This is the Troubled Teen Industry

Alexis Slaughter

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

In 2020, many millennials turned to YouTube to watch what we thought would be a behind-the-scenes look into the life of Paris Hilton. What we didn’t expect was to learn that, just like thousands of teenagers across this country, Paris endured trauma while living in a “troubled teen” home. Since then, along with Congress, Paris has lobbied to enact laws to regulate the troubled youth facilities as it uses loopholes to get around what some would consider to be cruel punishment against kids.

The Troubled Teen Industry Unmasked

The troubled teen facilities are operated by private companies, nonprofits, or faith-based groups where they promise to help youth with problems related to behavior, addiction, and eating disorders. These programs can take on various forms, including therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, wilderness therapy programs, and boot camps. In some cases, they even provide conversion services for sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite numerous allegations of serious abuse that date back decades, they continue to operate in a largely unregulated way. These unregulated and unlicensed industries have been the spotlight for countless horror stories. This entire sector has been built on the scapegoating of young people while allowing parents to dictate their treatment at the expense of them enduring unforgivable abuse.

Dr. Phil’s Impact on the Industry

Dr. Phil McGraw’s involvement in the troubled teen industry has been a subject of controversy and scrutiny. As a well-known television psychologist and talk show host, Dr. Phil has used his platform to offer help to troubled teens and their families. However, his approach and the programs associated with him have faced significant criticism. Critics argue that some of his methods and the facilities he promotes lack transparency and proper oversight, potentially putting vulnerable adolescents at risk. Additionally, there has been allegations of emotional and psychological abuse within some of these programs. Dr. Phil’s involvement has raised important questions about the ethics, effectiveness, and regulation of the troubled teen industry, underscoring the need for reform and increased scrutiny to ensure the safety and well-being of the participants. This has led to serious doubts about whether Dr. Phil’s involvement is genuinely in the best interest of troubled teens or if it is driven more by financial interests. It’s imperative that those in positions of influence in this industry prioritize the well-being of adolescents and address these valid concerns to ensure their safety and growth rather than expose them to potential harm.


Paris Hilton: A Beacon of Hope in the Reform of the Troubled Teen Industry

Paris Hilton, once known for her glamorous lifestyle and reality TV stardom, has emerged as an unexpected champion for reform in the troubled teen industry. In her documentary, “This Is Paris,” she courageously shared her deeply personal and harrowing experiences within the industry. Hilton’s revelations shed light on the dark underbelly of troubled teen programs, where she and countless others endured emotional and psychological abuse. Her willingness to speak out and expose the trauma she endured has been a wake-up call for the public, sparking widespread awareness and outrage.

Paris Hilton’s advocacy efforts extend beyond her documentary. She has become a vocal advocate for industry reform, working alongside organizations dedicated to exposing and addressing the industry’s systemic issues. Hilton’s involvement has amplified the voices of survivors and underscored the urgent need for change. Her commitment to protecting vulnerable youth from harm has turned her into an unexpected beacon of hope, inspiring others to join the fight for regulation and accountability in the troubled teen industry. As she leverages her platform and influence for the greater good, Hilton’s role in this reform movement is both pivotal and inspirational.


What now?

There are currently not any federal laws that govern these private, for-profit residential treatment programs, boot camps, and wilderness programs. Efforts to pass federal legislation that would regulate this industry has continuously failed in the past. The 2007 Government Accountability Office report even detailed allegations of abuse and neglect, along with deaths and deceptive marketing practices at programs across the country, but action was still not taken. There is plenty of data and survivor stories out in the world to support the need for federal regulations. Specifically, the state of Utah has led the crusade in combating the issues of troubled teen industry. Utah passed a law that has shown positive outcomes in Utah’s congregate care facilities, creating a safer environment for youth who need help.

New federal legislation is also expected to outline minimum standards of care and treatment that facilities will have to meet. Lawmakers aim to standardize the patchwork state-by-state regulation that has led to the residential care industry’s heavy presence in states such as Utah, Texas, and Florida, where laws and accountability are more lax. The bill would also mandate data collection and create federal funding for states to implement the new oversight measures. These states have failed these children by not regulating this industry, so now federal legislation needs to be implemented to ensure that there is accountability. The troubled teen industry has long operated in a gray area of regulation, and it is high time for change. The well-being and safety of the adolescents entrusted to these programs should be a paramount concern. Regulating the troubled teen industry is essential to ensure that these facilities provide appropriate and ethical care. Using nonprofit organizations, like Breaking Code Silence, to help promote youth rights and evidence based alternatives to the troubled teen industry is a good first step, yet more must be done.