Broadcasting the Pain or Issues of Troubled Teens as Entertainment
Terrifying teens by making them lie in coffins, forcing them to spend a night on a frigid street or a bare prison cell— these harsh measures are used in reality shows in an attempt to put delinquents back on the straight and narrow. But the strategies may make for better TV than treatment.
On A&E’s Beyond Scared Straight and Lifetime’s Teen Trouble, producers document some extreme methods to address adolescents who act out. The shows intend to educate while entertaining, and some of the tough love strategies certainly make for riveting TV. But unfortunately, decades of research show that such extreme measures are at best ineffective and at worst, harmful.
It’s not like there’s a shortage of data or any scientific controversy over Scared Straight’s actual results. In fact, a Cochrane review — the gold standard for evidence-based medicine — concluded that kids sent to Scared Straight were 68-71% more likely to commit crimes than those randomized to receive no intervention at all.
Teen Trouble’s approach is similarly problematic. Most of the adolescents who appear on the show have drug problems and some have mental illnesses like depression, but are not given treatment proven to work for these conditions. Instead, Teen Trouble relies on inducing fear through confrontation, supposedly to show teens the potential consequences of their actions: disfigurement, disability, homelessness, death.
Examples of the so-called effectiveness of these terror tactics:
- Straight Inc - The Cult that Kept Me Imprisoned
- Tortured Kids Surviving Straight
- Straight Inc - Kelly tells her [and Steve's] story.
- Surviving Straight Documentary
Had I known that a camera would be filming my torture for fun and profit, there is ZERO doubt in my mind I would have killed myself.
I was an insecure kid to to start with. Thanks to my own version of getting Scared Straight [the PTSD was free] for months, to think that a nationwide audience was enjoying this pain I was in or else somehow thinking I deserved it or knowing that I helped a television network make money...No way could I have stayed in my skin on this planet.
That would have been too much to overcome on the heels of too much hell.