Anger Management For Teens

anger management for teens | Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy

Does your teen blow up every time you mention rules? Do they threaten themselves or others? Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells in your own home?

The teenage years can be a turbulent time. Teens are trying to find how they will fit into the world. It is usual for teens to desire more freedom. They will push boundaries, and can sometimes get out of control. Anger is a normal emotion. How people react to anger can say a lot about their emotional wellbeing. Anger can build over time if someone is passive or has not established solid boundaries with those around them. In other cases, teens can seem to go from 0-60 and lash out impulsively.

Like everyone else, teens experience complex emotions but often don’t have the coping skills to deal with those emotions. This article examines anger management for teens,  some of the common problems associated with anger, and anger management treatment options. This article is meant to serve as a guide for families and help them address anger management issues.


Table of Contents:

What do Anger Management Problems Look Like in Teens?

The first step in addressing anger management issues is identifying what an anger management problem looks like. Some teens have a more challenging time coping than others. When your teen’s anger becomes a problem, it can be expressed in many ways.

Internal Anger Expression

Poor self-esteem, negative self-talk, fixed mindset, and depression.

This is especially common when teens avoid confrontations and let the anger build up over time. This can look like sarcastic or backhanded comments but can also present indirectly with things like “forgetting” to do chores. This type of aggression can be toxic in a home.

Adventure therapy helps teens experience success and develop coping skills to help them control their anger | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
Adventure Therapy success story anger management for teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

External Anger Expression

Yelling, screaming, blaming others, and throwing things. Teens struggling with an anger problem can also become passive-aggressive.

How an anger management problem presents can vary widely depending upon the individual. It is also essential to understand that anger is generally a product of more profound emotional distress. This is critical because addressing the deeper emotion is often key to treatment.

Reasons Behind Teen Anger

Anger is often a sign that someone is struggling to process or cope with a more profound emotion. Anger is a common reaction for teens when they don’t know what to do or how to solve a problem. Teens can struggle with this more than others because they often lack experience or coping skills to cope with complex emotions. They also often lack the awareness of how to identify when something is a problem.

As teens develop, they gain more self-awareness. Learning to be self-aware can help teens cultivate self-control when they are angry. A recent study found that anger was especially common among men and younger adults and was associated with decreased psychosocial functioning. This can have serious consequences. Teens need to learn how to control their anger instead of letting their anger control them.

Almost 15% of children and teens suffer from depressive symptoms, and depression sometimes takes on the form of anger or irritability. Further, teenagers who have experienced trauma of some kind are more likely to react to situations with anger. Several psychiatric disorders can lead to increased anger outbursts for teenagers too.

These Disorders Include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality Disorders
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)
  • Substance Abuse
  • Learning Challenges like Dyslexia or ADHD
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A recent study found strong associations between anger and bipolar disorder, drug dependence, psychotic disorder, borderline, and schizotypal personality disorders. Researchers also found that 1 in 12 adolescents met the criteria for Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED). This disorder is diagnosed when a person repeats sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior, or angry verbal outbursts out of proportion to the situation. Other triggers can be grief and loss of a loved one or family issues like divorce or financial struggles.

While the reasons behind anger management issues can vary, one common theme is that they negatively impact a teen’s chances of success.

Wilderness Adventure Therapy Anger Management For Teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

What Anger Management Issues Can Lead to For Teens?

Anger management issues can often disrupt teens’ lives and knock them off track. Teens who struggle with anger management even face an increased risk of several mental health concerns.

Increased Risk of Mental Health Concerns That Include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Eating Problems
  • Problems With Relationships
Adventure therapy can help teens manage their anger and in turn, help them develop close relationships with their peers | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Teenagers who have trouble managing their anger tend to have fewer friends, more behavioral problems, and lower school grades. Studies suggest that excessive anger suppression or expression may be associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices early in life. As you can see, teenage anger management can become a problem as their anger issues cause them to feel more isolated.

In this section, you’ve learned about anger management problems in teens. This is a common issue that can knock teens off track. You’ve learned what anger management problems can look like, some of the reasons behind these problems, and some of the consequences that anger management issues can lead to for teens. While this is all great information to know, the next step is identifying whether your teenager has an anger management problem.

How do you Know if Your Teen Has an Anger Management Problem?

Anger management is a serious issue for many teens. The first step in addressing an anger management issue is recognizing that it is a problem.

There are several signs and symptoms to be aware of when trying to spot anger management problems in teens. These can vary depending upon the individual teen. It is crucial to be able to identify the signs of a potential anger management problem so that you can address it early on and effectively. 

The list above is not meant to be a comprehensive list of signs and symptoms of an anger management problem, but it is a start. Each teen is unique, and their anger management problems may present differently. It is important to be aware of these signs before the issue escalates from what might seem like a phase into a serious problem. Take the quiz below to help you identify if your teen has anger management issues.

Signs The Your Teen May Have Anger Management Issues:

  • Dysregulated Mood
  • Irritability
  • Explosive or Self-Destructive Tendencies
  • Pacing
  • Aggressive Posturing
  • Explosive or Self-Destructive Actions
  • Verbal Outbursts
  • Physical Acts of Aggression
  • Disciplinary Issues at School
  • School Suspension
  • School Underachievement
  • Isolation
  • Poor Self-Esteem
  • Loss in Friendships
  • Passive Aggressive Behaviors

Quiz -Does Your Teen Have an Anger Management Problem?

Is your teen quick to lash out when asked to do simple chores?
Does your teen punch walls, throw things, or hurt themselves when they are angry?
Does your teen seem to lose control during arguments?
Does your child get into physical fights with siblings?
Are you worried about your getting violent outside the home?
Do you feel scared or threatened by your teenager?
Have you thought about calling the police when your teen has gotten angry?

If you answered yes to three or more of the questions above, take the online assessment below to see if wilderness therapy is right for you!

Parenting Do's and Don'ts for Angry Teens

Parenting is a hard job these days. It is even more challenging if your teen is showing signs of having an anger management issue. Learning about common mistakes parents make can help avoid some heated arguments. It can also open up more communication for your child to express the root cause of their anger.

5 Common Mistakes Parents Make With Angry Teens

When you come home after a long day of work and find yourself in another heated argument with your teen, it can be hard to keep your cool. In these times, it is important to remember that parents can make a few common mistakes when communicating with angry teens.

Getting angry at your teenager will only escalate the situation. The interaction’s goal should be to connect with your child and help them process their emotions, not to win an argument.

Doing this during an argument will only make things worse. When consequences are given, this should be in a calm environment where the parent can clearly explain the consequence and the events leading to that decision. Consequences given in anger are likely to cause your child’s anger to increase.

There’s no need to get into a power struggle with your son or daughter in the heat of the moment. Taking a cell phone out of their hand or blocking them from leaving a room may escalate the situation.

When arguments arise, everyone wants to come out on top and for others to see their point of view. It is natural to want the last word, but this does not often lead to a mutual understanding. Instead, this can further perpetuate a conflict.

When an argument arises, make sure to stick with the facts and the problem at hand. It is easy for parents to get caught up in the moment and bring up past issues. Especially when it comes to your teen doing something that has broken your trust, the goal should be to de-escalate your teen so that a productive conversation can occur.

Avoiding these mistakes is easier said than done. Parenting teens is hard work, and no parent is perfect. Having a few go-to strategies is a great way to help your teen control their anger.

Tips And Tricks To Help Your Teen Control Their Anger

Coming up with strategies to help your teen control their anger on the fly can be challenging. Planning out an overall parenting strategy is key. Here are some tips to help you along the way.

  • Be a role model for your teen. Managing your anger teaches your child how to do the same.
  • Give your teen time and space to calm down. Anger is a powerful emotion that can prevent someone from acting rationally. Anger is also generally a short-lived emotion. Just giving your teen time and space can let the intense emotions and angry behavior burn out.
  • Avoid power struggles. Power struggles between you and your teen are a recipe for disaster. Setting clear expectations can help mitigate power struggles.
  • Encourage your teen to communicate about their emotions. Emotional literacy is often an area where teens struggle. Being able to express one’s feelings appropriately keeps them from building up. Some easy ways to express emotions include journaling or statements starting with “I feel…”
  • Set up rules and consequences in advance. Rather than coming up with a consequence on the fly during a heated exchange with your teen, lay out the ground rules and the consequences for breaking them clearly and in advance. This way, your teen has a better understanding of how their actions will impact them.

If your teen is still struggling with anger management and you can’t seem to help them through it, it might be time to consider getting some professional help.

Parents choose Wilderness Adventure Therapy to help their children learn to manage their anger | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Knowing When to Get Help

If issues with anger management for your teen progress to the point where they are disruptive to their lives, it may be time to seek outside help. Types of professional help can vary from anger counseling to anger management programs.

Knowing when it is time for an intervention to treat teen anger management issues is not a science. Parents are usually in the best position to know when to make this decision.

10 Anger Management Warning Signs That Your Teen May Need Professional Help

There are several additional warning signs that your teen might have an anger management problem. It is hard to know as a parent when something has gone from a “phase” to an anger problem. Here are some warning signs that could indicate that this issue with anger management is more than a phase.

Adventure therapy helps teens develop anger management skills | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
  1. Difficulty learning new tasks
  2. Friend loss
  3. Throwing or breaking things
  4. Lacks accountability
  5. Are overly critical of others
  6. Threatening to harm themselves or others
  7. Harming themselves or others
  8. Irrational thinking or behaviors
  9. Criminal activity
  10. Substance Abuse

This section has provided a guide for recognizing if your teen has an anger management issue. If these warning signs are ringing a bell, then your child might be struggling with their anger. Parenting a teen with an anger management issue is difficult, but there are things that you can do to help your child. Next up are some helpful parenting strategies.

Anger Management Treatment For Teens

If your teen is struggling to manage their anger, despite all of your best efforts, it could be time to seek out professional help. If you have decided to seek outside help for your teen, there are a couple of important concepts to understand.

First, anger is often a sign that more is going on. Since anger is often more of a symptom than a cause, there isn’t a one size fits all kind of treatment for teens struggling to manage their anger. 

Teens and young adults can learn to manage anger through Wilderness Adventure Therapy and become happier in their daily lives | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

One consistent element of most treatment addresses how to express anger appropriately. Since teens are inexperienced in expressing complex emotions, they have to be shown how to do so. This coaching is best done in an environment that allows them to try out new coping skills and then evaluate how well they worked.

Second, coping skills vary from person to person. One common coping skill is taking some time and space to cool down. The goal of any anger management treatment is to help your son or daughter learn how to process their emotions. When they learn to process emotions they then can start gaining control of their actions. While eliminating anger altogether is often unrealistic, anger can be managed.

A therapist or other mental health professional will often integrate a variety of modalities into a teen’s anger management treatment plans. These can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness therapy, experiential therapy, and expression therapy. Treatment plans are most effective when tailored to the individual.

Types of Treatment for Anger Management

If you are considering getting outside help for your teen, here are a few common treatment types for a teenager with anger issues.

Teens and young adults can learn to manage anger through Wilderness Adventure Therapy and become happier in their daily lives | Aspiro Adventure Therapy


Meeting with a professional trained in anger management counseling is a common treatment for teen anger management issues. Anger management counseling can take place in an outpatient or inpatient setting. They can also address any underlying mental health issues that your teen may be struggling with.

Stress Management Therapy

 Teen’s lives are increasingly stressful. With an ever-increasing number of social, academic, and professional inputs, teens are getting overwhelmed. This stress can often lead teens to struggle with anger management. So therapy aimed at reducing stress through relaxation techniques can be effective. This type of treatment can increase a teen’s ability to cope with new stress. Stress management therapy can give your child essential tools to address underlying issues that lead to anger management problems.

Experiential Therapies

A new and challenging environment can often be an anger trigger for teens. The stress can be frustrating and lead to angry outburst. Experiential therapies expose teens to novel environments and activities in a controlled way. They go through this while they are under mental health professionals’ supervision. With coaching, teens can learn to overcome their emotions. This can be an essential part of an anger management treatment plan.

Expressive Therapies

Expressive Therapies can help teens cope with anger productively. Channeling feelings of extreme anger into more creative activities can be effective. These can include things like dance, storytelling, art, or music. This type of therapy can often be an effective coping mechanism and help teens find a way to express their individuality.

