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Da Friendly Puter Tech July 23rd, 2005 01:03 PM

Ethics of reality tv show
ABC has a new show out called "brat camp".

This show takes 9 kids ages 14 - 17 with some serious troubles and puts them in a boot camp type wilderness therapy setting.

The kids are not told before hand by their parents what type of camp they are going to.

They are dropped of by their parents, have all their personal belongings taken away from them, issued uniforms, and then blindfolded before being taken into the wilderness.

They all express their desire to not be there several times over, and at least one of them tries to refuse going, but she too is coerced and pushed until she sees no other option than to go.

During the show we the viewers are seeing deeply personal issues aired - kids breaking down and sobbing, a kid confessing the molest she was through when she was younger etc.

We are also shown clips from the kids personal 1 on 1 therapy right on tv.

In my point of view the way these kids are taken to the camp would be seen as illegal kidnapping in just a few short years. In this case they are minors and no laws are broken.

I also wonder in a very deep way about the ethics of professionals who would allow the kids they are supposed to help to be taped and aired on tv during their most vulnerable.

Finally there seem to be no emphasis on family systems in this type of therapy. THe kid is removed to the wilderness camp where the counselors are supposed to fix them. Then returned to their adoring parents.

I would love to hear your comments.

Warm regards,
Da Friendly Puter Tech
Ohh, and my new signature
Set You and Your Family Free To Travel

William Reid August 21st, 2005 09:51 AM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
I had a knee-jerk bad reaction to this "reality show," but after thinking about my reply for a few hours while driving a few hundred miles I rewrote this reply. See next post.

William Reid August 21st, 2005 10:31 PM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
Your description initially sounded like child abuse and inappropriate (arguably illegal) exploitation, by both the network and the parents. I was thinking that kids of that age probably don't have the capacity to consent to things like that; consent to something that is presented substantially inaccurately is generally invalid anyway; and valid consent from a parent for a child must be in the child's interest, or at least for something not likely to harm the child. But now I've had some further thoughts. But I've mellowed during the past few hours.

The thing that bothers me most about this is not the "Brat Camp," but the parents' consenting to have their children identified and (very probably) embarassed in front of millions of people. (I am assuming the children's images, voices, and/or situations are identifiable on the program.) The network no doubt has had the parents sign complex contracts with all kinds of disclaimers. Nevertheless, it seems to me that neither the parents nor the network has the right to expose the children and their experiences to such publicity.

The "camp" itself may be a different matter (I plan to have my office contact the network for details). Properly designed and implemented wilderness and "boot" camps have a fairly good track record for inducing lasting, positive change in some very disturbed, often antisocial, people. Assuming a "best-case" scenario, what if the network has contracted with a reputable treatment program, with reputable professionals, to offer clinically-appropriate treatment for kids who need a "last-resort" intervention? That would imply that the parents are simply agreeing to a slightly unusual (not all that unusual) treatment program, probably accompanied by a30-page contract with 29 pages of disclaimers.

Of course, the network will exploit the experience for low-brow national "entertainment," highlighting the screams and tears, which sucks (even if the network tries to defend it by saying they are publicizing ways to help desperate kids).

Given a last-resort antisocial or aggressive kid who is destined for a pretty horrible adulthood, I have little problem with parents' sending their kids to reputable wilderness and boot camp programs, provided they do so with adequate knowledge and in good faith. And although I generally vote for honesty with patients, there are times when it is O.K. to "ambush" the patient, especially a child or adolescent, in order to save him or her.

Once again, I cannot think of a good reason to publish the child's image or identity; that part seems beyond the pale. Even if it is somehow "legal," it seems abusive and far from the best interests of the child.

Da Friendly Puter Tech August 21st, 2005 11:52 PM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
Hey Dr. Reid,

THank you for the well considered reply to my post. I watched the two first episodes of the show only, and then would not support the show after that.

However; after watching the two first episodes I felt confused about a few ethical issues - confused enough to spend an afternoon looking for more information.

The things that I was thinking about at the time was:

1. Yes - most of the kids in the program seemed destined to go somewhere really horrible if help was not given. So I "get" the argument that forcible intervention might be better than no intervention. At the same time there *has* to be a limit to how, when and where forcible intervention is used. I think the show itself skirted on that limit, and quite possibly broke it. There are quite a few examples of programs that use forcible intervention, and then somewhere along the line goes way over the line, and become highly destructive and cult like. I dont know if the show in question, or the school shown on that show has gone that far, but I do think their ethics in the way they used forcible intervention are questionable at best.

