Boot Camps for Girls

Boot Camps for girls may be seen as an alternative to military school for some girls. This article offers information on boot camps and compares boot camps vs. military school. If you have a struggling teen, see if boot camps are the right choice for you.

The term boot camps has several different meanings. First, boot camp can refer to the initial training experience for members of a branch of the United States armed forces. Boot camp can also refer to a segment of the United States correctional system that fits between probation and incarceration and is determined by a judge during sentencing for a legal infraction or is offered as an option to avoid jail time. Boot camp can also refer to a private facility in which military-style discipline is used alone in or combination with other approaches to treat troubled teens and help them overcome difficult behavior. The second two types of boot camp are modeled in some way on the first. A fourth meaning of boot camp is any fairly rigorous training for any purpose. Thus, one may find fitness boot camps, “Angel bootcamp” for aspiring Victoria’s Secret models, and other figurative uses of the term that refer only to dedication and hard work.

This article is about the second and third types of boot camp: those for offenders that form part of the criminal justice system and private boot camps for girls, especially troubled teen girls. About the first type, there is not very much to say, as it is a choice available only to juvenile offenders and most often attended as the result of sentencing. If a child has not behaved in a way that has led to arrest and conviction, then this choice is not open. So the remainder of the article will focus on private boot camp options for girls.

Boot Camp vs. Military School

First, it is important to distinguish boot camps for girls from military schools. Military schools are, for the most part, schools with an active affiliation with the US Military or an ROTC or JROTC program that combines a college preparatory curriculum with leadership training and rigorous discipline. Boot camps for girls may not have any academic focus at all, but may, instead, put all their efforts into correcting and ameliorating whatever in the child is judged to need remediation using some tactics that are similar to those used in military training. Many military schools explicitly state that they do not have the resources or personnel to deal with troubled teens and will therefore not accept or enroll them.

Appropriateness of Boot Camp for Girls

Before deciding that a boot camp for girls is an appropriate choice for a child, reading the NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Preventing Violence and Related Health-Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents. In considering the evidence that “exists on the safety and effectiveness of interventions for violence,” the group found only two programs that effectively reduced substance abuse, delinquency, or violence a) consistently, b) without “compromising side effects,” and c) with results sustained for at least one year after the intervention ceased. Boot camp was not one of the two. The publication raises the issue of “contagion,” situations, like boot camps, when youngsters spread their negative activities. They also say that the evidence does not support the effectiveness of “scare tactics” so often used in programs, including boot camps for girls.

The paper points out that sound treatments generally last a year or more, often involve a clinical approach, often following a cognitive/behavioral therapeutic approach that is developmentally appropriate, and are not “delivered in coercive institutional settings.” They say, specifically, that “programs limited to toughness strategies (e.g., classic boot camps)” do not work. That young people have been abused and died in boot camps - a subject not raised in the study, but reported a number of times since private boot camps first appeared in the mid 1980s - means that even if one were judged to be effective, the question of whether it was safe would still remain.

In June, 2008, the House passed H.R. 6358: Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008, but the bill never came to vote in the senate. It was reintroduced as H.R. 911: Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2009, and again passed by the House in February, 2009, but had not been acted on by the Senate by the beginning of December, 2009.


NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Preventing Violence and
Related Health-Risking Social Behaviors in Adolescents. NIH Consens State Sci
Statements. 2004 Oct 13-15; 21(2) 1-34.

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