Families are getting the help they need for teens with anger management issues | wilderness adventure therapy | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

All of these types of therapy can take place in a variety of settings. These include anger management counseling, outpatient therapy sessions, or more intensive inpatient programs. One of the most effective options for treating anger management in teens is Wilderness Adventure Therapy.

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Wilderness Adventure Therapy For Angry Teens

Wilderness Adventure therapy programs like Aspiro Adventure can be an effective teen anger management program. For one thing, wilderness adventure therapy removes teens from their environments and allows them to focus on improving themselves. Wilderness adventure therapy also provides the space and time for teens to process through their angry feelings in a healthy way and under mental health professionals’ supervision.

Programs like Aspiro Adventure use a dynamic approach that is research-based. Their comprehensive approach includes cognitive behavioral therapy, stress management therapy, experiential and expressive therapies. Aspiro provides accurate mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your teen is getting the help that they need. These therapeutic methods create an environment of growth and learning that will help get your teenager get back on track.

Exposure to novel environments and activities at wilderness adventure therapy programs has also been shown to be an effective way to challenge teens. Exposing a teen to a difficult or new task can provoke some of the challenging anger management behaviors. In the right setting, this can give teens the chance to practice new coping strategies.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges, like summiting a large mountain, has been shown to improve resilience, grit, and self-efficacy. These are all critical elements to healthy teen development and are vital for overcoming an anger issue.

In all, wilderness adventure therapy is a smart option for teen anger management treatment. Wilderness adventure therapy’s unique environment provides customized treatment plans implemented by mental health professionals. If your teen struggles with anger management, you might want to consider Aspiro Adventure as a treatment option.

“My son went from angry, depressed, and unaccepting of his challenges to happy, and motivated to continue working on his social skills.”
Parents learn the best ways to support their teens who are struggling with anger management | Aspiro Adventure Therapy
Aspiro Parent

Helping Teens Overcome Anger Issue

Many teens struggle with anger management. Anger problems may look different depending upon the teen. It’s important to realize that anger is usually a sign that someone struggles to process and cope with a more complex emotion. Early recognition of anger issues in teens is key to avoiding further mental health issues.

The first step in helping at-risk youth with their anger issues is identifying that there is a problem. Knowing that there is a problem means being able to spot common signs and symptoms. These include dysregulated mood, irritability, and explosive or self-destructive tendencies. It’s also critical to keep an eye out for warning signs like irrational behavior, criminal activity, and substance abuse. Once you know that your teen has an anger management problem, you can try to manage it at home. This means avoiding common mistakes. These include escalating the situation and implementing strategies like avoiding power struggles. If you are struggling to manage your teen’s anger at home, it may be time to consider professional help.

There are many treatment options available, from counseling to wilderness adventure therapy. This article provides a basic guide to understanding teen anger management problems. It emphasizes what you can do as a parent to help your child overcome them. If you are considering professional counseling and think that wilderness adventure therapy might be a good fit for your teen, reach out to the Aspiro Adventure admissions team. They are available any time to answer all of your questions. 

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How to Navigate Learning Disabilities in Teenagers & Young Adults

Learning Disability in Teenager and Young Adults | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

This article is written for parents, teachers, school counselors, or anyone needing advice or help navigating learning disabilities in teenagers and young adults. At Aspiro, We focus on helping adolescents and young adults through a variety of struggles, including, but not limited to learning disorders and any mental health or low self-esteem issues that may arise from them.

Helping You Help Your Child

​When children are having difficulties in school, parents are often the first to notice; however, knowing what to do, where to start, and where to find help can be confusing and overwhelming for many parents. If you suspect that your son or daughter has a learning disorder, early recognition and diagnosis is key to getting your kid the help they need.

Learning disabilities are more prevalent than many think. According to the U.S. Survey of Income and Program Participation, an estimated 4.67 million Americans ages six and older have a learning disability. However, only 2.4 million students are diagnosed with specific learning disabilities, and receive services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This means there are millions of students with undiagnosed learning disabilities.

As your child’s advocate, it is vital that your son or daughter receives early intervention to develop the skills needed to learn based on their strengths and way of learning. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your child’s success.

Learning Disabilities in Teenagers and Young Adults Infographic | Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

What Is a Learning Disability?

A learning disability is a neurologically-based processing problem that may impair an individual’s ability to listen, think, speak, write, read, spell, and do math. In addition to interfering with basic learning skills, a learning difference may also interfere with higher level learning skills, including organization, long or short-term memory, attention, impulsivity and time management.

A learning disability is not a learning problem stemming from visual, hearing, or motor deficits. Learning disabilities however often coincide with other neurological disorders, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Learning disabilities often run in families, as they can have a genetic component. A learning disability is a lifelong obstacle; while children don’t “grow out of it,” they can learn skills to compensate for their learning disorder. Early recognition, diagnosis, and getting proper help early on is key to your son or daughter’s academic success.

Types of Learning Disabilities:

Dyslexia – dyslexia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s ability to learn to read and interpret words, letters and other symbols. Because dyslexia affects reading comprehension, it is colloquially called a reading disability or reading disorder. Dyslexia is by far the most common type of learning disability affecting between 5% – 17% of students in the United States.

Dyscalculia – dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects a person’s ability to learn math facts, understand numbers, make calculations, and solve math problems. It is estimated that dyscalculia affects between 5% – 7% of students in the U.S.

Dysgraphia – dysgraphia is a learning disability that impacts a person’s fine motor skills and affects writing skills like handwriting, typing, and spelling. It is estimated that dysgraphia affects between 7% – 15% of students.

Processing Disorder – a processing disorder occurs when a person isn’t able to use all of the data collected by the senses.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) – students with auditory processing struggles can’t process what they hear the same way other people do. This can affect how they recognize and interpret sounds.

Language Processing Disorder (LPD) – Language Processing Disorder is a specific type of Auditory Processing Disorder. Students with a language disorder have extreme difficulty understanding and processing the speech and language they hear and have trouble expressing what they want to say.

Visual Processing Disorder – someone with a visual processing disorder struggles to interpret the visual information coming through their eyes. It is different from needing glasses since the eyes can work perfectly. The difficulty is how the brain processes the information coming through the eye.

Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities (NLD or NVLD) – Students with NVLD have trouble interpreting nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language and may have poor coordination. This can happen when a person has strong verbal/language process abilities paired with visual-spatial processing abilities.

Other Struggles Related to Learning Difficulties

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) & Executive Functioning – while there is a lot of debate as to whether or not ADHD is a learning disability in the technical sense, there is no doubt that attention disorders impede learning. Between 5% – 11% of students have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Developmental Coordination Disorder (also known as Dyspraxia) – students with DCD are often called “clumsy” or “awkward” due to their poor general coordination and hand-eye coordination needed for everyday tasks. “By definition, children with DCD do not have an identifiable medical or neurological condition that explains their coordination problems.” Developmental Coordination Disorder occurs in 5% – 6% of children when there is a delay in motor skills development.

Memory Deficits – working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory are all crucial tools the brain utilizes in the learning process. If the brain encounters any problems when trying to store or retrieve information, it may be unable to process both verbal and non-verbal information.

It is important to recognize that learning disorders are not an intellectual disability. People with learning disabilities are not dumb, in fact, they are often extremely intelligent. Students with learning disabilities simply have brains that work differently than someone who doesn’t have the same learning problems.

Does My Child Have a Learning Disability? Know the Signs

The National Center for Learning Disabilities estimates that 1 in 5 children in the US have a learning disability. The first step in getting help for your child is recognizing the signs of a learning disability. The following are some signs to look for in your child’s behavior and cognitive performance:

Cognitive Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Often spelling the same word differently in a single assignment
  • Trouble with open-ended questions on tests
  • Poor reading and language comprehension
  • Weak memory skills
  • Difficulty in adapting skills from one setting to another
  • Slow work pace
  • Difficulty grasping abstract concepts
  • Inattention to details
  • Excessive focus on details
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Trouble filling out applications or forms
  • Easily confused by instructions
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Mental health problems like depression or anxiety

Behavioral Signs of a Learning Disability:

  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Complaining about the teacher
  • Reluctance to engage in reading/writing activities
  • Saying the work is too hard
  • Not wanting to show you schoolwork
  • Avoiding assignments/homework
  • Saying negative things about his or her academic performance, such as: “I’m dumb”
  • Disobeying teacher’s directions
  • Frequent misreading/misinterpretation of information
  • Cutting class and skipping school (in adolescents and teens)
  • Bullying

If your son or daughter is displaying some of these cognitive or behavioral symptoms, it is time to take the next steps.

I Think My Child Has a Learning Disability. What Do I Do?

Once you suspect that your son or daughter has a disability and have recognized some signs of a specific learning disorder in their behavior, it is time to take action:

1. Talk to Your Child’s Teacher About Your Concerns

Share your concerns with your child’s teacher; chances are, he or she may have noticed some of the same things you did. Use this opportunity to collect information about your child’s academic performance and communicate openly about your son or daughter’s performance.

2. Find Out about Pre-referral Services

Before you have your son or daughter formally evaluated by a psychologist, his or her school may have an established process for providing you and your son or daughter with support. Find out what your child’s school can do or is doing for your child.

3. Keep Diligent Records of Your Child’s Education

Keep your own notes on your child’s academic development and meetings with their school’s personnel. Additionally, be sure to add all communication about your child’s academic performance from the school: test scores, report cards, and written comments from teachers. Keeping your son or daughter’s academic records organized will help you and their educators monitor his or her progress and will be crucial for their evaluation.

4. Know Your Rights

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), you, as a parent, have a right to request a free, formal evaluation for your child. Once you make a formal request for evaluation, IDEA puts a set of legal requirements and procedures into motion for his or her school district.

5. Request for Formal Evaluation under IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents the right to request a free, formal evaluation of their child. If you decide to make a formal request for evaluation, ensure that you put your request in writing.

Your local school district is responsible for the IDEA-mandated formal evaluation, even if your son or daughter is home-schooled or enrolled in private school. If your child is referred for evaluation by their school, you will receive written notice of the referral and will need to give your consent in order to proceed with the evaluation.

Under IDEA, schools have several requirements once it has been established that your son or daughter will be evaluated by the school district. The law requires:

  • You will be given a copy of the “Procedural Safeguards Notice,” which outlines your legal rights to ensure that your child receives the services he or she needs. This document is extremely important; be sure to read it carefully and know your rights as a parent.
  • The school district is required to complete the evaluation within an established period of time; IDEA requires that the evaluation is conducted within 60 calendar days of receiving parental consent; however, timing guidelines may vary by states.
  • The law sets certain requirements for evaluations. The evaluation must use a variety of scientifically proven procedures, strategies, and tools to examine each area in which a disability is suspected.
  • The school must present you with the plan for your son or daughter’s evaluation before the evaluation begins.
  • As a parent, you have the right to object to certain assessments or tests. In addition, you have the right to request that additional assessments or tests are added to the plan.

You also have the option to have your child privately evaluated, as opposed to having an evaluation facilitated by the school; however, if you choose to go with a private evaluation, the school is not responsible for the cost. As the parent, you have the right to choose whether or not to share the results of a private evaluation with your child’s school.

After your son or daughter’s evaluation, the school is required to provide you with a copy of the evaluation report. It is very important to request a copy of the evaluation report in writing.

My Child Has a Learning Disability. Now What?

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out about their son or daughter’s diagnosis; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. The key to success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based.

In addition to individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectation (of themselves and from others) are two key aspects to success. It is vital that, as a parent, you are an advocate for your son or daughter. In order to become an effective advocate for your son or daughter, you should become informed about their learning disability, their rights under the law, and ways to help him or her succeed.

What Laws Give My Child Educational Rights?

There are three federal statutes that you should familiarize yourself with. These laws guarantee your son or daughter’s access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The three federal laws include:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides special education services for public school students ages 3 to 21 who have disabilities; however, having a learning difficulty doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for special education. He or she must first go through an eligibility evaluation.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in programs and activities which receive federal funding.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that protects individuals with learning disabilities from discrimination in schools, the workplace, and other settings.

Once your child is formally diagnosed, he or she may receive an IEP or a 504 Plan; however, not all students who have disabilities require specialized instruction. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, he or she may receive a specialized plan.

What Is an IEP?

IEP stands for an Individualized Education Program. An IEP is required under IDEA for every student who receives special education services to make sure that each student receives individualized instruction and services. The IEP is written for each student by a team, which includes his or her parents, classroom teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, and a school district representative who has authority over special education programs.

What Is a 504 Plan?

