The “trouble” with Lifetime’s “Teen Trouble” & Josh Shipp
An uproar of controversy has surrounded Lifetime’s new show, Teen Trouble and it’s host, author and public speaker Josh Shipp, over his “gritty” methods of getting through to troubled teens. With no reference to any degrees, certifications or professional qualifications, Josh Shipp refers to himself as an “expert in teen behavior” who practices psycho-dramatic methods that have little to no supporting evidence of effectiveness and places children in potentially dangerous situations all for the entertainment of his viewership.
At the conclusion of each show, Shipp offers his charges a unique opportunity… To be locked up in a long term behavior modification program, some of them with long histories of abuse and controversy over their own tough love methods.
The survivors of these programs are speaking out against Lifetime’s affiliation with the troubled teen industry and calling for Teen Trouble to be pulled off air. A petition was recently started by the youth rights organization CAFETY – Community Alliance For the Ethical Treatment of Youth – Shame on Lifetime Television and several websites have been created to inform viewers about the risks of following Josh Shipp‘s example. One such website, teentroublejoshshipp.com asks, Is Josh Shipp really a teen behavior expert? Other groups, like the popular website Reddit have brought their own concerns to light, in a sub-reddit dedicated to keeping tabs on the controversial troubled teen industry.
An article in the NYPost addressed concerns with the show and interviewed former students of the program Cooper Canyon Academy, the same school Shipp sent 16 year old Chelsea to in the first episode of Teen Trouble. Former students of CCA surveyed at CCASurvivors.com describe experiences of torment, abuse and intentional medical neglect resulting in lifelong struggles with symptoms of PTSD. Copper Canyon Academy, an Aspen Education Group/ CRC Health Group owned and operated facility isn’t the only Aspen school with a long history of questionable practices. In 2009, another school owned by Aspen was closed down due to lawsuits alleging sexual abuse including such acts as forcing students to give other students lap dances as “therapy” for rape victims. In Aspen‘s past there have been 6 verified deaths, many caused by medical neglect, and the same policies currently practiced by Cooper Canyon Academy. In subsequent episodes Josh sends 3 more children to “Tough Love” Programs: Jacob, to Aspen’s Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. Asmara, to Axios Youth Community which was shut down after an investigation into sexual abuse shortly after the show filmed. As well was Ashley, a legal adult sent to a rehab called A Better Tomorrow, with rampant cases of ‘no tomorrows’. Ashley was offered a stay at a “long-term residential treatment center” however being an adult, she had the legal right to refuse.
From an article in the Gazette regarding the closure of Axios Youth Community:
The facility’s problems began in October, when a supervisor reported to Green Mountain Falls police that program director Michael Broadnax was acting inappropriately with the female residents. A few months later, police interviewed the 13-year-old girl, who said Broadnax had intercourse and performed oral sex on her in the back of his car. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office got involved with the investigation in February, and Broadnax was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust last week.
Another great article written by the author of Help at any Cost, Maia Szalavitz hit the airwaves today covering Josh Shipp of Lifetime‘s Teen Trouble using unproven and more likely traumatizing techniques to try to get through to teens. Do these “gritty” methods work? Studies show it makes teens worse and more likely to reoffend. Maia’s article is an essential read for any parent looking into these kinds of “tough love” interventions, and validation for anyone who has been through these programs and knows something went wrong.
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.
Take Scared Straight, a strategy that is supposed to deter juvenile delinquents from a life of crime by briefly placing them in adult prisons, where hardened prisoners confront them with the brutal realities of incarceration. A documentary on the original initiative, founded at Rahway Prison in New Jersey, won an Oscar in 1978. A&E’s Beyond Scared Straight, now in its third season, follows teens through such programs, zooming in as inmates literally get in the teens’ faces and attempt to break them emotionally…
It may seem that Shipp and his producers are creating quite a disturbing pattern with the programs that they are choosing for these kids, this would be especially evidenced in their most recent choice as two more programs Lifetime is using to rehabilitate these kids have found to have had a history of maltreatment, neglect and death. Most recently Josh sent a 15 year old Dayne to Diamond Ranch Academy, a notoriously abusive program in Hurricane Utah. DRA has recently garnered quite the reputation, as many survivors have come forward with their experiences of torment, torture, sexual abuse and reports of the death of a 14 year old boy due to medical neglect.
Survivors and advocates against the troubled teen industry have made their message clear: If Josh Shipp will not stop putting these children in danger, there could be a serious boycott of Lifetime, A&E and all networks affiliated with this show. Children’s lives are not toys for unprofessional hacks to play with. Making a show that exploits the lives of struggling families and leads to the unlawful incarceration of teens who need and deserve REAL treatment is an absolute travesty. The fact that the example of irresponsible parenting is being celebrated in this show is unconscionable. Doing adequate research and consulting professionals before making such life-changing decisions for these families should be paramount. Today more than ever parents must be warned of the dangers and inherit risks of sending a child away to what they might think is residential treatment, because it can quite easily result in abuse and even death. Unfortunately, telling the difference between a good and bad program is no easy task; navigating through the deceptive marketing of these programs takes inside information to decode. Making these decisions based on which company has contracted the network for endorsement, is not only irresponsible as a conflict of interest, but is also morally depraved, because any simple Google search would show that the “treatment centers” Lifetime has endorsed have been widely considered controversial and fraudulent.
Don’t let Aspen Education, or any other abusive program buy their way into unsuspecting American homes. If you are a survivor, stand up and speak out against these programs! If you are a parent, BEWARE! Do not make any decisions about enrolling your child into residential treatment without consulting the professionals and advocates who know the truth about these programs.
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