Outdoor education, also known as wilderness programs have been helping troubled teens address their problems with substance abuse, defiance, depression, attention deficit, and other clinical and behavioral issues since the 1940s. These programs have proven to be highly effective in dealing with the current issues of our troubled teens. Most of the parents who are struggling with a pre adolescent or teen often discover that helping their children is difficult as long as their child remains in the usual environment. It is or this reason that removing the teens from their schools and neighborhoods and putting them in a healthy and controlled environment where they can focus on behavioral change became a popular solution.
Wilderness Programs have the ability to assist students and families with a wide variety of issues. The goal of the program is to accurately evaluate each student’s strengths and limitations and then individualize the program to better suit and optimize the treatment. The common issues addressed in wilderness programs are mood disorders, self-esteem issues, oppositional defiance, substance abuse, learning differences, academic performance issues, family relational problems, and peer relationship problems.
In the early phases of wilderness programs, students learn to adapt and habituate to their unfamiliar surroundings. This phase enables the students to promote trust and accept individual responsibilities. The students experience the immediate effects of their decisions and they learn to value their personal responsibilities. After an adequate time to familiarize themselves with their new environment, the students learn to rely on their groups for physical, emotional and psychological support. They slowly gain self-sufficiency and then awareness that they can interact with their groups. The students also gain self-confidence as they struggle to acclimatize to their new environment.
As the students learn to open-up and begin to behave as a part of their group, they slowly develop accountability and initiative. Students learn to use their new skills to understand the impact of their actions in the context of their groups and their group members. Students also develop introspection that will help them reflect on the things that they were able to accomplish. Students also begin the process of re-evaluating their self-identity and begin to establish a deeper understanding of their individuality. Furthermore, students learn what it means to live within a supportive group of community wherein they can contribute to something larger than themselves. The students are now able to use their skills and newly learned behaviors for the betterment of the group.
Today’s wilderness programs are keeping up with the changing needs of today’s teens. They are incorporating specialized therapists to aid the support and development of their students. Wilderness programs promise to be a powerful, efficient, and worthwhile experience for teens for decades to come.
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