Scared Straight

Scared Straight programs are used throughout the United States as a means of deterring juvenile crime.

“Established in the 1970s, Scared Straight programs are used throughout the United States as a means of deterring juvenile crime. They usually entail visits by at-risk youth to adult prisons, where youth hear about the harsh reality of prison life from inmates.” 


The point of the program is to catch the bad behavior early before it goes too far. There are many different services that the Scared Straight programs offer and many vary in those services and in the ages they serve.

There are many treatment options and many ways to help your troubled teen.

Why do teens act the way they do?


Despite what many people may think, the human brain is not fully formed and functioning at full maturity until we’re in our mid-20s. Teenager’s brains are wired very differently from the brains of children or adults because they’re developing and growing. The prefrontal cortex — the decision and reason part of the brain — is being restructured, which makes the teenage years so stressful and overwhelming for both teens and parents. 

Also during this time, hormones seem to take control. The hormones that are produced during the teenage years may explain why your teen is acting so unruly, disrespectfully, or impulsively. 

While the hormones don’t excuse the poor behavior, it does explain many things that are coupled with the restructuring of the prefrontal cortex. It can safely be assumed that the teenage years are extremely difficult and overwhelming for both parents and teenagers. 

“Normal” vs Troubled

Wondering what the “normal” vs troubled signs are in teens? Look no further!

Changes in mood


Temporary mood swings during the teenage years is completely normal. 

However, this differs entirely from a teen who is having troubling behavior, violent mood swings, personality changes, and persisting sadness and anxiety. 

Drug and alcohol use


It’s important to talk to your teen about the effects of such substances, and remain calm if/when they talk about it with you. Experimenting is very common at this age. 

When experimenting becomes more than just that, and troubling signs of abuse arise, it’s time to find some help with a drug intervention or alcohol intervention

Changes in appearance


Again, changing hair color, clothing style, etc., is very common and expected. 

When it becomes a drastic change, it can be taken as a sign of trouble — numerous tattoos and piercings, overly provocative clothing that normally wouldn’t be their style, etc.

Arguments and rebellious behavior

They are going to argue and rebel, miss curfew, break a few rules, and backtalk. These are all normal and expected at this age. 

Warning signs might be when they start missing school, fighting, breaking the law, and getting/starting constant fights that go beyond “normal” arguments. 

Influence from friends


Peer pressure is such a powerful tool, and teens are so controlled by it. If your teen wants to hang with their friends more than you, normal. 

Bad signs may be if they’re hanging with the wrong group, disrespecting all boundaries or rules in and outside of home, or breaking the law. 

Below are some more warning signs of a troubled teenager. If your teen is showing any or several of these, please contact a doctor or a mental health professional and schedule an appointment. 

19 Signs Of A Troubled Teen

  • Secretive behavior, deception, or lying
  • Unexpected/unexplainable decreased or failing academic performance
  • Spending too much time sleeping
  • Excessive electronics usage 
  • Significant changes in appetite or eating patterns 
  • Excessing isolation 
  • Regularly missing curfew
  • Stealing
  • Skipping school
  • Body image issues
  • Promiscuity
  • Significant disregard for personal hygiene
  • Withdrawal from favorite sports or activities 
  • Excessive outbursts
  • Self-injury or mentioning hurting him or herself
  • Extreme defiance
  • Bullying others
  • Experimenting with alcohol or drugs
  • Loss of self-esteem/extreme self-loathing

When to seek professional help

If your teen is showing several of the signs mentioned above reach out to us at Universal Crisis Intervention for advice & help. 

If your teen is exceptionally angry and violent, there are some tips below to start out. 

Tips on how to deal with your angry teenager



If your teen is distancing him or herself, it may be causing a lot of issues. They are confused and angry, and may need distance from everyone, but it’s important for them to know that they don’t have to distance themselves from their parents or family. Reconnect with them. Remind them that they still have things in common with you: board games, a favorite movie, delicious food, etc. 

Deal with anger & violence

    • This is a very real issue when it comes to dealing with teens. With hormones raging and their brains not fully functioning yet, anger and violence is a natural and easy place to turn to.
    • Both boys and girls can get very violent, however the types of violence differ. Boys tend to get physically violent whereas girls tend to show their anger and violence verbally. Putting up with it in your home and with your family is just as damaging to you as it is to them. 
    • Make sure that they understand that it’s okay to be angry and upset, but that there are unacceptable ways of showing it (e.g. punching walls, calling parents names, etc). If it continues, there will be consequences. 
    • They also need to understand what’s behind their anger, as do you. This is a mature and complicated step in a teen’s life, but it’s an essential part of their growing up. If they understand their anger, they can find ways to solve it in a non-violent way. 

Recognize the signs of depression


Many behaviors of troubled teens can be signs of depression. Research them and make sure to keep an eye out for them. Here are some signs: 

    1. Problems at school
    2. Running away
    3. Drug and alcohol abuse
    4. Low self-esteem
    5. Electronic addiction
    6. Reckless behavior
    7. Violence

Add balance

There can always be balance between the life your teen leads and the life you want him/her to lead. Reduce screen time if it’s an issue, encourage exercise or outdoor activities, eating healthily, reading, sleeping well, etc. 


