rape or sexual abuse to do lap dances and participate in other sexualized role play. This expose helped spur an investigation which led to this schools closure.  From the Time article:

For instance, in required seminars that the school calls Lifesteps, students say staff members of the residential program have instructed girls, some of whom say they have been victims of rape or sexual abuse, to dress in provocative clothing — fishnet stockings, high heels and miniskirts — and perform lap dances for male students as therapy.


Just as horrifying are the stories that comes from accounts of “religious homes” for troubled teens, where you can read stories about unlicensed group homes that operate out of Florida. A lot of these places operate under a “religious exemption” which means that they are closed to state licensing officials and that their inspection records are not made public. Girls, some as young as ten, are subjected to a practice called “flooring” in which a girl is held to the floor by a group of her peers for an hour or longer. After a girl is “floored” she is usually sent to a small, windowless cell, sometimes for days at a time, called The “Grace” room where a girl can contemplate how she misbehaved. From

Former residents complain they would be held there for days, with limited bathroom breaks, nothing to do and no one to talk to.

Other girls, they said, had soiled the carpet, out of necessity or spite.

“It was a disgusting little box,” 18-year-old Ali Reichle said. “Whenever you walked in that room, you could smell just the puke and the urine.”

The makeshift cell has an opening where a door would have hung. When a girl is banished, the opening is blocked with a table and manned by someone who makes sure the troublemaker stays put. Cookston said an adult is always present; residents said girls were often watched over by other children.

After reading so many of these accounts, one starts to feel like your own troubled kid may be better off in prison. I don’t know what the answer is for parents who are at their wit’s end dealing with a child they find out of hand, one who is participating in illegal activity or uncontrollable behavior. I do know that when we embark on this journey of parenthood we make an unspoken vow to these children to raise them, feed them, clothe them, teach them, love them and protect them. That shouldn’t end when the human we gave birth to exhibits problems. I’m sure a lot of parents who send their kids off to these places do so because they love their kids, they fear for their well-being and safety and they feel like they have no other choice. But along with this love of wanting what is best for our kids we owe it to them to fully research these places before we watch a scandalous reality show or see a special on Dr. Phil about how these programs can “fix” our kids and we arrange to have them kidnapped from their beds in the middle of the night.

No one ever said raising kids is easy. No matter how troubled they are we owe it to them to get them the help they need without worrying about them being subjected to abuse and trauma that will affect them when they become adults. For more help, information and resources, you can check out the Troubled Teen Reddit here.

(Photo:  Jaimie Duplass/Shutterstock)

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