A 504 Plan is designed for students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or an attention deficit who do not meet the eligibility requirements under IDEA. Since Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 has a more expansive definition of a learning disability than IDEA does, students who do not meet the criteria to qualify for an IEP may be eligible to receive accommodations under a 504 plan. Like an IEP, a 504 plan is also a plan written specifically for each student to ensure his or her success in the classroom.

What Is the Difference Between 504 and IEP?

For students who do require specialized instruction, IDEA controls the requirements, and an IEP is developed for that student. The program document is in-depth and outlines the child’s present academic performance, annual academic goals, special services the child will receive, how the institution will track the goals, standardized testing protocol, accommodations, and modifications. The IDEA process requires documentation of measurable growth and specialized instruction.

504 plans are less involved and are designed for students who do not require specialized instruction. While a team of at least five or six people are required to develop an IEP, a 504 plan can be developed among the child’s parent(s) and teachers. They are designed to ensure the student receives equal access to public education and services. ​A document is usually created to outline their specific accessibility requirements and names of who will provide each requirement or accommodation.

Accommodations vs Modifications

Some parents get discouraged upon finding out that their child has been diagnosed with a learning disability; however, many individuals who have a learning disability can succeed scholastically and professionally. When children are diagnosed with a learning disability, parents can sometimes be overwhelmed by the educational options; depending on their diagnosis, a child could receive an IEP or a 504 plan. In addition, a child’s curriculum could have accommodations or modifications to meet his or her specific learning needs; but, what’s the difference? Here is an overview of accommodations vs modifications, and examples of how each could be applied to your son or daughter’s academic curriculum.

What Is an “Accommodation”?

Accommodations are instructional or test adaptations that allow the student to demonstrate what he or she knows without fundamentally changing the targeted skill being taught in the classroom or measured during testing sessions. Accommodations do not reduce performance expectations; they simply change the manner or setting in which the information is presented, or how the student will respond.

Generally, many accommodations can be grouped into five categories:

  • Timing: ex. giving extended time to complete a test item or task
  • Flexible scheduling: ex. giving two weeks, rather than one to complete a project
  • Accommodated presentation of material: material is presented for the student in a different manner than traditionally presented
  • Setting: ex. completing a task or test in a quiet room
  • Response accommodation: ex. allowing the student to respond orally to a written test

What Is a “Modification”?

Modifications are instructional or test adaptations that change the targeted skill and often reduce learning expectations. They may affect the content in such a way that what is being taught or assessed is fundamentally changed.

Modification may lower performance expectations by:

  • Reducing the number of items required
  • Reducing the complexity of the items or task required
  • Simplifying the material, including vocabulary, principles, and concepts
  • Changing the scoring rubric or grading scale

While parents can get wrapped up in the details of their child’s educational plan, it is important to remember that the key to your son or daughter’s success is individualized instruction that is carefully targeted, well-delivered, and research-based. Aside from individualized instruction, a strong support system and high expectations (of themselves and from others) are vital to ensuring that children with learning disabilities succeed academically.

How Can I Help My Child Succeed at Home?

There are many ways you can help your son or daughter succeed– aside from being involved with their education plan and progress. Here are some ways to help your child reach their full potential:

1. Educate Yourself about Your Child’s Learning Disability

Find out as much as you can about teen learning disabilities. Learn about what kinds of tasks will be difficult for your son or daughter, what resources are available to aid him or her in overcoming those obstacles, and what you can do to make learning easier for your child.

2. Use Your Child’s Strengths to His or Her Advantage

Search for indications of how your son or daughter learns best, paying special attention to his or her interests, talents, and skills. Use these strengths to help them learn in a way that is most enjoyable for them. For example, if your son or daughter has a hard time reading information, but can easily comprehend things when listening, take advantage of this. Allow your son or daughter to listen to a book on tape or watch a video to take in new information.

3. Use Media Constructively and Creatively

Television, videos, podcasts, and other forms of media can actually be learning tools. If you can help your son or daughter select valuable programming to watch or listen to, this can be a great use of time. By watching a video or listening to a podcast, your son or daughter can learn to carefully listen, focus, sustain attention, and increase their vocabulary.

4. Increase Your Child’s Self Confidence

It is important to foster and grow your son or daughter’s self-confidence and maintain high expectations for him or her. While it is vital not to underestimate him or her, it is also important not to set unrealistic expectations. Rather than focusing on his or her shortcomings, focus on his or her strengths. In addition, make sure books are on your son or daughter’s reading level. Many children with a learning disability are reading below grade level. Foster your child’s love of reading, while making sure they do not become frustrated by ensuring that he or she is reading books on an appropriate level.


If you suspect your son or daughter has a learning disability, the best thing you can do is to get them the help necessary to be successful. Recognizing, accepting, and understanding your son or daughter’s learning disability are the first steps to ensuring your son or daughter’s success.

Being an advocate for your son or daughter involves being involved in the testing process, knowing which laws your child is protected under, and helping your teenager succeed in and outside of the school environment.


Additional Resources

For additional resources on helping your child, please visit our website’s resource section:

This article is sponsored by Aspiro Adventure, the pioneer of Wilderness Adventure Therapy. Aspiro Adventure offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for adolescents and young adults with learning differences.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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Aspiro Adventure’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

By Josh Watson, LCSW, CMO at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

The Life-changing Power of Adventure Therapy

The life-changing power of adventure therapy | Aspiro

Here at Aspiro, we have a unique adventure therapy program model. This article explains how adventure activities at Aspiro contribute to our students’ growth and how we use each activity as a catalyst for lasting change.

At Aspiro, we go beyond traditional therapy and incorporate adventure into the therapeutic model. Adventure is healing because it combines the power of nature with the tenacity of one’s own will to achieve success. Without challenge, little growth happens. Adventure is a unique and dynamic way to break through boundaries and create challenges.

What is Adventure Therapy?

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential therapy that uses challenging adventure activities to aid the therapeutic healing process. Adventure therapy helps promote healthy identity development, self-efficacy, grit, and a growth mindset.

At an adventure therapy program, students get the opportunity to engage in various new activities and experience several novel environments during their stay. Adventure therapy activities at Aspiro are facilitated in an intentionally therapeutic manner. Students are doing more than just rock climbing or skiing. They learn to listen, keep themselves safe, learn emotional regulation skills, and develop grit as they push themselves to overcome challenging tasks. The challenges students face through Aspiro’s adventure programming are designed to forge an identity, build resiliency, and improve self-efficacy.

A unique element to Aspiro’s outdoor adventure therapy model is that students do not just participate in the activity; they learn how to do it themselves. This is called experiential learning and has proven effective with troubled youth. Aspiro students are not just taken rock climbing; they are learning all parts of how to rock climb.

Other key elements unique to Aspiro is that field guides have been trained to facilitate adventure themselves. The same guides that live with students all week, building rapport and making connections, are then able to instruct students during their adventure activities.

Adventure therapy is a type of experiential learning or experiential education?
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To ensure safety, our field guides are trained to the standards set by the leading professional organization related to each activity. Additionally, all of our policies are overseen by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE), which ensures that Aspiro meets the highest standards for teaching adventure activities safely and effectively.

Therapeutic Benefits of Adventure

Each student comes to Aspiro with their own story and challenges. While treatment plans are unique to each student, adventure is a part of all of them.

When we include adventure as part of a wilderness treatment plan, we see several benefits:

  • A decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increased self-efficacy
  • Improved executive functioning
  • Improved interpersonal skills
  • Identity development
  • Improved grit
  • Trauma resilience
  • Learning to self-advocate for needs
  • Accurate clinical assessments

While each student comes with their own story, the adventure therapy model is versatile enough to meet each student at their level.

Aspiro students go through a process of learning, facing challenges, failing, getting back up, and eventually succeeding. This process is then combined with an advanced clinical approach. The combination has proved to be highly effective at addressing a variety of mental and behavioral health issues.

Foundational Principles Behind Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is extremely effective at helping clients develop these foundational psychological principles.

Identity Development

Identity refers to one’s sense of as an individual and how they define themselves in terms of values, beliefs, and role in the world. Self-identity in adolescence forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life.



Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our ability to succeed in a particular situation, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully. Self-efficacy plays a role in not only how we feel about ourselves, but whether or not we successfully achieve our goals in life.


Grit is “the combination of perseverance and passion toward long-term goals.” Grit is when you’re able to harness the power of passion and turn it into resolve, persistence, stamina, and tenacity, working toward goals that endure over time. In short, grit is: consistent. hard. work.

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the underlying belief people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand that effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

A Look at How Individual Adventure Activities Help the Healing Process

Aspiro is unique because it offers a variety of high adventure activities, and a variety of locations to practice those activities. All the adventure activities are facilitated by experienced field guides. This section will give an overview of some of Aspiro’s adventure activities and their therapeutic relevance.

Aspiro Activities Rock Climbing icon

Rock Climbing – Climbing puts students into a place where they need to confront their fears, physical challenges, lack of confidence, and many other obstacles to success. They face a seemingly insurmountable wall, and through thorough planning, coaching, effort, and practice, they reach new heights. This is a powerful metaphor for them to generalize to the rest of their life.

Adventure Therapy Activities: Alpine Skiing

Skiing – Skiing challenges students to think less and be in the moment. Students learn about “flow theory” when they enter a mental state where they react to their changing world without time for anxiety or fear. This natural high is both a healthy coping mechanism and a counter to anxious thoughts.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Canyoneering

Canyoneering – Success in canyoneering is dependent upon teamwork. Team-building and creative problem-solving are critical skills taught to students while canyoneering. Taking the first step in treatment is always the hardest, and stepping into a rappel is an effective way to learn to control one’s fear and trust in oneself.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Mountain Biking

Mountain Biking – Mountain biking challenges students to assess risk accurately and pushes them to react to challenges as they approach. Students may find that they do not have the time to think about what the next obstacle in the trail is, and instead, trust their instincts and training. Mountain biking builds trust in themselves and allows them to learn or practice being in the moment.

Adventure Therapy Activities - Backpacking

Backpacking/Hiking/Navigation – Backpacking is a fundamental outdoor activity at Aspiro. It teaches grit and can be used as a platform to build a group culture. Aspiro students can improve their interpersonal and social skills as they experience what it is like to be a part of a group that works together to complete a common goal like reaching the top of a 10,000 ft peak.

Adventure Activities Leadership Initiatives

Challenge Course – Aspiro’s on-site challenge course is a low ropes course that strengthens group cohesion and teaches social-pragmatic skills. Student groups work together through a series of challenging tasks. All tasks require effective communication, leadership, listening, and cooperation to overcome. Through failure, coaching, and perseverance, students learn what it takes to be a team player.

A Look at How Adventure Therapy Helps Common Mental Health Struggles

Adventure therapy is highly versatile in treating a variety of mental and behavioral health diagnoses. This unique approach is useful in different ways for people struggling with different challenges.

Click on each subject below to read about how adventure therapy helps with common struggles that teens and young adults face.

For students struggling with anxiety and depression, adventure can be an essential avenue for treatment in part due to the benefits of physical activity on their mood.  For people struggling with depression and anxiety, bringing exercise into their routine has been shown to create better treatment outcomes and improve physical health. At Aspiro, students develop good habits surrounding the daily exercise routine as they learn how to do a variety of adventure activities.

Aspiro students walk away with the skills to continue any of the activities in their post-treatment lives. They will also be able to experience the benefits of physical activity on their mood.

Students struggling with anxiety and depression show particularly good treatment outcomes when incorporating adventure activities that trigger flow theory concepts. Mountain biking and skiing meet many of the requirements to regularly trigger a mental “flow” state where students learn to eliminate the thought cycle between sensory input and action. They read and react to the terrain in front of them without worrying about possible outcomes. This is nearly the opposite of anxiety. Mountain biking can create a borderline euphoric experience that is highly effective at treating depression and anxiety.

Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges like climbing a rock wall or rappelling off a cliff helps these students build self-efficacy. Increasing self-efficacy is one of the building blocks that can contribute to teens and young adults overcoming anxiety and depression.

Wilderness adventure therapy is well suited to address poor self-esteem/self-efficacy. For a variety of reasons, youth often struggle to see themselves in a positive light. They may have developed self-defeatist internal narratives or learned to dislike themselves.  They may have learned an attitude of helplessness in life and expect to fail.