Take care of yourself 

Teenagers in general are stressful, especially those who are going through behavioral problems. It’s extremely important that you take care of yourself as well. Relax, talk with someone, find support through friends and family. Remember to pay attention to your other children as well. Make sure they’re getting the help they need.


The cost of treatment is usually based on the level of care that’s needed. Residential typically costs less than therapeutic because they don’t offer the therapeutic services from trained professionals. Therapeutic services also tend to cost more because the trained professionals are Masters degree level therapists or higher (depending on the program you choose and where you are). 

Boot camps vary in their cost as well. They can cost anywhere from $2,000 – $5,000 per month and some are as high as $10,000 per month. However, many of these camps offer financial aid. 

Types of Programs and Treatments 

There are so many options for troubled teenagers or children who are in need of help. Choosing to seek professional help for your teen or child can be a difficult step. But in the end, it’s about getting them the help they need so they can succeed in life. 

There are several options for treatment that troubled teenagers or children can have:


Outpatient is usually best for teens or kids who pose no threat to themselves or others. It also may work best when the family dynamic won’t interfere with the child’s ability to become healthier. However, this is up to the psychologist and the teenager to decide — every case is unique. 



Outpatient starts with an evaluation to see what has made the problem so bad that they’re in this position. This evaluation consists of both psychological and neuropsychological tests. The former is to see if there are any emotional, behavioral, or learning difficulties that may be helping the problem. The latter is to test whether there are components in their behavior or thought processes that are lending to the trouble. 

After the evaluation, a group of professionals (usually psychologists and therapists) decide whether individual, family, or group therapy is needed. 

Sometimes, this choice is mandated by the court. If so, your teen and your family will be appointed a court counselor who will work with you and make sure the details are taken care of. 


Residential, or inpatient, care is usually offered to teens whose behavior is dangerous, when there is risk of harm from someone at their home, or when outpatient didn’t work. Again, this is case-by-case. Teenage situations are unique. 

These situations, however uncomfortable or painful, often prove to be the most rewarding. Sometimes being away from home and school can help untangle the mess that’s in a teenager’s head. Being pulled from home and put in a different place with other kids facing similar issues often helps the issues sort themselves out. There are different types of residential programs: 

Group homes

These homes have 24/7 security and support for your teen. They are a good option if your teen is likely to run away. Many of these group homes offer support groups, therapy/counseling sessions, and a structured treatment for specific issues. The point of them is to not feel like a prison, but rather a home-away-from-home to get better. 

Residential treatment facilities 

These are conducted in a much more “clinical” environment. They offer intensive care for teens who have serious problems, either emotional or behavioral. They include alcohol and drug rehab programs, hospital-based residential care, extended care facilities, or teen boot camps

Boot Camps and Military Schools

Boot camps are private programs that are also residential, but instead of a clinic or boarding school feel, they’re more military. Most of them last for 30 days. Many parents of troubled teens prefer these programs because they “make a new person.”

If your teen is not interested in joining the military, make sure the boot camp is not a military school. If it is, it’s connected to the JROTC or ROTC. If, however, this is your goal or your teens, this is the perfect place for them.

Please remember that teenagers are unique individuals. They are difficult to understand and control, and they don’t fit into boxes well. Many won’t fit into programs that seem like the “easy fix.” 

Please take your time and do your research when searching for a program for your teen!

Final Thoughts

Remember that teenagers are still growing up. They need time to fully mature and will make a number of mistakes. It’s important to remember that they are individuals who want to do things in their own way, but they also require your love and attention. 


Because they’re not fully mature yet, they don’t know what they need or want. They don’t know how to read facial expressions or emotions like adults. This can make it difficult when you’re trying to express love and attention to your teen because they may take it in a different way. It’s important to be as patient and calm as possible. They don’t know what they don’t know. 

They may need time and space away from family and friends to understand what’s going on. Learning how to function in a world as a “troubled teen” is not an easy ask, and no one is going to give them an easy way out. 

 Please remember to be patient and calm. The best help you can give them is your understanding and love. 


How old do you have to be to go to Scared Straight?

You must be 18 years old. They target youth who are generally less than 18 years old who are “juvenile delinquents” or at risk for becoming delinquents. 

Does the “Scared Straight” program work? 

According to the article Scared Straight? Not Really, the intervention strategy of the TV program “Scared Straight” does not work. In fact, it makes it more likely that the “delinquents” will end up in prison anyway. 

However, “scared straight” programs that focus on therapy and rebuilding do work. They work with the person with the problem instead of trying to scare them straight. 

What is the youngest age for boot camp?

The age range is 10-18 years old

What states have “Scared Straight” programs?

The study “Scared Straight” had 946 juveniles or young adults in 8 different states: Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, California, Kansas, and Mississippi. 

However, all states have programs for troubled teenagers who need help returning to society as functioning members. Call your doctor or mental health professional for more information. 

What is the most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child?

“Without a doubt, the number one most psychologically damaging thing you can say to a child is ‘I don’t love you’ or ‘you were a mistake.’” — Ellen Perkins 


The team at Universal Crisis Intervention has over 25 years conducting safe, effective & successful interventions of all kinds.

He took control. You can too.

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