Families sometimes turn to private residential facilities, often called “behavior modification camps,” for youths when they decide that a young person “challenges authority,” is “out of control,” and has “accountability issues,” But some “behavior modification camps” in the US and elsewhere do not employ behavioral procedures or only employ them inappropriately.
Sadly, investigations of some of these facilities have revealed that they are more focused on dominating the youths who live there rather than teaching appropriate behavior using behavioral processes humanely. This has been documented in professional materials. Now these facilities are under investigation about how the conduct their business as well as their “therapy.” An article by Nancy Zuckerboard of the Associated Press recounts current concerns about the marketing of some facilities.
Youth boot camps and their referral services are using deceptive marketing practices when trying to convince parents of troubled kids to try the programs, a federal investigation has found.
The programs – also referred to as residential treatment facilities, behavior modification programs or therapeutic boarding schools – have been under congressional investigation for about a year. It’s estimated that at least 20,000 U.S. teens attend such facilities.
It is important that such facilities not employ deceptive techniques to obtain customers. However, it is at least equally important, in my view, that these facilities not misrepresent what they do. Well-documented behavior modification procedures can—and should—be used to promote appropriate behavior, but harsh and inhumane methods should not be confused with behavior modification as it is discussed here and in the professional literature.
Here are some methods or techniques that I do not include under the rubric of “behavior modification”:
- Long-duration isolation (and, in fact, time-out doesn’t even have to employ physical isolation);
- Tough love
- Sleep deprivation
- Public humiliation
Here’s a link to Ms. Zuckerboard’s article, as it appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Review the document entitled “The Exploitation of Youth and Families in the Name of “Specialty Schooling:” What Counts as Sufficient Data? What are Psychologists to Do?” authored by Allison Pinto, Robert M. Friedman, and Monica Epstein of the University of South Florida and published by the American Psychological Association. Also see stories by Maia Szalavitz from the Washington Post