Wilderness adventure therapy has consistently shown to improve self-efficacy through a process by which youth are exposed to seemingly impossible challenges, in novel environments, and through guidance, hard work, and grit, they can find success. This process is backed up by several studies. Including one that showed statistically significant positive outcomes over 3.5 times greater than alternative therapy methods in the area of self-concept. Another study showed that improvement in self-efficacy translated from the outdoors to academics.

This suggests that wilderness adventure therapy’s outcomes are generalizable to other aspects of life. A foundational work on self-efficacy indicates that efficacy beliefs are the best predictor of future performance; therefore, by addressing these issues through wilderness adventure therapy, one can effectively improve the chances of future success.

Relational conflict can take many forms, but one of the most common is conflict within the family. Family units are the most important structures for youth as they develop into adults. Maintaining positive and healthy relationships within a family unit, while at times challenging, is critical to overall healthy development. When relationships are unhealthy, it may be time to seek help.

Aspiro addresses relational and family conflict through the adventure therapy model. Recent research has shown that adventure therapy has a positive effect on outcomes for overall family development. These positive effects were greater than other alternative therapies. Clinicians at Aspiro take a whole family approach and try to facilitate healing on behalf of students, parents, and other family members.

Identity development is a crucial step for youth and is tied closely to ideas of self-concept and social development. Developing a clear concept of who you are, your values, and where you fit into the social world is central to achieving success and happiness. Many young people find that they struggle to define these areas and may fall behind in terms of identity development.

In a recent study, adventure therapy was shown to have significant positive effect outcomes on factors that contribute to identity development. These include; social development, self-concept, and morality & spirituality. Further, these positive effects were more significant than non-adventure-based therapies. Finally, these effects show no post-treatment regression.

This study attributes the lasting positive change effects to the adventure therapy model. It also singles out experiential education’s “active and direct use of client participation and responsibility” as a critical treatment element. The study indicates that key programmatic elements for adventure therapy included

  • the presence of, and interaction with nature,
  • use of perceived risk to heighten arousal and to create eustress (positive response to stress)
  • meaningful engagement in adventure experiences
  • solution-based focus on positive change (present and future functional behavior)
  • ethic of care and support holistic process and effect on participants.

Understanding how wilderness adventure therapy can apply as a treatment for school failure means looking beyond the academic failures and delving into the reason behind them. School failure can be a symptom of a variety of issues, from anxiety to depression to trauma.

While each case of school failure is unique, wilderness adventure therapy has shown to be an effective treatment. In a large study, adventure therapy had a statistically significant positive impact on school failure. Further, the impact was over four times greater than that of alternative, non-adventure model therapy. School failure can be a significant barrier to future success, and the adventure therapy model has shown to be a highly effective treatment.

The adventure therapy model at Aspiro is grounded in creating seemingly impossible challenges, and guiding students through the difficult, but rewarding process of overcoming those challenges. Studies have shown that this process has led to “large to very large, statistically significant improvements in behavioral and emotional functioning.” Behavioral issues can vary widely. However, the adventure therapy approach appears to be versatile in meeting each student where they are at.

All of the adventure activities at Aspiro are conducted in a group setting including group therapy. They all require cooperation, communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution. These are all skills that many of our neurodiverse students are working on while at Aspiro.

Whether a student is struggling with symptoms associated with being on the autism spectrum, or from another neurodevelopmental disorder like a non-verbal learning disorder, Aspiro can provide individualized treatment plans to meet them where they are at. The adventure therapy setting creates authentic social interactions that can be tailored by staff to meet the group’s needs and allows for processing and debriefing of behaviors. Karoff et al. breaks down the reasons that adventure therapy is effective for youth on the autism spectrum or with other neurodevelopmental disorders into three elements:

  • Adventure therapy is inherently unpredictable. This provides ASD youth with frequent opportunities to engage with peers in an authentic, uncontrived way. They can engage with peers in the way while in an environment of support and trust.
  • Adventure therapy is a group-driven process that is, by nature, flexible and adaptable to the specific needs of the group and individuals within it.
  • Adventure therapy is a here-and-now approach that creates space for youth to cognitively process how behaviors and feelings experienced in the moment relate to participants’ lives beyond the treatment setting.

Karoff et al. sum up the value of Adventure Therapy in treatment for those on the autism spectrum writing, “The power of Adventure Therapy lies in experiencing real behaviors, in real-time, and reflecting on how they are either helpful or limiting to a participant’s life, and then learning new ways of behaving, thinking or feeling, and providing a space to practice those new behaviors before trying them out in the real world.”

Eating disorders present unique clinical challenges and are often difficult to manage in the home. While the presentation of eating disorders can vary, a common thread is often an issue with body image.

Wilderness adventure therapy can be an effective treatment option for eating disorders with proper planning and supervision of eating habits to address and mitigate health concerns. A research journal article (focusing on women) describes the wilderness treatment process as an opportunity to reconnect with one’s physical body.

The author emphasizes that “the wilderness experience alone is not sufficient to create a major transformation. Other critical elements are the therapeutic effect of the group process and risk-taking activities, such as hiking and team-building exercises, which contribute to breaking down the stereotypes concerning women and their bodies.” 

Eating disorders present unique treatment and health challenges, but evidence supports that wilderness adventure therapy is an effective therapeutic intervention for various presentations.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are known to cause behavioral, cognitive, and executive functioning impairments. Cognitive rehabilitation for TBIs traditionally consists of a context-sensitive method like the Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) approach.

Context-sensitive approaches aim to enhance the quality of life and minimize problem behaviors by expanding the patient’s range of behaviors. These approaches emphasize that cognitive rehabilitation must take place in natural environments. Wilderness adventure therapy can effectively facilitate cognitive rehabilitation by allowing students to practice behavior skills in novel environments.

One study on treating TBIs with a wilderness adventure therapy model indicates that “wilderness adventure therapy (WAT) relies on teaching through experience in natural contexts and, consequently, can also be considered a contextualized intervention.”

The critical elements of wilderness adventure therapy that make it an excellent option for the treatment of TBIs are:

  • That the client becomes a participant rather than a spectator in therapy.
  • Therapeutic activities require client motivation in the form of energy, involvement, and responsibility.
  • Therapeutic activities are real and meaningful in terms of natural consequences to the client.
  • Reflection is a critical element of the therapeutic process.
  • Functional change must have present as well as future relevance for clients and their society

Wilderness adventure therapy is, therefore, able to leverage its fundamental components in a way that makes it an excellent option for those looking for a contextualized intervention based in cognitive rehabilitation for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that can significantly impact youth’s lives. ADHD is often associated with academic issues and school failure, relational issues, and behavioral issues. Evidence has shown that wilderness adventure therapy is both an effective treatment for ADHD, and for many of its associated issues.

A study assessing nature interactions and ADHD found that 7 out of 13 high-quality studies identified a significant relationship between increased nature interactions and decreased ADHD symptoms. Further, the study found that increased accessibility to nature showed significant positive findings in six out of nine cases and that increased exposure to nature showed significant positive findings in seven out of nine cases.

While this study looked at the overall efficacy of including nature in treatment for ADHD, other studies look more closely at some of the issues associated with ADHD and treating them with experiential therapy. One of these studies found that adventure therapy had significant positive outcomes on academics, behaviors, and social development. It is, therefore, possible to address both ADHD directly, and many associated issues in a wilderness adventure therapy model.

When someone experiences trauma, they can get stuck in what is called a heightened or arousal state. They start to feel a heightened state of fear similar to that that was felt at the time of the initial trauma. Many people hold on to that state of fear and do not have a chance to finish the arousal cycle. This is supposed to be four stages ending in a stage where they feel safe again.

For those who get stuck in this fear stage, high adventure activities can be an effective treatment. They can mimic feelings of fear and anxiety, by introducing perceived risk, and then help students complete the last phase of that cycle to where they feel safe. Any adventure activity that provokes this fear response, including rock climbing, skiing, canyoneering and mountain biking, is particularly useful in treating trauma.

One study on treatment of posttraumatic chronic stress disorder found that Nature Adventure Rehabilitation (NAR), a component of wilderness adventure therapy, had positive impacts on:

  • perceived control over illness (PCI)
  • emotional and social quality of life
  • hope
  • and functioning

Further, the study indicated that NAR “seems to work through a process of behavioral activation, desensitization, gradual exposure to anxiety evoking situations, and gaining control over symptomatology.” By engaging outdoor therapy activities, students who have experienced trauma can learn to control their lives.

Adventure therapy is an excellent tool for addiction treatment because it provides healthy, non-substance, natural high for the student. These are skills that the student can take with them into their post-treatment life. It is a healthy alternative to substance seeking behaviors and often lets them access a new network of friends who are also participating in the adventure activity. This can draw them away from negative influences that may encourage substance abuse relapse and assist in addiction recovery.

Adventure therapy has proven effective in treating youth with addictions. This is particularly effective in raising awareness of strengths, allowing for a healthy dialogue between students struggling with similar issues, promoting positive family relationships, and increasing resilience related to maintaining sobriety.

Wilderness therapy has proven highly effective in treating oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), It provides space separation to members of the family unit, slowing down the parent-child communication process, and makes room for relationship resolutions and restoration. Further, this research has shown that in strong-willed adolescent males, especially those with co-occurring ADHD, ODD can emerge in an environment where parents are unable to hold firm boundaries or set clear expectations. At Aspiro guides can provide those clear instructions, set achievable goals, and allow natural consequences to take effect. This, combined with the other factors mentioned above, contributes to the efficacy of wilderness therapy for youth struggling with oppositional and defiant issues.


Aspiro’s adventure model effectively addresses a variety of mental and behavioral health issues with a particular emphasis on increasing levels of self-efficacy, identity development, resilience, and grit. By achieving a seemingly impossible goal, students learn to push themselves to new highs. If you can climb a mountain, what challenges can’t you overcome?

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

Play Video

Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

At Aspiro Adventure, we focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

16 Signs of Depression in Young Adults

Signs of Depression in Young Adults and Teens | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Over 20% of young adults ages 18 – 29 suffer from depression. Left undiagnosed or untreated, depression can lead to serious, harmful behaviors, such as substance abuse, promiscuity, self-harm, violence, or even suicide. This guide will share some of the unique warning signs of depression in young adults.

Depression in young adults doesn’t consist of just moodiness and bouts of sadness or melancholy. Major Depressive Disorder is a serious problem that has the potential to affect many aspects of an individual’s life. While many well-adjusted adults have trouble learning how to deal with depression, it is even more difficult for young adults.

How to Deal with Depression: Signs of Depression in Young Adults

Because signs of depression can appear differently in younger individuals than they do in adults, depression is too often overlooked or undiagnosed in young adults. The following are signs and symptoms of depression in young adults.

  • Hostility, aggression, and persistent irritability
  • Changes in weight, eating patterns, and appetite (significant weight loss or gain, binge eating, hoarding food, avoiding food, not eating enough, etc.)
  • Lethargy or a significant decrease in energy
  • Reduced concentration
  • School failure/difficulties in school, a drop in grades, skipping school, or frequent absences
  • Defiant or rebellious behaviors
  • A sudden change in peer groups
  • Difficulties with one’s existing peer group
  • Lack of enjoyment or fulfilment from significant relationships.
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Family conflict or strained family relationships
  • Feelings of guilt or inadequacy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased alcohol consumption or experimenting with other drugs.
  • Changes in sleep patterns (excessive sleeping or difficulties sleeping)
  • Wanting to die or having suicidal thoughts
  • Self-injury, self-harm, or self-mutilation (cutting, burning, etc.)
  • Social withdrawal
  • Frequent complaints of physical ailments, visits to the physician (headaches, stomach aches, body pain)

It is vital to keep in mind that some of these symptoms of depression can also be normal behavior, or indicative of another mental illness or problem. For example, a young adult who has low self-esteem or dropping grades may have an undiagnosed learning disability. This is why severe depression can only be diagnosed by a trained, licensed health care provider or mental health professional who knows how to deal with depression in young adults.

However, if you have reviewed the signs of depression in young adults, and suspect that your child may be depressed, it is extremely important to act quickly.

  1. Talk to your son or daughter, express your concern, and find out more about his or her feelings.
  2. Maladaptive coping was the main predictor of depression, anxiety, and stress in young adults. Obtaining help from a credible mental health professional is vital to ensuring that your son or daughter develops the skills and tools needed to learn how to deal with depression.

To learn more about depression treatment options and programs for young adults with depression, download our free white paper, Depression and Anxiety in Young Adults.

