There are many questionable, unacceptable, and illegal hallmark tactics Troubled Teen Industry programs use that are manipulative, financially-focused, and outright abusive towards the children in their care. These include deceptive marketing to convince parents that their program is the only solution for improving their child's life, using verified torture methods to gain compliance, psychological warfare to force children into survival mode, victim-blaming, and many more. These abusive approaches to treating children in emotional crisis are damaging to every aspect of those children's lives and the negative long-term effects of this treatment last throughout survivor's lives, regardless of the attempts they make to heal from this unique form of childhood trauma.
WHY ARE CHILDREN SENT TO TROUBLED TEEN PROGRAMS?
Children who are sent to Troubled Teen Industry programs are almost guaranteed to have some sort of life-altering trauma they are struggling to cope with on top of trying to learn to adapt to and navigate the world around them while finding their place in society. When children are in emotional crisis, they often develop maladaptive and dangerous coping mechanisms in an attempt to manage and mitigate the pain of their trauma, often without any kind of support system. These maladaptive behaviors are the primary reason children get sent away. Maladaptive behaviors include substance use and abuse, sexual promiscuity, dangerous or life-threatening risk taking, self-harm and suicidal ideation, and many more. The less emotionally safe children feel at home, and the weaker their support system is, the more likely they are to develop these negative coping mechanisms. At its very core, children are sent away because parents failed to find the right parenting style and methods that work best for their child when they were much younger. Parents were not able to cultivate a healthy, supportive, open, and respectful relationship with their child before adolescence, and when kids don't feel safe or heard by their parents, home ceases to be a safe place for them to share their struggles and feelings and seek the help they need to cope with their trauma.
BUT THESE ARE BAD KIDS, AREN'T THEY DESTROYING OUR SOCIETY?
The widespread assumption that children who get sent away are inherently bad and are incapable of improving their lives without the most drastic interventions is part of the core reason children get sent to Troubled Teen Industry programs. It is believed by most that, because these children are making such bad decisions, they need and have earned the punishment of being sent away. Society largely blames these children for the negative outcomes in their lives, rather than acknowledging and addressing the trauma they have endured before being sent away. What these kids need is to be allowed to build a trusting relationship with their parents and families without judgement or criticism, while being taught new, positive coping mechanisms through supportive, compassionate, voluntary, and trauma informed care. Children need their voices to be heard and valued by their communities, just like any adult. Just because they are not yet to the age our society considers adulthood, does not mean that what they have to say or what they are feeling is invaluable and immature and not worth listening to because "they're just a child, what do they know?"
SHOULDN'T WE MAKE THESE KIDS PROVE THEMSELVES REHABILITATED BEFORE ALLOWING THEM BACK INTO SOCIETY?
Once a child is labeled as "bad", "out of control", or "delinquent", that label sticks with them for the rest of their childhoods. In the case of Troubled Teen Industry survivors, those labels stick for the rest of their lives. Regardless of how hard they work to improve their lives, regardless of their successes, survivors are always seen as being those "bad" children who earned their abuse once people find out they spent time in a Troubled Teen Industry program. Rather than making them prove themselves worthy to participate in society, we should be helping them identify, address, and heal from the trauma that caused them to develop maladaptive coping mechanisms in the first place. Adult convicted criminals are given more compassion and understanding than these traumatized children in crisis. They are allowed a second chance to succeed in life. These children and survivors are not.
HOW CAN I HELP TROUBLED TEEN INDUSTRY SURVIVORS?
The most important thing for survivors of the Troubled Teen Industry is to have their voices heard and valued for the first time in their lives without judgement, skepticism, or blame. You can help by seeking out these survivor testimonies, allowing yourself to hear their stories, and amplifying their voices through sharing them and helping spread awareness of the abuse and torture within the Troubled Teen Industry. Because of how rampant this issue is, chances are pretty high that you are already acquainted with at least one program survivor. However, because they have been manipulated so deeply into believing that their experiences are invalid and that no one will ever believe their stories, the vast majority of survivors never mention these abuses and trauma, even to those closest to them. Having outsiders share survivor stories is so incredibly important, because it demonstrates to others that they are not just lies made up by kids trying to exaggerate their issues for attention. It shows others that because you believe their words as a non-survivor, then it is acceptable for them to give survivors a chance to be heard too. Another way you can find and support survivors is by purchasing and reading the works many have published, then sharing those with others. You can also help by donating to a survivor cause or signing an anti-industry petition.