BreakingCodeSilence: An Opinion Piece about Shutting Down The Troubled Teen Industry



The Troubled Teen Industry goes by many different names: boot camps, behavior modification facilities, wilderness therapy, conversion therapy and many more. They are advertised as a way of helping kids and parents, but all they do is take away young people’s childhoods and leave them with severe trauma when they finally return to their families. Some kids don’t ever return.

There are a lot of pictures of kids smiling while inside of the industry. This is because the staff would not take any pictures of them to send to their parents if they didn’t looking happy.

The Troubled Teen Industry is advertised as a place where parents send their kids when they want to change their child’s behavior. Their services claim to fix whatever the parents believe to be a problem. Some of these behaviors are as simple as disrespect, entitlement, or spending too much time on electronics. Other behaviors are more complex like drug use or substance abuse. Some kids are even sent to these facilities for things like homosexuality or identifying as transgender. The children are trapped in unregulated and secluded camps with no outside contact. There are a number of ways young people end up at these camps. Their parents can send them, state and local governments can pay for the program to take people from foster care and juvenile justice systems, schools districts can place people through educational programs, refugee resettlement agencies can send people, or mental health providers can send people.

There are many effective ways to help people who are struggling with mental illness and bad behaviors. Counseling intervention, which is counseling techniques that encourages growth, have decreased recidivism, a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, by 13%. This is an effective way to help someone, but the industry doesn’t use it. They instead use discipline intervention, which increases recidivism by about 8%. The punishments they use result in resentment and emotional distance from the children. These programs don’t allow the young people to have any say in whether they participate in the program or not. The staff members who work with the kids often treat healthy and normal behaviors as a problem and fail to understand the importance of consent. The “therapy” that is provided to the kids generally includes food and sleep deprivation, vigorous labor, verbal and physical abuse, and humiliation. The more extreme cases includes solitary confinement, sexual abuse, and in the worst cases, death.

This is Daniel Stearns, a survivor of the Troubled Teen Industry. He describes what it was like to be kidnapped at the age of 15 and taken away to the wilderness in his videos on TikTok (@danielthemammal) and other social media platforms.

If a parent is unable to convince their child to go to a behavior modification camp, they can hire someone to come to their home and remove the child by force. As you can imagine, this is extremely traumatic and many survivors experience years of nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping and many more symptoms.

Within the industry, there are several different types of camps the kids can be sent to. Boot camps are behavior modification camps. They use military tactics to address drug use and other psychological issues. The children suffer physical and emotional abuse and even sexual assault. These kids are forced into it by their guardians or by courts who see this as an alternative to jail. There have been reports of youths being beaten, forced to consume their own bodily fluids, and strip-searched. Many young people have passed away at these camps.

Another type of camp is called Wilderness Therapy. In this area of the industry, kids are thrown in the middle of the woods against their will where they engage in traditional outdoor activities. This is meant to resemble real life where the kids face challenging situations, pressures, and demands. These camps don’t use military tactics, but there have been several cases of young people getting injured or killed  as a result of the extreme activities they partake in. Some people might actually benefit from something like this if it were to be done properly and they were not forced into it against their will.

The final type of camp is Gay Conversion Therapy. This is where young people who identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community are taught to “pray the gay away”. This is done through prayer or traumatic psychological conditioning. This form of “therapy” is incredibly harmful to their mental health and has been proven to have no impacts on their orientations as adults. The “treatment” rejects young people and puts their lives at risk by making them eight times more likely to commit suicide. In the US, only 20 states have banned conversion therapy.

Some of the most common causes of death in the troubled teen industry include drowning, hypothermia, restraint, suicide, beating, heatstroke, and dehydration. In 2006, Martin Lee Anderson passed away at a boot camp after he collapsed from a genetic condition he didn’t know about. Instead of giving the boy medical attention, the guards beat and suffocated the boy who was already having trouble breathing. In 2002, Erica Harvey died of heatstroke and dehydration on her first full day in the wilderness program. Staff members had pushed her to keep hiking as her conditions worsened. When she collapsed off the trail, she didn’t receive medical help for almost an hour.

The extreme isolation and daily abuse the children face at these camps raises the chances of them re-offending. Not only that, but it also causes life-long emotional damage. Dr. Emmanuel Monneron is a psychiatrist who advocates against the troubled teen industry. He observed that the unregulated treatment programs have severe long-term consequences for survivors. Survivors often have a difficult time returning to daily life due to rising reports of PTSD complexes, hypervigilance, and reliving syndromes. Not only that, but the experience can make people less likely to seek psychological care, making their recovery harder.

This industry has caused pain, suffering, and many premature deaths, and yet, they still profit around $1.2 billion a year. Most people would assume that you would have to do something really bad to even be considered for these extreme camps, but that’s not the case. Young people can be sent to these camps for small problems like depression, low self-esteem, family conflicts, and more. There is a survivor led campaign called BreakingCodeSilence that encourages people who have endured the troubled teen industry to speak out about their experiences. They are also advocating for lawmakers to put a stop to this harmful industry.

If you are interested in the campaign and would like to know more about the survivors, you can search the hashtag #BreakingCodeSilence on any social media platform. You can also go to their official website listed bellow for more information on what you can do to help.