2. What the living !@#& was the parents thinking when they subjected the kids to be on the air with this kind of sensitive material?

3. Even if the parents were too stupid to realize that having this private material on a show isnt a "smart" thing, what self respecting professional would allow it?

Here are some of the things I found out when I dug a little deeper.

ABC considers this show part of the "wish fulfillment" of their reality tv shows. They show these kids being sent away for a few weeks get "fixed", and everyone is happy. ABC claims that the only payment the families got for the kids participation is that the kids participate in the program for free. This is about 22K per kid so that is still a handsome payment. As you said - I am also certain that the parents have signed miles worth of forms to make this "legal". ABC probably has protected themselves up the wazoo with this show.

Brat Camp is set in the Oregon wilderness, and the actual program is called SageWalk wilderness school. The sagewalk website tells us that a wilderness camp experience for the kids costs around $22000. Which on its own is a handsome payment I would think. I wonder how much of the 22K is pure income.....

When I started to dig deeper into sagewalk I found a few interesting connections. Sagewalk is part of several such wilderness schools in Oregon and Utah. Oregon and Utah both have limited rules that governs such camps and that is why those two places are so attractive to set up the camps.

In the last 5 years or so at least 2 kids have died while at these camps because the caregivers had to restrain them. There has also been questions around the medical attention given these children. Apparently the caregivers are predisposed to calling complaints of pain "acting out", and in a few situations medical attention has not been offered as fast as it should have been.

Sagewalk itself has not been implicated in those situations. However, at least 1 of their current counselors listed on their website has worked for the schools that were implicated at the time when they were implicated. This might be "guilt by association", but I still find it curious! Especially curious in light of the fact that these "counselors" allow a show like brat camp to be filmed.

When reading up on the general "jungle drum" online about these schools it is not surprising to find some ranting about the greatness of the schools, and some ranting about the terror of the schools. Given the stories of terror out there though, I would be predisposed to think that the counselors occassionally misuse their power over these kids, and that always creates an ugly situation. (if the forcible nature of the program isnt on its own a huge misuse of power, and quite possibly very traumatic).

In the end though - I might agree that if the program used force wisely, and didnt seem to break any other "rules" of ethics then it is possible that the force in this situation could be justified - even if it makes my sensibilities go all a-twitter. However; I see so many ethical rules or guidelines blasted to smithereens with this show I am unlikely to think the force wasnt as well a break of ethics.

If you do look into it Dr. Reid, I would be very interested in hearing what you come up with.

Warm regards,
Da Friendly Puter Tech

William Reid August 22nd, 2005 11:12 AM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
Great job, Da FPT! As it turns out, your recent posts have been serendipitous in at least two ways. First, they came at the end of a very long vacation, and it is coincidence that I can reply promptly. Second, you used the term "a-twitter," which I haven't heard in years but appeared in the crossword puzzle I did yesterday.

Back to the points about "Brat Camp." They (your comments) are very good, and backed up with actual information-seeking. Not like my usual knee-jerk replies.

I have worked with wilderness programs in the Southwest (but not "boot camp" programs), and written about their procedures and effects (see a chapter written by Matthews & Reid in one of my older books, The Treatment of Antisocial Syndromes, which sold almost 22 copies). My brother and I actually tried to buy a very good one in Northern New Mexico a couple of decades ago. I have seen both good and bad ones.

One focus of many such programs is a perception of danger or risk, with activities that lead to a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and self-esteem which seem to generalize rapidly because of the intense mental and physical setting. The activities are generally quite safe when the treaters and guides (usually the same people) are well-trained and experienced (cf., shorter, highly controlled ROPES courses), but the settings necessarily include some relatively uncontrollable, usually environmental variables (like sudden storms). In addition, as you know, this patient/client population is often at high risk for problems, including suicide attempts or other dangerous behavior (particularly early in the trips, which usually last a few weeks).

Da Friendly Puter Tech August 22nd, 2005 02:16 PM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
Hey Dr. Reid,

Now did the crossword puzzle spell a-twitter like I did? Or did they spell it atwitter without the - ? :D

But back to "brat camp". One of the reasons I was so upset when I first saw the show is because I have long been a big believer in wilderness type camps for troubled kids. My own deep connection to nature, and long history of seeking wilderness places when I need to reconnect with myself has pre-disposed me to want those programs to be good and effective. Then when I saw these "counselors" act in ways that I found reprehensible I really wanted to reach through the tv and throttle one or two of them. (not to be mistaken for an actual threat, just an emotional reaction at the moment, quite a few moments ago).