Anxiety and Depression in Teens and Young Adults

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Aspiro Adventure’s Wilderness Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The mental health professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right. Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

Additional Resources on Young Adult Depression:

By Josh Watson, LCSW, CMO at Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

Wilderness Programs For At-Risk Youth

wilderness programs for at-risk youth - Aspiro Wilderness Therapy

This article will address factors that contribute to a youth being at-risk, common behaviors of at-risk youth, and the warning signs that your teen needs professional help. We will then take a look at how wilderness therapy addresses various problems at-risk youth face and how wilderness therapy can also help their families.

This article is written for at-risk youth, their parents or caregivers, counselors, and anyone seeking help for their youth exhibiting negative behaviors that will affect their long-term path to a successful adult life.

What is an At-Risk Youth?

It can be hard to imagine defining your child as being “at-risk.” As a parent or guardian, you have done your best. You have given your child love and support. You have tried to set a good example, and you want what is best for your child. It is often easy to ignore the signs that your child may need help.

At-risk youth definition: adolescents who are less likely to transition successfully into adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

Experts say that youth today face more severe challenges than ever before, with school violence, deterioration of structure in families, substance abuse, electronic addiction, and pressure from the media. Teens who have trouble adapting and overcoming these stressors can turn to destructive or unhealthy behaviors. The result of unhealthy behaviors can be detrimental to their futures. These behaviors can derail a once aspiring young person and send them down a risky path.

It can be challenging for parents who have an at-risk youth in their home. There can be more conflict that interrupts the family routine. This conflict often causes a constant feeling of walking on eggshells. Parents do anything to avoid sparking another argument with their struggling teen. Parents often wait to address these issues until things progress to a boiling point. But parents don’t have to wait until the situation is out of control. With proper interventions and treatment, there is hope. Your home can once again become a happy place, filled with trust and healthy relationships. Credible treatment options like wilderness therapy incorporate several methods to help at-risk youth. You can find peace in your family by helping your child increase their self-efficacy and better understand themselves. These increases translate positively into their home life and give you peace of mind as a parent. It helps to know that you did everything that you could to keep your child safe and their future bright.

Common Behaviors of At-Risk Youth

If your child’s behavior takes a negative turn, it may be a sign that something bigger is going on.

Every teenager is different, but there are some delinquent behaviors that parents and educators can use as indicators. Frequent absences from school, leading to suspension or expulsion, history of abuse or trauma, and drug use are some examples of apparent signs. Other common behaviors are not as easy to identify, yet they are just as prevalent. It can be critical to identify that your child needs help. Underdeveloped reading skills, isolating behaviors, and lying to parents are some examples.

What is essential to recognize is that some at-risk youth internalize their emotions while others express their feelings externally. Those who internalize emotions often have negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and a distorted view of themselves. It can be challenging for parents to watch their child suffer in this way. It can seem that no matter how many positive things you say to them, they cannot be happy with themselves.

On the other hand, some troubled teens express their feelings externally. These children often have frequent outbursts of anger towards family members. They can become resistant to anything that a parent suggests. This resistance can leave the parent feeling helpless. Both internal and external expressions of dysregulated emotions are warning signs for parents. They could be an indication to seek professional help. 

20 Signs Your At-Risk Youth Needs Help

If your teen exhibits more than 4 of the following, they could be at risk for some of the outcomes previously discussed. These can be detrimental to at-risk teens and their long-term success and health.

Common External Behavior Problems of At-Risk Teens:

  • Experimenting with substances or having a substance abuse problem.
  • Being verbally abusive to those around him or her
  • Bad peer group association
  • A struggle with basic rules and expectations 
  • Disrupted school year: school suspension, expulsion, truancy or drop in grades
  • Problems with the law, sometimes requiring court intervention
  • A parent is ‘walking on eggshells’ when speaking with the youth to avoid conflict
  • Sexual promiscuity and/or risky sexual behaviors 
  • Manipulative or deceitful behavior
  • Stealing from family or others
  • Lying about their whereabouts or activities

Common Internal Struggles of At-Risk Teens:

  • Difficulty motivating the youth to do household chores and homework
  • Contemplating dropping out of high school
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies, activities, or friendships
  • Depression or withdrawal from others
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Change in personal hygiene or appearance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Severe contempt for self or others
  • Struggle with a mental illness

Factors Contributing to a Youth At-Risk

Teens can find themselves in the at-risk youth category due to a variety of factors, including:

  • An underlying mental health diagnosis 
  • Family conflict or stress  
  • Community factors 

Examining the contributing factors to youth being at-risk can help to determine the best course of action for you as parents.

Personal Factors Contributing to an At-Risk Youth

Individual diagnoses can contribute to youth being at-risk. A teen diagnosed with depression may be more at risk for suicidal thoughts. Similarly, a teen diagnosed with a personality or mood disorder may be more at risk for verbal or physical outbursts. A recent trauma a teen may have experienced, such as the death of a loved one or a disruptive life event may also be a contributing factor. It is also essential to know that teens can find themselves at-risk regardless of their background. Sex, race, religion, education, economic status, gender identity, and sexual orientation do not exclude any teen from being at-risk.

Family Risk Factors Contributing to an At-Risk Youth

Teens can also be at-risk because of family risk factors outside of their control. These sometimes include divorce, financial hardships, family dysfunction, and parents who struggle with mental health conditions. These factors can put undue pressures on developing teens and can contribute to problematic behaviors

Community Risk Factors Contributing to an At-Risk Youth

Teens can be at-risk on a community level for many reasons. When they fall in with the wrong friend group, they experience bullying, exposed to pressures of social media, and succumb to peer pressure. Youth at-risk is becoming an increasing problem in the United States. It can be hard for parents to know when it is time to seek counseling and professional help for your at-risk teen. Treatment programs vary in their measurement of what precisely an at-risk youth is. If your teen exhibits the above behaviors, they could be at risk for some of the outcomes previously discussed. These can be detrimental to their long-term health and success. The positive results of youth empowerment programs are improved social skills, improved behavior, increased academic achievement, increased self-esteem, and increased self-efficacy.

Help for Families With At-Risk Youth

It can be challenging for parents who have an at-risk youth in their home. There is almost always an increase in conflict. This conflict interrupts the family routine and harmony. It can be uncomfortable for parents when they try to avoid sparking an argument with their struggling teen.

Living in such an environment is not sustainable, nor is it healthy for anyone involved. This problem should be addressed sooner rather than later. With proper intervention and treatment, there is hope. Your home can once again become a happy place. It can be filled with trust and healthy relationships. Credible treatment options, such as wilderness therapy, incorporate several methods to help your at-risk youth strengthen their self-efficacy and understanding of themselves. These results translate positively into their home life and also to your peace of mind.

Wilderness Programs For Troubled Youth

Wilderness therapy addresses many of the behavioral outcomes present in at-risk youth. Furthermore, wilderness therapy is effective at getting to the root cause of problem behaviors, rather than just treating symptoms. Wilderness therapy can increase self-efficacy, self-esteem, and problem-solving skills. Students in wilderness therapy programs often report decreased levels of depression and anxiety.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Self-Efficacy and Builds Confidence in At-Risk Youth

Building Self-Efficacy: Some credible wilderness treatment programs incorporate high adventure activities and therapy in a wilderness setting. By including high adventure activities programs aim to create challenging scenarios ideal for youth development. In these scenarios, students have the opportunity to learn skills and overcome seemingly impossible challenges. While engaging in these various physical activities, the trained staff give students positive verbal encouragement and feedback, which also helps to increase their personal efficacy. 

This process has proven highly effective at building self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy, as defined by Bandura, is “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute a course of action required to attain designated types of performances” (Bandura, 1986, p. 391). Research has shown that changing one’s belief in oneself is necessary for changing behavior on a long-term basis. This is different than just building confidence. Self-efficacy is about knowing one’s ability to overcome challenges. This is based on past performance. It is more successful in focusing on the intrinsic motivation to change. Rather than just focusing on improving the behaviors themselves. 

High self-efficacy can contribute to a positive perception of one’s actions. This positivity increases motivation to persist through adversity. This increase in motivation is a positive change for a youth who is at risk. Changing someone’s perceptions of their efficacy is the most effective. It can transform at-risk youth into a thriving adolescent or young adult. 

Let’s take a moment to understand where personal efficacy is derived from:

  • Past performance
  • Perceptions of one’s ability or others with similar abilities
  • Verbal feedback
  • The person’s physical state while performing the task 

Wilderness therapy incorporates these four factors in programming and treatment models. These four factors create a unique environment that builds self-efficacy. At-risk youth start to believe in their ability to be successful. As this belief grows, the negative behaviors that were seen in the home environment begin to diminish.

Building Confidence: Confidence is a derivative measure rooted in self-efficacy. A credible wilderness program leverage the past performance factor mentioned above to work towards a stable confidence level in students. This increased confidence happens when someone proves to themselves that they can overcome obstacles. Research shows that this newfound confidence translates beyond the wilderness setting to emotional, behavioral, and academic success. They can take pride in who they are and what they can accomplish. Processing and debriefing are tools often used to help youth internalize the wilderness experience. Program facilitators lead discussions that allow students to acknowledge their progress. Students then relate these experiences to their own therapeutic goals.

Wilderness Therapy Provides a Novel and Therapeutic Environment for At-Risk Youth

A credible wilderness therapy program will provide unique opportunities for personal growth through mental health treatment. They do this while incorporating the healing effects of the outdoors. Being away from the distractions that are present in a typical adolescent and young adult life is an ideal environment, where they can realize their true potential. Research shows that merely spending time outside can improve both physical and mental health. Wilderness therapy is not just playing outdoors, nor is it a ‘boot camp.‘ Instead, therapists assess each student’s varying needs. With this information, they can direct each step in their care. Therapists create a unique treatment plan for each student. This treatment plan is implemented throughout the process. 

Credible wilderness therapy programs take a whole-person approach towards treatment. For example, at Aspiro, instead of focusing on a single problem like school failure, therapists strive to build a relationship with each client. They then can address the root causes of behaviors rather than just the symptoms.

A credible youth program will use a variety of methods to help at-risk teens have a successful future. Aspiro, for example, uses a 

  • Research-based and results-driven model
  • Individual and group therapy
  • High adventure therapy
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Relational approach 
  • Positive psychology modalities
  • Family systems therapy
  • In-depth assessment tools
  • Transitional support/ long-term recommendations

All of these methods have been shown to increase success for those people who were once at-risk youth. Overall, wilderness therapy programs increase the chances of long-term success for at-risk youth. 

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Wilderness Adventure Therapy Can Help Your Family Emerge Better Than Before

Wilderness therapy can help not only the young man or woman but also their families. Research shows that parent-adolescent conflict correlates with some at-risk behaviors. Therefore, the relationship between the parent and youth is an essential factor in preventing at-risk behaviors, along with sustaining healthy patterns once achieved. A family assessment and integrated family therapy are critical to the success of any credible wilderness camp.

Wilderness Therapy Addresses Family Dynamics and Patterns

Some wilderness therapy programs incorporate families into the treatment process. Working with parents and other family members can set the youth up to succeed better once they return home from treatment. Programs like Aspiro invite parents to multi-day family workshops. Families typically come after the teen has completed a significant portion of the program. This way, they can see the progress the youth has already made. Parents and teens find new ways to succeed in their relationships and as individuals during treatment. The parent workshop includes several sections. One of those sections teaches parents to limit conflict between themselves and their teens. Less friction leads to a more harmonious home. In addition to the family workshop, parents engage in family systems therapy weekly at Aspiro. Addressing the whole family system is seen as critical to the overall treatment plan for the at-risk youth.

Wilderness Therapy Leads To Healthier Families

When the parent-youth relationship deteriorates, at-risk behaviors often follow. As a way to achieve healthier patterns within the home, wilderness therapy works with the whole family system. Family units work with each other to overcome the toxicity that often exists in the house before treatment. All members of the family are guided through this process by a clinician. Once everyone can take a step back and get themselves to a healthier place there is less conflict within the parent-child relationship. As the relationship with a child’s parent improves, values become more aligned. Often this equates to fewer arguments and more communication, in addition to an improved quality of life. These changes can make all the difference.

A recent study found that youth returning from wilderness therapy programs reported significant improvements in their mood and behavior. These once struggling youth have higher levels of self-efficacy, improved confidence, and in turn, improved relationships with their families.


