What to Expect in a Teen Wilderness Program

Are you seriously thinking about enrolling your teen in a teen wilderness program? It may be just what your teen needs as he struggles through the tumultuous teenage years. If your child has been indulging in risky and self-destructive behavior, he may need some intervention such as a troubled teen program. The program can be a dramatic and therapeutic experience that can help your teen sort out his issues.

Here are some things to think about:

Usual enrolment in a teen wilderness program. Most enrollees are teens aged 13 to 17. These are typically a mixture of males and females who have issues including depression, substance abuse, ADD & ADHD, issues with self-confidence and identity, anger and rebellious behavior, self-harm and mild eating disorders. There are also some teens that may have problems with authority, sexually risky behavior and those dealing with grief and loss.

Admissions process. After evaluating and choosing a teen wilderness program, some programs will have its own admissions process that includes an assessment of the potential enrollee. This includes an assessment of the teen’s issues and physical condition.

Length of the program. A teen wilderness program may be as short as 4 weeks or up to 10 weeks. However, there are some programs that offer a more flexible schedule so that a teen’s stay in the program may vary depending on a number of factors. These include: the student’s condition and therapeutic needs, any advances or improvements that were made while enrolled in the program and the family’s future treatment plans.

Required clothing and gear. Depending on the company, clothing and gear may be provided by the program. They may wish to restrict the things that you need to bring and simply provide the needed gear as part of the cost of the program. Enrollees do need to be well equipped in order to be safe and comfortable since they will be exposed to the elements. Some clothing and gear required include:

-          Jacket, an insulated jacket for winter and windbreaker for summer

-          Rain jacket and pants

-          Enough sets of clothing – pants, long johns, t-shirts, sweaters, hat, socks and underwear. (Note: The counselors may collect shoes to prevent one from thinking of running away at night)

-          Hiking boots or snow boots in the winter

-          Sleeping bag with blanket

-          Backpack

-          Flashlights

-          Eating utensils and water bottle

-          Reading materials, journal and pen

-          Waterproof webbing (for backpack)

-          Tarpaulins

-          Hygiene supplies (toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, insect repellant, comb, etc.)

-          Prescription medicine or anti-allergy medicine, as needed

The program will usually prohibit: phones and other gadgets, alcohol and other substances, contact lenses and weapons.

Activities. Here are some of the activities done during the program:

-          Physical challenges. One key component of a teen wilderness program is how the wildness of nature can help put the teen’s issues at the fore. This can be done by physically challenging activities such as hiking, camping and other wilderness adventures. These challenges may be made on an individual and group basis, with rewards and consequences given based on performance.

-          Survival training. What does it take to survive in the wilderness? The program will provide some of the basic (and even advanced) survival skills training such as how to start a fire (without matches or lighters) or how to set up camp.

-          Team activities. Part of the treatment in this type of program is to help an individual develop a healthy sense of self-esteem, as well as a recognition of his role and contribution in groups. This fosters a sense of empowerment – to know that he is a valuable part of the team and that his contributions are needed.

-          Individual and group counseling/therapy sessions. Often happening while gathered round the campfire, the program may encourage individuals to discuss issues with regards to their behavior and condition. There will also be individual sessions.