Sociological Perspectives on America’s Tough Love Teen Boot Camps

Last Updated on July 2, 2021 by Karl Thompson

Paris Hilton’s 2020 Documentary revealed how she had been the victim of parental and systemic abuse – following a somewhat chaotic adolescence in which she partied a lot her parents arranged for her to be kidnapped in the middle of the night and shipped off against her will to a ‘tough love bootcamp’ in the middle of the American wilderness.

Paris Hilton claims here experience has done her permanent psychological damage – she feels like it made her unable to trust anyone, and there are many adults who are now coming out and speaking out about how the teen bootcamp industry damaged them.

You can read some pretty damning accounts at this BBC news article – there is even one case of someone dying on a hike because the organisers failed to provide adequate medical attention in a suitable time period, and entirely preventable death. Paris Hilton herself claims to have been beaten for trying to run away from one camp.

I imagine they’ve changed in nature in recent years, but these camps are quite an industry in the United States, if you do a Google search for ‘American troubled teens bootcamps’ you get a lot of links to companies that run various camps for teenagers who parents think are a little out of control and in need of an emotional reset.

They vary in nature, but common themes at these camps include their bing out in the middle of nowhere, the teens doing mainly outdoor physical work, restrictions on social media access and mobile phone usage and probably these days therapy sessions.

This rather bleak topic oozes with sociological relevance – it’s relevant to the family module and crime and deviance (social control) especially, also research methods as this is a tricky one to research for all sorts of reasons.

Below are just a few thoughts on some of the sociological perspectives and concepts you might apply to analyse Teen boot camps….

Right Realism

This is probably the perspective those who run the boot camps are the most closely aligned to – the idea is that you need to be ‘tough’ on ‘wayward teens’ and make them take responsibility for their wayward behaviour.

Functionalism – Social Regulation and Anomie

Certainly from the perspective of the parents sending their kids are possibly experiencing anomie – as are they – they don’t know what to do – and the ‘fix’ is to farm out the social regulation function to boot camps

Privatisation of education/ social control

These bootcamps tend to be private companies which parents have to pay for, so it’s an example of the privatisation of education and the social control function

Power and labelling theory

From the teen’s perspective they are just powerless here – possibly the victims of labelling by their parents and years of being labelled as underachievers or ‘problems’ by the system.


For the many thousands of teens who have gone through these in the 1990s/ 2000s they are hidden victims of crime, we are only just getting to hear their stories!

Final thoughts/ other concepts

If you can think of other relevant concepts (there are more!) drop them in the comments!

You can watch the entire Paris Hilton documentary below, although be warned, it’s VERY self indulgent, but what else would you expect!

Critiques might say this is a great example of an over-indulged self-obsessed attention seeker just wanting ‘more more more’ attention please, using her ’emotional baggage’ to get more of that.

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