A teen can be at-risk for a variety of reasons. However, regardless of the cause or individual circumstance, it is always extremely heartbreaking and challenging for parents to have an at-risk teen in their family. As a result, many parents feel overwhelmed about how they can best help their teens. However, the road to recovery for your loved one begins with identifying your ‘at-risk’ teen, then seeking out the help they need. 

Credible wilderness therapy can provide you with peace of mind. Knowing your teen will be on a better path to health and long-term success. They achieve this by increasing at-risk youth’s self-efficacy and confidence. They can help him, or her, overcome the negative aspects of their life that have dragged them down. 

With proper support and care, your teen and your family can emerge happier and healthier than ever before.

About Aspiro Wilderness Therapy Program

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Aspiro Adventure’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their parents through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

The Aspiro Clinical Team Welcomes Noel Koons

Aspiro Adventure Therapy Welcomes New Therapist, Noel Koons

Aspiro is happy to welcome Noel Koons to the clinical team. Noel is trained in EMDR, DBT, CBT, Motivational Interviewing, and more. For the past 11 years, Noel has worked in a variety of settings, including residential treatment centers and therapeutic boarding schools, and has had the pleasure of working with many Aspiro graduates. Noel has seen the Aspiro program have a powerful impact on many students during his career and is excited to now be a part of the Aspiro team.

Noel enjoys working with many populations and specifically looks forward to joining the Vantage Point team where his focus will be on students who often have a more neurodiverse profile. These students frequently have difficulty acclimating to social settings, may have anxiety and depression without having a clear understanding of why they are feeling that way, often are not able to understand how their actions are affecting others, and might not be able to communicate their needs effectively. Noel aims to aid parents and students in finding tools they can use to better understand these things, improve their relationships, renew hope, and find success.

Noel’s warm and curious nature allows the students he works with to gain comfort in being open and emotionally vulnerable, and his approach helps him to identify deeper issues without getting distracted by surface-level symptoms. He enjoys helping clients gain a better understanding of how their brain works, navigate the social world, and gain coping skills to overcome stress.

Noel was born and raised in Utah and appreciates the power of both wilderness and adventure. He is an avid biker, snowshoer, and hiker himself, and finds that time in nature leads to spiritual recalibration, camaraderie, and a sense of mastery. He states that outdoor adventures such as these are both healing and therapeutic to him personally, making him a natural advocate for the adventure therapy model.

Most of all Noel feels passionate about connecting families. He enjoys seeing the transformation within clients’ families as they go through treatment. Noel summarizes his work with families by saying,

“I’ve witnessed incredible things happen when people are willing to work towards understanding, harmony, and peace within their families. What could be more important?”

We expect that more incredible things are on the way as we welcome Noel to Aspiro and the Vantage Point team.

Call us at (801) 349-2740 if you would like more information about Noel, any of our clinical team, or on Aspiro Adventure Therapy.

Why is Teen Identity Development Important?

Why Teen Identity Development is Important | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

The importance of identity development for teens is huge.  The development of a confident and stable sense of self is one of the key tasks of being a teenager. The teenage years are usually the first time an individual begins thinking about how their identity may affect their future and their life. This results in many teens becoming extremely self-conscious about themselves and the way others see them and can result in a self-discovery and experimental stage.

Some teens are able to learn to develop and discover their identity in a healthy and age-appropriate way. However, for other teens, the time of identity formation results in participation in risky and promiscuous behaviors that could potentially have a negative and lasting effect on their lives.

Participation in harmful and inappropriate behavior can be very concerning for parents of troubled teens. However, it’s important for parents of troubled teens to remember that all teens can become healthy and happy once again with proper treatment. A credible adventure therapy program teaches teens healthy patterns of thought and action that can replace harmful and risky behaviors with positive and healthy attitudes, relationships, and a greater sense of self.

What is Teen Identity Development?

Identity refers to one’s sense of as an individual and how they define themselves in terms of values, beliefs, and role in the world. Self-identity in adolescence forms the basis of our self-esteem later in life. A teen’s identity is the result of various internal and external factors. Though a teen has some control over their identity development, teen identities are also formed by environmental forces outside of their control: peers, family, school, ethnic identity, and other social environments. A developmental psychologist, James Marcia, advocates that teen identity development occurs in response to crises in domains such as school, relationships, and values.

Teen identity develops as teens try out different roles and attitudes in different settings, such as home, school, and social atmospheres which allows teens the opportunity to explore their own values, belief systems, personal ethics, spirituality, sexuality, and gender.

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Why is Teen Identity Development Important?

Identity formation in teens is about developing a strong sense of self, personality, connection to others and individuality. Therefore, a positive teen self-identity is vital because it shapes a teen’s perception of belonging not just for their teen years but for most of their adult life. In addition, a positive self-identity is correlated with higher self-esteem. Positive reinforcements of effort, good choices, and perseverance from parents can help adolescents develop a strong sense of self.

Erik Erikson, a psychologist, argues that if a teen does not establish what their personal beliefs and values are then they will have an identity crisis. Erikson believes identity development is a key process for teens and that a failure to establish identity leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self later in life.

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5 Common Ways Troubled Teens Display Their Self- Identity Issues

As a way to navigate the stress and confusion that comes with identity development some teens, turn to outside signs and symbols to help them define their identity. Les Parrott, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, developed the five most common ways in which teens demonstrate their struggles with identity.

Examples of Identity Issues

The 5 most common ways teens display issues with self-identity include:

  • Seeking Status Symbols: Includes clothing and possessions to create a sense of positive affiliation
  • Forbidden “Grown-up” Behaviors: Some teens believe that appearing mature will bring acceptance, so they begin engaging behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and sexual activity.
  • Rebellion: Many teens use rebellion as a way to show that they are different from their parents and to be accepted by their peers.
  • Idols: Some teens may identify with a famous person and as a result, try to become like that person. As a result, they lose hold of their own identity.
  • Cliques: Teens who are forming their identity will often form cliques because they do not want to be associated with anyone with undesirable characteristics.

Again, there are a variety of ways that teens experience identity formation, some experiences being more harmful than others. In the sections below, we discuss the more serious issues in teen identity development and how parents can help.

How Parents Can Help Their Teenager Form a Positive Self-Identity

Parents are very important in terms of teen identity development. Teens with close relationships with their parents have lower rates of experimentation with drugs and risky sexual behaviors (Teen Connection, Mental Health, and Youth, PBS). For your teen, the process of teen identity development can be a stressful time and can lead to one feeling overwhelmed and unsure. Providing your child with a caring and accepting adult influence, whether you are a parent, relative, or teacher, is critical in securing a healthy identity development. Simply spending time with your troubled teen is one of the most important roles you can play in their life. The consistent and caring influence and presence of adults in an adolescent’s life is one of the best ways to ensure a seamless transition to adulthood.

Parents can help their troubled teen develop a positive self-identity in the following ways:

  • Model healthy lifestyle habits and skills to manage stress
  • Teach healthy ways to handle life disappointments
  • Avoid making comparisons between your teen and others
  • Give your teen compliments or positive reinforcement
  • Encourage and promote healthy sleep habits for your teen
  • Hold boundaries with your child while communicating love for them as a person

When parents have exhausted the above methods and still continues to see their teen struggle to form their identity, it may be time to seek professional help. One of the best treatment options in helping struggling teens develop a positive self-identity is through a credible adventure therapy program. Adventure recreation has a long history as an intervention used to promote positive change in promoting healthy identity development in teens.

How Can a Wilderness Program For Teens Help Your Family?

Though it can be hard for parents to let go and acknowledge their teen needs external help, a credible adventure therapy program can relatively quickly and positively change your son or daughter’s life for the better. Psychologist Erik Erikson advocated that teen identity development is fostered by experiences that allow individuals to express their individuality and receive feedback and validation from others.

Adventure therapy programs provide experiences that promote healthier relationships and positive identity formation in teens. A credible adventure therapy program can also positively affect a teen’s self-perception, confidence, and leadership skills by providing unique experiences and challenging opportunities that develop competence and confidence from within.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Healthy Teen Relationships

The activities of a wilderness therapy program include unique experiences such as rappelling, rock climbing, and mountain biking. These experiences provide a novel and prime opportunity for teens to develop their identity and learn how to relate to others in a healthy and positive way. Research shows the scope of adventure activities led individuals to drop their social facades and allow teens to become more open to self-reflection and feedback from others (Taniguchi, 2004). Furthermore, a credible adventure therapy program allows troubled teens with a unique opportunity to develop meaningful friendships with peers and adult therapists because many of the activities require participants to work together in teams in order to succeed.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Confidence in Teens

Adventure therapy also promotes confidence in teens. When a teen participates in a challenging activity, they see they can overcome obstacles and activities that seem difficult at the start, such as rock-climbing, hiking, or backpacking. Pushing past a physical boundary can increase the youth’s self-esteem and teach them they can do hard things.

In learning that they can overcome difficult odds, their perceptions of themselves and their personal abilities are improved. They can take pride in who they are and what they can accomplish. While engaging in these various physical activities, the trained staff give them positive verbal encouragement and feedback which also helps to increase their personal efficacy. Processing experiences during and after activities with therapists help teens internalize the experiences they are having and relate them to their sense of self.

Wilderness Therapy Promotes Positive Identity Formation in Teens

Research shows that providing teens with opportunities for self-expression, feedback from others, new experiences, skill acquisition, and self-reflection can help facilitate positive identity development in teens (Duerden, Mat. Widmer, Mark. “Adventures in Identity Development: The Impact of Adventure Recreation on Adolescent Identity Development, 2009). A credible adventure therapy accomplishes this through organized adventure activities that challenge the individual just enough to promote positive identity development. Within this spectrum of organized activities, a credible adventure therapy program teaches teens how to overcome challenges and develop a sense of competence, both of which promote identity development in teens.

Additionally, the recreational activities in an adventure therapy program, such as hiking or biking, can play a critical development role for teens because it provides a context to participate in a challenging activity that will positively contribute to identity development and self-confidence. Along the way, a credible adventure therapy program will provide the teen with experienced and caring therapists to provide helpful tools and feedback that can positively impact their identity development.


The process of forming an identity is a critical task of adolescence. Teen identity formation involves one learning how they want to express themselves and their personality in their own unique way. This process can lead to some teens making choices that disappoint the expectations of some of your family or friends. Parents of troubled teens should ensure they are providing their teen with love, support, and healthy boundaries that promote healthy development.

However, when the choices your teen makes become harmful to themselves or others, it may be time to seek external help. A growing body of findings suggests that the organized activities a credible adventure therapy program offers can provide teens with lasting benefits in establishing healthier patterns and can assist teens in positive identity formation. With proper help, your teen can become their best self and feel content and confident in their own skin.

To learn more about why teen identity is important, download our FREE white paper today by following the link below.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

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Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

At Aspiro Adventure, we focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

References & Resources

About the Author

13 Signs of Anxiety in Young Adults and Teenagers

13 Signs of Anxiety in Young Adults and Teenagers | Aspiro Adventure Therapy

Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old and 19% of adults. If you don’t struggle with anxiety, someone you know does.  But anxiety in teens and young adults is a mental health issue that often goes undiagnosed or unnoticed. How do you know if feelings of anxiety come from normal everyday anxiety or an anxiety disorder? These signs of anxiety in young adults and teenagers will indicate if your child needs professional help.

The emotion of anxiety is a normal reaction to help deal with the stress of everyday life: e.g. anxiety can help a student focus on studying harder for a difficult exam or help an athlete play harder at a sporting event. When one’s feelings of anxiety become chronic, uncontrollable, or with no root cause or meaning, it can become a true problem, interfering with the quality of life.

While anxiety, like depression, is often thought of as an “adult” problem, teens and young adults may worry about everything from school, fitting in with peers, getting along with family members, or their own personal shortcomings. Individuals may experience anxiety symptoms in different ways; the following are potential signs of anxiety in teens and young adults.

Signs of Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

  • Excessive fear or anxiety about things before they happen
  • Excessive worries about school, peers, or extracurricular activities
  • Constant concern and worry about safety for self or family members
  • Irritability
  • Displaying clingy behavior with parents and family members
  • Fear of staying the night away from one’s home
  • An inability to relax
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unexpected shortness of breath
  • Becoming easily alarmed or startled
  • Complaints of physical ailments (stomachaches, headaches, muscle aches, and tension)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding/refusing to go to school
  • Excessive lethargy or fatigue

Did you know, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 19% of the population every year?

