Question: My child doesn’t listen to me and is quite disrespectful. I find him lying and he will not follow any of the household rules. He does not participate in any family chores or activities and I am worried that he is setting a poor example for his two younger siblings. When he is home he isolates himself in his room playing video games but most of the time he is away from home and I don’t know where he goes. The school counselor arranged for him to see a therapist, but he only went twice and refuses to return. I think he has very little respect for me and doesn’t appreciate what I do for him. He doesn’t have a father in his life and I am thinking that I should send him to a “boot camp” where he can learn to appreciate how well he has it at home, and so that he has to mind other men who won’t be intimidated if he yells or threatens them. Is this a good idea?
Answer: It is good that you are realizing that the difficulties that you are experiencing with your child need to be addressed, and it sounds as though it has been a somewhat exasperating journey to this point. You are not alone in your thinking and oddly enough, the term “Boot Camp” is one of the most frequently searched terms when parents are attempting to access assistance in addressing issues with their out-of-control adolescents.
At this point, I believe that there are very few “boot camps” left in existence, and those that are still around tend to be those associated with specific state-run juvenile justice programs. Boot camps achieved the height of their popularity between ten and fifteen years ago and tended to receive at best, mixed reviews. The benefits from having an adolescent participate in a boot-camp experience tended to be somewhat fleeting. While there is a degree of satisfaction associated with the idea that the adolescent would be forced into compliance, and that they would experience a rather harsh environment without any of the amenities at home, most of the compliance disappeared as soon as the adolescent returned to his or her home environment and there were no longer two big guys around to ensure that the child would do what they requested. In addition, the boot-camp model was based on a time-limited model of 30 or 45 days in which the adolescent would “do his time” knowing that he would be leaving after a specified period of time. Most adolescents are able to adjust their behavior to get what they want when they know that ultimately they will still be in control of the dynamic of the relationship. This tends to be evidenced frequently when a parent removes access to their child’s electronics—such as a cell phone, etc. Kids will comply if their compliance behavior is focused toward someone else doing what they want them to do.
The problem as you describe with your child is not necessarily one limited to the notion of “compliance”. The difficulty is that your child has resisted the process in which he will allow you to be the parent in the relationship with him. The real difficulty lays in the fact that the relationship which you have with your child has very little meaning to him and has little influence on his decision-making behavior. Instead of being the parent or even of being a human of influence in your child’s life, you are relegated to the role of an object which your child uses and controls as a means of reaffirming his own sense of self-importance. As long as your child continues to control the relationship, he will maintain a sense of himself as being the “center of the universe” and your role will continually be maintained as the “human ATM” who pays to ensure that he can remain in the role of the “center of the universe”.
While this is not necessarily an uncommon condition for parents with their out-of-control adolescents, it can be quite frustrating because children are much more practiced in their ability to retain control of the relationship than parents are in attempting to understand the dynamic and addressing it. This is the core concept associated with the “Developmental Vacation” model of adolescent treatment which we have pioneered over the course of the last 20 years. Instead of attempting to find a situation in which compliance is the key goal of treatment, parents do best by finding a treatment regimen that reflects the notion that their child controls the relationship and which can successfully disrupt and realign that dynamic. While this may be difficult to accomplish on an out-patient basis, there are certainly more appropriate and effective choices for treatment than the “boot camp” model.