As I was looking up a few things again yesterday when I saw your posts, I saw that quite a few child advocacy groups have gotten involved and are speaking out against this show as well, so thats the good news. Hopefully this camp is not representative of the industry in general, although from what I saw about some of the Utah and Oregon camps I think it would be wise for parents to research these type camps in a lot of detail before deciding on one. Apparently there are some of the States hosting these camps that have very little governing set in place regarding how these camps can operate.

Da Friendly Puter Tech

William Reid August 23rd, 2005 09:06 AM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
Without the hyphen. Picky, picky.

Now you've got me curious. I will have to watch an episode. But I promise not to view the sponsors' commercials.

JustBen August 23rd, 2005 09:52 AM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show

Originally Posted by Da Friendly Puter Tech
In the last 5 years or so at least 2 kids have died while at these camps because the caregivers had to restrain them.

I'm curious about this one, FPT. How did they die exactly? (This seems to imply that they were "restrained" to death.) Do you remember your source for this information? I'd be interested in comparing the death/injury stats from these "boot camp" programs to similar stats from wilderness programs and plain old summer camps.

I agree with your point about family systems. I'm not a systems-oriented thinker, really, but I wonder how these kids are going to fare when they're sent back home. (The fact that their parents were willing to humiliate them on national television leads me to believe that they're either really bad parents or they're really desperate for help. Just speculation.)

Da Friendly Puter Tech August 24th, 2005 03:31 AM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
Hey Ben,

Ops, Gotta question my sources on this one huh? Well - Fair play. :D

So first of all let me say that I do not remember my initial sources when I searched the web, and I did not save them.

However, another similar websearch provided similar stories.

1 story being about Aaron Bacon whose medical conditions were ignored until he died. He was with the Northstar camp in Utah. I think it said somewhere that the Northstar camp got closed shortly after.....

There is a lot to be found about Charles Chase Moody. Moody mouthed off to some counselors, were put in a head restraint face down where he choked and died on his own vomit. He was at the On Track camp - that later was closed down by authorities for this death. Last time I did the research I think I found an article stating that at least one of the counselors had been convicted, but I didnt find that tonight.

There is also a lot to be found about Ian August who died of heat exhaustion at the Skyline Journey camp.

I didnt have as much time to dig into this tonight as I did last time - when I actually spend several hours digging online. So without going into too deep details and maybe state something that I remember incorrectly I saw some cross over of counselors working for the camps mentioned above and then later working for camps in Oregon as well.

I also saw quite a bit of the same philosophy and style as I saw on tv. The camp counselors all go by an "earthname" which is a "native american" style name given to them. (I wont comment on what I think about people trying to take on the features of a culture that they are so clearly far removed from) THis seem to be a theme with many of these camps. As is the philosophy that it is a good idea to deliberately "bring out the emotions so they can be worked on". Which consists of counselors deliberately and I bet often unkindly trying to provoke the kids emotions.

Here are a couple of articles that I found:


Again - From what I saw - I have made the conclusion that as much as I really personally want these wilderness programs to be "good", it is obvious there are many that might not be. There might even be some that completely misuse their powers over the young people in their care.

Personally - I cannot agree with using force to "help" teens or adults for that matter. Although I can understand, appreciate and tolerate the argument that it is better to use force to help completely out of control kids than to do nothing.

I certainly and without a doubt think it is completely over the top to blindfold kids before driving them into the wilderness. The kids that I saw on that show where robbed of all dignity and probably sense of self.

I am opposed to using force because the people using the force so easily can get on a slippery slope and misuse their powers. Have you ever read Dr. Zimbardo's prison experiment? If not - its interesting reading and provides the basis for my argument. Here is the url:

Kind regards,
Da Friendly Puter Tech

Da Friendly Puter Tech August 24th, 2005 03:33 AM

Re: Ethics of reality tv show
And Thank You Dr. Reid - I will never again spell atwitter with a hyphen!

BTW, I have no idea if the show still runs - I think it was a rather timelimited show. But maybe you can catch it on reruns.

Da Friendly Puter Tech

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