Like the signs of depression, signs of anxiety in teens and young adults can often go overlooked, as some of these behaviors can be normal. However, if you have reviewed these signs of anxiety in teens and young adults and suspect that your son or daughter has intense anxiety that goes beyond normal worries and concerns, it is important to talk to him or her. If you are still concerned, consult a healthcare or mental health professional to get your son or daughter the help and treatment he or she needs.

These symptoms may indicate that your child is struggling with an anxiety disorder.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

The main categories of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – most days for at least 6 months, display excessive anxiety or worry about many areas of life, eg. school, work, friendships & relationships, health, etc.
  • Panic Disorder – recurrent unexpected panic attacks that can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger.
  • Phobia Disorders – these include specific phobias(flying, heights, spiders, etc), social anxiety disorders (fear of social situations), agoraphobia, separation anxiety disorder, and selective mutism.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) are both closely related to anxiety and frequently occur together with anxiety disorders.

Anxiety and Common Co-occurring Disorders

If your son or daughter is struggling with anxiety, it is likely they are also struggling with a co-occurring mental illness.  These are some of the common disorders that present with anxiety:

  • Depression  – Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)– Anxiety is one condition that is often seen in people with ADHD. About 50 percent of adults and up to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder.
  • Substance Abuse – The presence of an anxiety or substance use disorder is also a risk factor for the presence of the other disorder. About 20% of Americans with an anxiety disorder also have an alcohol or other substance use disorder.
  • Bipolar disorder – Bipolar disorder significantly co-occurs with anxiety disorders at rates that are higher than those in the general population. Studies have found that 21% of people with bipolar disorder had a social phobia, 20% of people with bipolar disorder had OCD, 40% of people with bipolar disorder also have PTSD.
  • Eating DisordersA 2004 study found that two-thirds of people with eating disorders suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and that around 42% had developed an anxiety disorder during childhood, well before the onset of their eating disorder.
  • Sleep Disorders – Anxiety causes sleeping problems, and new research suggests sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder.

When looking for treatment options, it is important to address all of the struggles and the root cause of the problems, not just the anxiety.

Treatment for Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

Treatment for anxiety disorders can vary, especially among teens, and young adults.  While every individual is different, your son or daughter’s treatment will depend on various factors, including:

  • His or her overall physical health and medical history
  • His or her diagnosis (whether he/she has anxiety, depression, or both)
  • Age (depending on his or her age, treatment approaches will vary)
  • The extent of the symptoms he or she is displaying
  • His or her reaction to different medications
  • His or her reaction to therapy
  • Your personal preference on what you think will be the best therapeutic “fit” for your child and family.

Treatment for anxiety can include:

  • medication
  • individual therapy
  • and sometimes family therapy as a positive family dynamic is key to helping your child through his or her anxiety.

Did you know that anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment?

Your child’s doctor should perform an extensive, comprehensive evaluation of your child and your family before prescribing treatment.

Why Wilderness Adventure Therapy is So Effective in Treating Anxiety

Over the past few decades, wilderness adventure therapy programs have become more prevalent, as the demand for effective alternatives in therapy has increased. The popularity of wilderness therapy is due to its ability to help teens and young adults in overcoming anxiety– among other cognitive, emotional, and behavioral issues.  There are three main factors that make wilderness therapy so effective in treating anxiety:

  1. Exposure to the Therapeutic Wilderness Setting
  2. Therapeutic Group Living
  3. Adventure Activities


While anxiety is often overlooked in teens and young adults, research shows that recognizing the signs early, and getting your child treatment early on, are the best ways to help him or her.

While no parent wants to send their child away, sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing. In order to provide help for your child’s anxiety, it is important to select a treatment program that is reputable, credible, and effective in addressing teens’ and young adults’ individual issues.

About Aspiro Adventure

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Aspiro Adventure’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right. Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author

Failing College? 5 Tips for Conquering Academic Failure

Failing College? 5 Tips to Overcome Academic Failure

Don’t let failing college hurt your relationships, decrease your self-worth, or cause you to develop more serious mental health issues like depression & anxiety.  Here are five ways you can conquer academic failure.

Whether you’re going to college for the first time or are in your final semesters trying to power through to graduation, life in the academic world can be challenging. On top of the pressure to perform academically, many students struggle with living away from home. Being financially independent, making new friends, or finding direction in your life can all be overwhelming new challenges. It’s little wonder that 1 in 5 college students are affected by anxiety or depression.

1 in 5 college students are affected by anxiety or depression.

If left unchecked, these common challenges can lead to academic failure. A damaged GPA can hurt your chances of getting scholarships or being accepted to certain programs of study. It will also, most likely, increase the time it takes for you to earn a degree and find work opportunities related to your field of study.

More importantly, the stress that comes with living under such intense pressure can damage your relationships with friends and family, cause you to develop depression or anxiety, and can even lead to more serious mental health issues like suicidal ideation.

The good news is, there are a lot of resources available on and off campus to help students through this difficult time. College failure can be a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be your only option.

Whether you are considering staying in school, taking a semester or two off, or dropping out entirely, here are a few helpful tips that will help you find success.

Learn What Resources Are Available to You

Before you make any big decisions, it would be smart to pay a visit to your school’s counseling center. While many students have likely worked through the college admissions process and discussed grades with a high school counselor, few seem to realize that most college campuses offer similar resources.

School counselors will be able to help you understand the effects your grades will have on your future academic career and what you can do to mitigate the damage lower grades might cause to your transcript. In some cases, you may be able to retake a class or have your grades based on completion instead of a letter grade.

Your school counselor will know what kind of mental health resources your school provides. Thanks to mental health awareness increasing all over the country, many colleges and universities employ school psychologists to help their students work through whatever challenges they may be facing.

Reach Out to Family & Trusted Friends For Help

Unfortunately, many parents and close family members are simply unaware when students are facing difficult circumstances related to college. Even if you’re still living at home, communication usually decreases due to busy schedules and a student’s desire to be independent.

Your parents may ask you about what you’re learning and other exciting activities you are participating in, but without any indications of your internal struggles, they may not think to ask about how you’re doing mentally and emotionally.

Although asking for help may feel embarrassing or shameful it’s completely normal. Your parents or other trusted friends who have been through the college experience before will usually be eager to offer helpful advice or just to lend a listening ear.

They have probably experienced the fear of failure themselves and will be able to relate to how you’re feeling. Spending quality time with people who love you can also help you notice ways in which you are succeeding and help you recognize your value.

Parents are usually willing and eager to help their children but might not always know how. Feel free to look through our other blog posts and additional family resources for more ideas on how to talk with your parents.

Work on Mastering the Little Things

When your life is full of seemingly insurmountable tasks, it can be helpful to distinguish between the things you can and cannot control. For example, you may not be able to control what grade a professor will give for the essay you submitted, but you can control how you’ll react to whatever feedback you receive.

Examples of other things you’ll most likely be able to control are:

  • When you go to sleep and other routines you keep
  • The quality and amount of food you eat
  • How much time you spend on social media and video games
  • How much money you spend on eating out vs. cooking at home
  • Avoiding harmful substances like drugs and alcohol
  • Positive ways you spend your free time (extra-curricular activities, volunteering in the community, participating in clubs, working on a hobby, etc.)
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Sometimes, students living on their own for the first time struggle with common life skills like cooking, keeping a tidy dorm, or caring for a car. Growing up with the limitless distractions of the information age also means students spend less time honing their social skills too.

Taking time to learn these little skills from family or friends can also help you exercise more control over your life. There are even many helpful resources available online to help you learn these basic life skills. Being able to take good care of yourself, your relationships, and your belongings brings a sense of pride that will boost your self-esteem and give you the confidence to face bigger challenges.

Diversify Your Field of Study

Many students struggle to get through general education courses. Because they might have failed math or scored poorly on a psychology test they might feel like school just isn’t for them. General courses are beneficial in expanding your world view and helping you develop grit, but they’re not the most important classes you’ll take.

Higher-level courses that are focused on specific subjects often have smaller class sizes and can be easier to get excited about academically. Even if you’ve failed a general class in your first few semesters, realize that a lower grade now won’t have as great of an effect on your academic standing further on in your university career. Pushing through the generals now and succeeding in higher-level classes later will help you get back into good standing.

You might find more success in a field of study you hadn’t previously considered. Many students have hopes of becoming doctors, engineers, or businessmen and -women; fields that traditionally favor STEM subjects like math and science.

Try taking a liberal arts class in the humanities, communications, or fine arts programs at your school. Even if a career in these fields doesn’t interest you, these classes generally teach creativity, communication, critical thinking, and many more marketable skills that many high-profile employers are after. Most campuses also have career resource centers that can help you identify your interests and strengths and recommend courses that you will find enjoyable.

If you’re already enrolled in a specific major, consider talking to a counselor from your program about ways to fulfill general requirements that are more interesting to you. They have most likely worked with many students just like you before and know ways to help you find success.

Many programs offer courses that will fulfill general and major requirements. Not only will these classes help you feel more interested and successful, but they will also get you closer to graduation faster than your regular general classes might.

Many college campuses regularly host major fairs & career fairs. If you haven’t quite decided on a major, consider attending one of these events. This can be a great place to meet counselors, students, and successful people in various fields of study that interest you and can help you discover programs you might not have been aware of previously.

You could also try talking to other students about their majors to find something that interests you more. Try joining a club where you’ll find students with common interests or backgrounds to learn about new opportunities.

Consider Taking Time Off

Graduating is no little task. Recent figures show 6-year graduation rates at 58%. That means that, even after 6 years at a 4-year college or university, at least 42% of students still don’t have a college degree. While the idea of finishing college as soon as possible can be appealing (especially to your wallet), sometimes, overwhelmed students just need to take a deep breath and step back from all of the stressors that college life brings.

Even after 6 years at a 4-year college or university, at least 42% of students still don't have a college degree.

Consider lightening your course load and take one or two classes instead of a full-time schedule. Talk to your school counselors about internship opportunities that might help you save or earn extra money while still receiving course credit. There’s no shame in taking a little extra time to graduate if it means expanding your horizons and gaining diverse experiences.

If you do decide to take time off, it’s also a good idea to give your break an expiration date. Decide beforehand how long you’ll defer your study–a semester or two would be preferable in most cases. It’s normal for people (your family especially) to worry about whether or not you’ll ever go back to school. If you have a concrete plan, you shouldn’t have to worry about what they may think or say.

Make sure you spend your time doing something productive like getting a job, traveling, volunteering, or some other activity that inspires you. You can still take a valuable break without giving up entirely.

Don’t be afraid to try a class at a local community college or a vocational school. While a degree from any number of elite colleges can open many doors of opportunity, there are many successful people who have taken other paths. Depending on your personal situation, you might find better opportunities where you didn’t think to look before.

Enrolling in a Wilderness Adventure Therapy Program like Aspiro could also be an excellent way to get your life back on track. Well-trained guides and therapists can help you in many of the same ways school counselors and trusted family members can as mentioned above. A few big advantages they have, however, is the ability and resources to help you navigate your struggles with research-based expertise and the time to focus individually on your growth and progress. 

Spending time in the wilderness can help you change bad habits by shaking up your routines and helping you disconnect from addictive technology and substances. Participants at Aspiro also develop new hobbies and forge new friendships that can last a lifetime.

Additionally, Aspiro participants set goals and learn strategies that help will help you develop the self-efficacy & resilience needed to face the challenges in everyday life. Perhaps the best part of wilderness adventure therapy is that you’ll receive all of these benefits while also participating in fun adventure activities like rock climbing, mountain biking, skiing, and more.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful and wish you well in your academic career. Contact our admissions team at [email protected] or by calling 801-349-2740 to learn more about how we help young adults and how you can become an Aspiro participant.

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy

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Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

Aspiro Adventure focuses on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

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Boot Camp for Teens: Is There a More Effective Solution?

Boot Camp For Teens There is a Better Solution | Asprio Adventure Therapy

​When a child is struggling, there is nothing a parent wouldn’t do to help. And when parents have exhausted all of their resources and don’t know where to turn, some decide to turn to more extreme treatment methods, such as a boot camp for teens, to help their struggling child.

Teen boot camp programs are designed to emulate the tactics used in military schools and boot camps. The troubled teen program offers fast results for parents who have lost control of their son or daughter. While boot camps are effective at building strength and discipline, teen boot camps typically do not have a therapeutic model to address the underlying issues behind teen defiance and rebellion. This leaves many asking, “Why do parents send their troubled teens to a boot camp in the first place?”

