Rappers in TTI


Survivors of the Troubled Teen Industry pictured during their stay, paired with an image of the protesting Paris Hilton (photo courtesy Refinery29 https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2021/06/10401693/troubled-teens-programs-industry-problem)

The Troubled Teen Industry takes an estimated 120,000 to 200,000 children each year, many for behavior modification treatment. This underregulated network of private treatment facilities has been around since the 1950s, beginning with the Synanon cult. The American Bar Association estimates that the Troubled Teen Industry takes in a combined 23 billion dollars a year, and that total in growing. Behavior modification, substance abuse treatment, conversion therapy, group homes, religious treatment, wilderness therapy, and many others all fall under the umbrella of congregate care. In these situations, children aged 5 until their 18th birthday are placed in facilities at the mercy of the staff. Children themselves have no rights, and if they do have legal guardians, they are subject to their decisions. According to the Court Appointed Social Advocates for Children (CASA), “Traditionally, residential centers and other forms of congregate care have been used to accommodate high-risk children who require a level of care that was not available in the family home. Research conducted in the past several years now supports the finding that congregate care is less effective at achieving safety, permanency, and well-being outcomes than other, less restrictive settings, and is also costlier.”

While there may be clear defined problems surrendered children face, these traumas cannot possibly be addressed in the care of a wilderness therapy program, boot camp, or any other type of Troubled Teen Industry program. The same is true of children who do have guardians. Although they have an advocate in their parent, children are rarely screened before entering a program, and even if they were, there are one hundred others who will accept the child. As stated by the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA), “Discipline interventions like these programs have been calculated to increase recidivism by as much as 8%, compared to counseling intervention which decreases recidivism by approximately 13… Furthermore, even if the punishment is well remembered, it will be directly related to the child’s image of the punisher, which will result in resentment and emotional distance.” They go on to say that positive reinforcement strengthens the individual’s desire to please the individual attempting to shape their behavior, which can also be damaging. The extreme practices of these programs drastically increase probability of repeating the behavior they were sent away for, and leaves children with life-long trauma as well. The NYRA explains that children can be sent away for behaviors as simple as low self-esteem, perceived entitlement issues, poor grades, family issues, and can even move into more difficult issues like depression.

Despite an Federal investigation in 2008 with a report titled, “Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled Youth” that found substantial abuse and neglect across thousands of treatment programs, few have been closed. Because the term “Troubled” takes away all credibility from the child speaking up, allegations are treated as a form of manipulation or dismissed completely. Paris Hilton, a survivor of Provo School in Utah, has begun to advocate for “Troubled” youth, and has even recently revealed even more of her story. She, among other survivors are part of an organization called “Breaking Code SIlence” which advocates for awareness, shares testimonies, and provides other options to parents, among other activities.

Hilton is not the only high-profile celebrity speaking up, however. Danielle Brigoli, known professionally as “Bhad Bhabie” has recently come forward regarding the abuse she faced in the Dr. Phil endorsed “Turn-About Ranch” which she was sent to at 13. To Dr. Phil, she was just another segment on his show whose drama would increase viewership, While on the show, Dr. Phil and her mother were describing her in an offensive manner, and the crowd mocked her. In response, the phrase “cash me outside howbout dat” was born. After her appearance on the show, she was sent to Turn-About Ranch in Utah for about six months. She has come forward recently repealing her prior opinion on the program and shared the trauma she experienced there. She has joined Hilton in the BCS movement and asked Dr. Phil to apologize to her and any other children he institutionalized.

Although many of the children admitted to these programs do need some form of help, using operant conditioning to train and scare children into behaving is detrimental. Scare tactics might work in the long term, but likely will just lead to emotional distance and hatred at the least, but more commonly, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as stated by BCS. Pennridge junior Taryn Shine knows many people who suffer from mental illness or are struggling with issues that make life difficult, such as depression. Another junior, Leah Mott shared the same experience, but made the connection that wilderness therapy and other types of congregate care are likely not solving anything, “once you get back in the real world, how do you deal with everything?” This question can be answered any way by any facility, but in reality, once a child goes back out to the world, they are on their own as far as their choices go. Life is no longer carefree, everything is a test to see if they can make it with the new tools the programs claim to teach. Let kids be kids; worrying about things like poor grades, over-the-top phone usage, and laziness to the point that a parent is swayed to send their child into a potentially neglectful and abusive situation is insanity. Whether a child is “Troubled” or not, whether they truly need an intervention, this is not the way to go about it. Certainly parents believe they have exhausted every option, but in all reality, this under-regulated industry, well-known to be abusive and use cult-like tactics on vulnerable children who cannot defend themselves should not be the last resort, because it shouldn’t even be an option. As a country that prides itself on protecting rights, the United States needs to start caring about these kids and shut every last program down.