Friday, July 22, 2005

Brat camp: If children are from Heaven, why put them through Hell?

This here diatribe is my passionate rebuttal to the new TV reality series called "Brat Camp." Have you WATCHED that show? The mere THOUGHT of glorifying those hell holes is driving me NUTS. My daughter's friend Jordan refuses to even watch that show. Poor Jordan has already survived three different "Brat Camps". There is no way he is going to live through something like that again -- even if just on TV.

I knew that this show was going to be heavy-going to watch after having listened to Jordan's tales of his experiences in these programs so I taped "Brat Camp" ahead of time so I could watch it in segments -- and I'm so glad I did! That program is SCARY! I can only stand a bit at at time before I need to take a break and watch "The Cut" or "Big Brother 6" or "Hell's Kitchen" or some other program that puts adults through the wringer -- not kids.

According to the script, the nine kids featured on the show were lying, stealing, drug-using angry promiscuous monsters before they arrived at Brat Camp -- and of course the show is extremely dramatic and entertaining as it drags these poor juvenile delinquents all over the outback of high-desert Oregon. But. How did these nine middle-class American kids get so out of line to deserve this incredibly harsh treatment in the first place? No one on the show answers THAT very important question. That is a shame.

From the very beginning, this show had me climbing the walls. Check out the way these kids even ARRIVED at Brat Camp -- they were lied to, deceived and/or kidnapped and dragged there. What does that say about the camp -- and their parents? Can YOU imagine being dragged out of your bed by burly strangers in the middle of the night and frog-marched off to God-knows-where? Or imagine having your boss blithely lie to you that he is giving you a free trip to Jamaica and then he drops you off at the unemployment line? Not honest, not trust-forming, not cool!

In last Wednesday's episode they had these children being force-marched through a 17-degree blizzard. Is that not child abuse? What if one of them had died? One of them almost did. This is supposed to make a MAN of a 14-year-old? Why don't they save this boy's parents $4,000 a month and just send him off to Iraq?

But aside from child endangerment, what really angers me about this reality show is that it glorifies "Brat Camps" and makes them seem so therapuetic for the poor teen schmucks who trudge through them. The teens you see on the screen are probably actors but the real-life "behavior modification" programs that the show is modeled after takes kids that are already wounded and hurting and just grinds in the pain, twisting the knife in the wound.

If you think "Brat Camp" behavior modification programs will straighten your kid out, think again.

What those camps actually do to the poor sad children who are trapped there for months -- sometimes years -- is to teach them that adults are not to be trusted, that people can do almost anything to you and get away with it because you are powerless, that you have no one to speak up for you -- and that you are NOT allowed to think for yourselves.

After parents actually PAY those "camps" and "schools" and "programs" $4,000 a month for two or three years, your child will come back to you brain-washed and spineless -- if not completely brain-dead. "Sir yes sir!" is all that they will say to you. There will be nothing else in their heads. Most parents seem to LOVE the results of these camps but they might as well have given birth to a zombie.

Of course there's no chance your kid will get into Harvard after a stint at "Brat Camp" but he or she will have no trouble getting into the cast of a re-make of the "Night of the Living Dead."

Or you child may learn really nasty habits -- once they are up there out in the middle of nowhere with no one to hang out with except a pack of juvenile delinquents and untrained "counselors" who can and will teach them bad stuff. For instance, look what happened to one sweet innocent young girl who I know personally. At age 14, she dared to say no to her parents. A teen saying no? Unheard of! So shocked were the parents that they shipped her off to Mission Mountain School in Montana for the next THREE YEARS.

This girl came back from Montana, all loving the program and the guy who ran it. "I just LOVED it there!" she told me. Be that as it may, this girl now has NO ambition and is acting out sexually in more ways than I even want to think about. Nice job, Mission Mountain School.... Or not.

But I have a great suggestion. Instead of sending poor bewildered lost teenagers off to be drill-instructed, endangered, abused and yelled at, let's send their PARENTS off to Brat Camp and see how THEY like it.

At some of these programs, children are denied food, water, toilet privileges and bathing accommodations for days or weeks on end. Hungry, thirsty, soiled and dirty, what do they learn? They learn how to hate. How long would YOU last under these conditions? With maggots in your food, mold growing on the floor where you lie face down by the hour like the kids endure at Tranquility Bay? Or at the WWASP programs where children are constantly brain-washed? Shamed, humiliated and treated like animals? With no communication with the outside world to the point where you realize that suicide is your only hope for rescue? How long would YOU last?

According to the Billings Montana Gazette, "Spring Creek Lodge spent $56,677 during the 90-day period the state legislature was in session in 2005, successfully defeating legislation which would have required therapeutic boarding schools to be licensed and regulated by the state." That's a LOT of money to spend to avoid regulation. Why would a legitimate program do that?

But do parents of "troubled teens" have any other choices open to them? Yes, yes and yes!

John Gray, the author of "Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars," tells us that "Children are from Heaven". He says that babies come into this world with a very strong drive to co-operate. This is a fabulous idea. But if it is true, then how did America's children get so fouled up so quickly? Gray's theory about this is that many parents are either too strict or too lenient -- but there is a happy medium somewhere in the middle where it's "okay to want more" and it's "okay to say no" -- so that children can learn how to make their own decisions -- but Mom and Dad are still the boss.

This exploring of the parameters of decision-making and learning this valuable skill simply doesn't happen at "behavior modification" programs. Those kids are regimented in everything -- every single waking hour. Exactly WHEN are they supposed to learn to think for themselves? At these programs, it's regimentation, regimentation, regimentation -- or else. (These kids will be READY for Army recruitment. Think of the money saved from not having to send them to boot camp -- ship them right off to Iraq!)

And who is a kid supposed to appeal to for a judgment call if they think that a counselor's decision is immoral? (Some of the counselors on "Brat Camp" BTW appear to be paranoid burned-out loose-cannon control freaks but I COULD be wrong.... Maybe they are just bad actors.) What sane adult would be available to come to these children's rescue out in a 120-degree desert or a 17-degree desert -- where the nearest adult not in the program is 60 miles away in who-knows-what direction because the kids were actually BLINDFOLDED before being taken to camp so they wouldn't know how to escape? And no phone calls are allowed.

So. What have we learned? That Hollywood has glorified "Brat Camp" -- but at what a cost?. Parents who send their kids off to these programs just may get what they wish for -- the endless night of the totally obedient living dead. Forty-five-year-old children, still living at home. Even in Jordan's case, this is a problem. After running away from his camp in Montana, he is now friendly and loving and obedient and a joy to spend time with -- but has absolutely NO ambition, does mostly nothing, dreads being around strangers and is on the verge of flunking out of school.

Or parents may get the opposite reaction from their children, once the "program" brain-washing wears off -- Godzilla gone mad. Jordan's brother returned home after FOUR YEARS at these programs and all he does now is pick fights, collect knives and obsess on how much he hates his parents.

My advice to parents is this: Go buy John Gray's book and save yourself $75,000. But if you still want your kid to swing from vines and have the wilderness experience, send him or her off to Outward Bound or scout camp or someplace where they don't lock up the phones.

PS: There is one "Brat Camp" I would LOVE to see happen. Wouldn't you just love to see those juvenile delinquents who are currently trashing our White House -- the ones who lied to us about WMDs in Iraq, hacked our voting machines, stole from our purses with bogus tax cuts, played with matches on Downing Street and sold our kids harmful drugs -- get frog-marched endlessly off across some Utah desert? You would? Me too!