In many cases, at-risk youth are sent to private boot camps to remedy an undesirable behavior. Whether the behavior is substance abuse, anger, defying authority, academic underachievement, or breaking the rules, there is likely a deeper, underlying emotional issue that should be addressed.

What is a Boot Camp for Teens?

Teen boot camps are short-term, highly structured military-style rehabilitation programs. They are designed to use military training, authoritative teaching methods, rigorous exercise and physical activity, and strict discipline to turn around defiant, angry, or even destructive children. The hope is that the troubled teen will go back home with the attitude of a “good soldier.”

Designed to teach troubled teens to respect authority and to learn to deal with their consequences, boot camps push teens to their physical extremes. Sometimes, however, they may push too far. While these programs may prove effective for teens who want to attend to become more disciplined, teen boot camps are not an effective therapeutic treatment program for teens who are truly struggling– whatever their struggle may be.

Why Aren’t Boot Camps Effective in Helping Troubled Teens?

If a teen is truly in crisis, a boot camp program is not the most effective treatment program for him or her. Boot camps lack the sophisticated clinical model and individualized treatment plans that other, more therapeutically effective treatment programs have. The following are reasons boot camps are not effective in helping truly troubled teens.

Since boot camps are not a sustainable model for troubled youth once they are back in the “real world,” teen boot camps do not deliver lasting results. Additionally, teen boot camps stress following orders and do not foster a sense of autonomy, responsibility, or well-being in their participants. These are all vital aspects and the foundations behind achieving life-long change.

2. Boot Camps for Teens Do Not Involve the Family

Since teen boot camps do not involve the entire family in treatment, they do nothing to improve the family dynamic; improving the family dynamic is likely a large part of why teens are sent to boot camps in the first place. In addition to not addressing the family dynamic, sending a teen in crisis away may make him or her feel misunderstood or deserted in their time of need.

3. Boot Camps Do Not Teach Coping Strategies to Help Teens Through Struggles

Since boot camps use exercise, structure, strict schedules, and punishment to motivate teens, rather than using counseling and therapy to work through their struggles, teens leave boot camps without the proper coping mechanisms to help deal with their individual struggles in the “real world.”

4. Boot Camps are a “One-size-fits-all” Approach

While every teen in crisis has a different struggle, background, and story, boot camps have one method to treat each individual. In fact, Keith C. Russell, a leader in outdoor behavioral healthcare research, has noted that recent research shows that “boot camp approaches are not effective in treating adolescents with substance abuse disorders, and that practices used in boot camps can be considered cruel and unusual.” (Russell 2001)

5. Boot Camps for Teens Do Not Directly Address Troubled Teens’ Real Problems

Teens who attend boot camps are often sent to remedy an undesirable behavior, such as substance abuse, anger, defying authority, academic underachievement, or breaking the rules; however, with these behaviors there is likely a deeper, underlying emotional issue that should be addressed.

A teen who is acting out and running away or experimenting with drugs and alcohol may be covering up a more serious undiagnosed mental illness, such as depression or anxiety. A teen who is performing poorly at school or skipping class may have an undiagnosed learning disorder or attention deficit. Boot camps do not address these potential underlying issues.

Signs a Troubled Teen Needs Treatment

Teenage years can be rough for parents and teens alike. Often times, it can seem like teens are on an emotional roller coaster, as this is a dynamic time in one’s life. It is perfectly normal for teens to display typical teen behavior, such as mood swings, an increased peer influence, and a changing appearance; however, there are some red flags that parents should keep an eye out for.

While teens are likely to turn to their friends rather than their parents for advice on making choices, a sudden change in their entire peer group could be a red flag, especially if the newfound friends are having a negative influence or encourage bad behavior. In addition, young people may want to express their newfound individuality by dying their hair or trying a new style of clothing; however, an extreme change in appearances, such as an extreme weight loss or gain could signify a bigger problem. Here are some other red flag signs to look for in a troubled teen:

  • Secretive behavior, deception, or lying
  • Unexpected/unexplainable decreased or failing academic performance
  • Spending too much time sleeping
  • Significant changes in appetite or eating patterns (skipping meals, avoiding food)
  • Excessive 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-mutilation (cutting) or mentioning hurting him or herself
  • Extreme defiance
  • Bullying others
  • Experimenting with alcohol and drugs
  • Loss of self-esteem/extreme self-loathing

If a teen is displaying some of these red flag signs, it may be time to think about an appropriate treatment program, as these could be signs of a mental illness, destructive behavior, substance abuse problem, or eating disorder. While some parents may be tempted by the quick turnaround that many teen boot camps offer, these serious issues should be addressed more therapeutically.

Are There More Effective Therapeutic Treatment Options?

If your son or daughter is truly struggling with a mental illness, substance abuse, emotional, cognitive, or developmental issues, a teen boot camp may not be the most ideal or effective treatment option for him or her.

There are more effective and therapeutic programs out there for teenagers who need personalized care to work through their issues. Depending on the type and severity of issue(s) your son or daughter is facing, there are many therapeutic options available.

If your teen’s issues are severe enough that you are considering placing him or her in a teen boot camp, you should know that there are many types of therapeutic residential treatment programs available. Residential treatment centers and therapeutic programs have proven effective at getting to the root of the issues that teens face.

What is Wilderness Therapy?

One of these treatment options is a wilderness therapy program. The popularity of wilderness therapy programs has increased over the past few decades. The increase in wilderness therapy’s popularity is due to its ability to aid individuals in overcoming emotional, behavioral, and cognitive issues.

A large part of the effectiveness of wilderness therapy programs is due to the individualized, therapeutic methods of helping each teen work through his or her own personal issues. In fact, “the design and theoretical basis of a wilderness therapy program should be therapeutically based, with assumptions made clear and concise in order to better determine target outcomes and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention” (Bandoroff & Scherer, 1994)

What Makes Wilderness Therapy so Effective in Helping Troubled Teens?

There are several attributes of wilderness therapy that make this type of treatment especially effective in addressing the underlying issues troubled teenagers face while creating lasting change.

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Using the Wilderness and Unfamiliar Environments to Create a Unique Experience

One aspect that makes wilderness therapy an extremely effective method of treatment is the use of the wilderness and adventure activities to challenge teens. Living in the wilderness is such a novel, unfamiliar environment and experience for many teenagers, allowing them to leave the pressure and stress of their everyday lives behind them. Research has shown that simply being exposed to the wilderness has positive effects on individuals’:

  • self-discipline
  • executive functioning
  • attentional functioning
  • ADHD symptoms
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking

Giving Teens an Opportunity to Form New Bonds and Relationships

Wilderness therapy offers teens the opportunity to form both peer bonds with other teens and mentor/mentee relationships with wilderness therapy staff. Since wilderness therapy takes place in a group setting, each struggling teen has the opportunity to bond with other teens who are going through similar struggles and facing the same obstacles through wilderness therapy. The group setting allows group development processes to facilitate learning.

In addition to the close bonds formed with other teens participating in therapy, wilderness therapy provides troubled teens the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with positive role models in the form of wilderness therapy guides and counselors.

"My life is amazing. Aspiro has changed everything. I now know how to climb every mountain. Thank you Aspiro for making me realize so much about my life and how to deal with anger."

– Brian, a former student at Aspiro

Allowing Teens to Experience Natural Consequences

Another aspect of Wilderness Therapy that makes treatment so effective is exposing teens to natural and logical imposed consequences. Recognizing and experiencing the natural consequences and logical imposed consequences have a great impact on developing intrinsic motivation. Teens must understand how the consequence relates to their actions for this to develop. An effective wilderness therapy program should help students understand the connection between their choices and consequences; cause and effect.

As such, it is vital for wilderness therapy programs to utilize natural and logical consequences. These facilitate intrinsic change and greater insight for self-governance. Programs for troubled teens should allow, as long as it is not a safety risk, the natural consequences of a student’s choice to occur.

A natural consequence is a direct result of a choice, without any imposed consequence. For example, if a student chooses to not build a shelter when the staff tell them it is going to rain, the consequence is they and their belongings get wet.

At times, logical consequences may be necessary to impose, if it makes sense for the offense. For example, a group’s members are dawdling when it is time to pack up camp in the morning, causing them to get out of camp late; a logical consequence is the group wakes up earlier to allow for the group to get out of camp by the set time.

Offering Adventure Activities to Challenge Teens

Some wilderness therapy programs offer an added component of adventure activities to their therapeutic offerings. By participating in adventure activities, such as rock climbing, rafting, or mountain biking, teenagers in wilderness therapy programs can see that they have the ability to adapt and thrive while overcoming new challenges. This fosters a strong form of self confidence in teenagers.

By focusing on adventures and emphasizing skill building, wilderness therapy programs which offer the added component of adventure help to develop personal strengths and promote self-efficacy within each teen. Building on each individual’s strengths, rather than simply treating symptoms, promotes long-term success for each teen in crisis.

The added component of adventure and the variety of appealing activities in wilderness adventure therapy also leads to an increased buy-in to therapy from teens who may be unreceptive to or apathetic about more traditional, behavioral therapy methods.

What to Look for in a Reputable Wilderness Therapy Program

While there are a plethora of “wilderness experience programs” and wilderness camps out there, there are characteristics that make a wilderness therapy program a truly therapeutic experience. There are several characteristics and processes that a credible wilderness therapy program should implement to ensure that they are following best practices within the industry.

1. Licensure/Accreditations

A reputable wilderness therapy program should obtain state licensure. Individual and group therapy sessions should be lead by a licensed mental health professional. In addition, to implement and maintain clinical best practices, and to maintain the integrity of the wilderness lands they use, reputable organizations partner with applicable regulatory and accrediting organizations.

If the organization offers school credits to their participants, the wilderness therapy program should be accredited by an academic organization to ensure that the credits are transferable.

2. Medical Care

A credible wilderness therapy program conducts a medical examination upon admission, and routine medical check-ups to monitor participants’ well-being.

3. Formal Evaluation

A credible wilderness therapy program should evaluate their clients upon admission; routine formal evaluations of the effectiveness of the treatment path should also be conducted periodically to ensure that the treatment is effective.

4. Adequate, Expert Supervision

The wilderness therapy field guides should operate under the supervision of a licensed mental health practitioner or clinical social worker. In addition, wilderness therapy program participants should have individual or group therapy sessions with a licensed therapist.

5. Family Involvement

A reputable wilderness therapy program involves the family in the healing process since families are vital to the process of change that takes place. With both student and parents on the same path, the entire family begins to heal. The wilderness therapy program should work with the family to help them understand each participant’s issues, goals, and treatment path.

6. Specialized Training

All wilderness therapy field guides should be trained and certified in CPR, first aid, and first responder certification. In addition, therapists should be trained in their area of expertise or specialty (i.e. substance abuse treatment, depression and anxiety treatment, family therapy etc.)

7. Individualized Treatment Plans

At a reputable wilderness therapy program, all clients should receive an individualized treatment plan based on their personal needs, goals, and issues. The individualized plans should be carefully monitored by a licensed mental health professional.

8. After Care and Transitional Support

Progress doesn’t stop the day a client leaves treatment. As such, therapeutic staff members should ensure that the teen has a smooth transition back into the “real world.” In addition, the family and the client should receive adequate aftercare services to ensure that the progress made during treatment is a lasting change.

9. Clinical Model

While every teen should receive an individualized treatment plan, a reputable wilderness therapy program should have a clearly defined clinical model that is based on mental health field best practices.


Helping your son or daughter transition into a successful, happy, well-balanced adult means being there for him or her during the difficult teenaged years. While it may be tempting to send your troubled teen to a teen boot camp as a quick-fix remedy for their undesirable behavior, it is vital to think about what is in the best interest of your son or daughter.

Keep in mind that the undesirable behavior your teen is displaying may be just a symptom of a more serious issue that needs to be addressed therapeutically. In order to promote a life-long change in your teen, it is important to select a treatment program that is reputable, credible, and effective in addressing your teen’s individual issues.


Additional Resources

For additional resources on helping your child, please visit our website’s resource section:

About Aspiro Adventure Therapy Program

Aspiro’s Wilderness Adventure Therapy program was uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research backed, and safe outdoor adventure therapy programs. The professionals at Aspiro Adventure understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.

At Aspiro Adventure, we focus on helping adolescents, young adults, and their families through difficulties that occur when various emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage life in a healthy and positive way.

About the Author