nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

Teen Tough Love Rehab: Scam, Torture, and Murder

Help at Any Cost by Maia Szalavitz covers various tough love residential and boot camp programs that teens get put into. They're incredibly destructive in the short and long terms, and sometimes lead to deaths from illness and deprivation. They're also very expensive for the parents and profitable for those who run them.

Here's a link to a podcast/video interview with Szalavitz.

The theory behind tough love programs is that teens are a grave risk from the use of drugs and such and that all that's wrong with those teens is insufficient discipline. Parents don't need to modify their behavior to improve the relationship--the teenager just needs to be hammered on enough to behave better and love their parents. Any complaints the teenager might have about the program is just manipulation to get out of it.

At those programs, insufficient food and sleep are routine, and extended immobility and exercise to collapse are typical punishments. There are high incentives for confession of misdeeds, including invented misdeeds, since ordinary lives aren't dramatic enough. The teenagers are blamed for everything which has happened to them. Arbitrary punishments are portrayed as natural consequences. Since complaints and failure to follow orders are viewed as manipulation and lies, necessary medical care is generally withheld.

This is what led to the death of a boy at a bootcamp. He couldn't keep up, and he couldn't manage to start a fire with a bow. He was deprived of blankets, clothing, food and access to group fires. His death from severe peritonitus took about two weeks at that camp.

Even when there isn't that sort of diaster, the psychological effects, starting with the teens effectively being kidnapped, and then being psychologically and physically abused for years are apt to be very serious.

For those of us with some vestigial patriotism, it's embarrassing to see the Samoan and Phillipine governments taking better care of US teenagers than their own government and parents have.

These programs cost about as much per year as an Ivy League education. It's common for them to pressure parents into putting siblings into the program by threaten to throw the first teen out (which is claimed to be a guarantee of a homeless death) if the siblings aren't enrolled.

I recommend this book--in addition to pointing out a major outrage, it's clearly written and sensible and tracks implications of the tough love philosophy very nicely. For example, if harshness is good for people, then ordinary decency is doing them no favor.

As nearly as I can figure it, cruelty is a primary motivation for a significant proportion of people, and a much larger proportion doesn't want to put a lot of work into cruelty but are pleased enough for it to happen.

What I mean by primary motivation is that like eating and drinking and music, cruelty doesn't need to be motivated by money or power or security or comfort or sex or any of the other things people like. Some people do it with tremendous gusto and inventiveness for its own sake. Social pressure and laws can limit cruelty, but don't begin to make it go away.

This means that being defined as a low-status person is very dangerous, and in my opinion, all teenagers in the US are defined as low-status people, regardless of the status of their parents.
A 1979 Supreme Court decision (Parnham v. J.R.) affirmed the legality of programs like Straight's to have absolute control over teens with their parents' consent. It upheld the rights of parents to send children to whatever private lockdown residential facilities they believe to be best, just as they are allowed to make schooling and medical decisions. The assumption is that parents won't consent to abusive care. And teens can be commmitted without a court hearing if a "neutral fact finder" (who can be a facility employee at an unlicenced program!) believes such restrictive care is needed. Teens have no right to appeal their commitment, nor does a teen's institutionalization need to be justified by a danger to self or others, as is necessary for an adult.

The section at the end of the book on the sorts of questions parents ought to ask leads me to the question of what anti-chump training would look like. Strong encouragement to get your information from more than one source, certainly--and that includes writing off any program which tells you not to listen to anything the teenager says. Mistrust anyone who says that what they're doing can't possibly go wrong, so they don't need emergency fallbacks.
Tags: children's rights, torture

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