The Troubled Teen Industry

Every year, thousands of children are sent against their will – often ripped out of their beds in the middle of the night by strangers – to private facilities to be treated for various mental illnesses, addiction issues, and perceived behavioral problems. Due to inconsistencies in the definition of what a therapeutic program is and a lack of regulatory oversight, the exact number of these centers and children in them is not known but it is estimated that there is over 120,000+ children kept in over 5,000+ centers around the United States and abroad. This is collectively known as the “Troubled Teen Industry.”

What is the Troubled Teen Industry (TTI)?

The “Troubled Teen Industry” (TTI) is a term for the different facilities for “troubled youth” that represents a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States. These facilities are sometimes referred to as boot camps, wilderness therapy, secured group homes, teen ranches, reform schools, emotional growth boarding schools, therapeutic boarding schools, religious boarding schools, conversion therapy, behavioral modification schools, residential treatment centers, etc.

These programs market themselves to parents, therapists, state and judicial agencies, and insurance companies as providers of therapeutic treatment for almost every problem. These programs will often claim to treat or be experts in an impossibly diverse and broad myriad of mental health diagnoses and behavioral issues. In the absence of a mental health diagnosis, the programs will often attempt to pathologize normal teenage behavior such as talking back, breaking rules at home, internet addiction, normal sexuality, homosexuality, etc, and treat teenagerhood as a problem that needs to be solved.

Troubled Teen Industry (TTI)

Many programs utilize marketing tactics that are remarkably similar to multi-level marketing schemes with an emphasis on keeping children in the programs as long as possible or referring as many new clients as possible. Some of the tactics we have seen include:

  • Referral bonuses for children from educational consultants and other independent professionals
  • Referral bonuses for parents to refer other parents – Often referring parents are rewarded with monetary bonuses and/or a free month of tuition for their child
  • Bonuses for staff based on the average headcount of children enr