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What Happens when you first Arrive at the Troubled Teen Industry

This article describes what it is like when teenagers first show up at the troubled teen industry program. Each program is different in how to run their program, especially if they are other programs such as a residential treatment center, wilderness program, or therapeutic boarding school.


When a young teen is first brought to a program intending to be cared for substance abuse, mental health issues, or just needing guidance in life, a warm welcome is what most people would expect, but they could not be more wrong. 


If a child is legally kidnapped or brought by their parents, the experience is the same for first arriving at these programs. However, it would be expected that a kinder welcome would be given if the parents were there. According to some teens, the staff members do not guide them in what they are supposed to do to excel in the programs; you have to learn as you go, as it is part of the “tough love” part of their program. Instead, you have to rely on the other members around you to show you the ropes, but some programs are against speaking without permission, so it isn't easy to get the necessary information. Comparatively, the relative information could be which staff member to avoid or the therapist, what to do if you get in trouble, how to “beat” the program, and how to survive these abusive programs. 


Stella Downey was a young teenager when she was taken to Pacific Quest Wilderness and was excited to get help for her depression. Unfortunately, she quickly realized that the wilderness program was toxic as she was forced to do a lot of physical labor and cleaning as a punishment when she did not do anything wrong, like talking without permission. Rightfully so,  A question that many people may have is, “how can one be punished for a rule they don’t know about?” Again, this is part of the program, and the young teens must learn the rules to teach them a lesson for being sent to the program.  


After attempting suicide, Downey was forced by her parents to attend RTC programs, one being Eva Carlton RTC which has a lawsuit against them right now for physical abuse. When Downey pulled up to Eva Carlton RTC, “protest signs were going up to the place, so I knew right away that it was going to be abusive.”


At most residential treatment centers or TCs like Elevations RTC, a young lady exclaims that she felt humiliated because “they first bring you to your room and close the door with a nurse and a staff member in there with you. They first force you to have a strip search, mark any scars you have on you, and you are completely naked. Also, you put disgusting lice shampoo on you even if they check you and you don’t have lice.” After rising off the lice shampoo in the shower, the teen got her assigned room and bed when she met the girls she would be staying with. Furthermore, she was given new belongings such as a toothbrush, deodorant, and clothes since she was not allowed to wear her own, as the staff saw some of her clothes as “against the rules.” Additionally, she said that she got a leader who was one of the residents at the center to lead her through the program and correct her when she made mistakes, whether it was that she did not clean right or was acting out. 


At most wilderness programs, the process of first getting to the program differs. When Tikki Reichman was legally kidnapped and brought to Evoke Wilderness, the first action that the staff members did was take all of her belongings away. Equally important, she was then given a 70-pound backpack that she would use to hike with for seven to eight hours a day and dirty clothes to wear. Moreover, Reichman was not given any sanitary items such as deodorant, a hairbrush, or a toothbrush. Additionally, she was only allowed to shower, brush her teeth, and change her clothes once a week, and since she had no way of knowing the time, she never knew when wash day was coming. 


To conclude, it is essential to realize that not all troubled teen industry programs are abusive, and some may help the residents. Yet, the reputation of the troubled teen industry is tainted by these survivor stories. When a child arrives at a treatment center, they should be welcomed and told that they are in a safe space, but that’s not what always happens. In reality, the children are given “tough love” and are forced to figure out the problems instead of being guided while humiliated. Generally speaking, these programs may not always be the answer to a child’s situation, even though it may seem like the only right thing to do at the time.

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