Military Schools vs. Private Schools

A parent who’s struggling with a defiant or troubled teenager maybe be tempted to send the child to a military school. The belief is that a military school will provide the structure and discipline needed in order for a troubled teen to learn respect, self-control and responsibility. The danger with military schools is that, though they are a type of boarding school, their structure doesn’t often enable them to deal effectively with troubled teens.

There are significant differences between a military school and a more specialized private boarding school. Understanding those differences helps parents determine which would be best for their teen.

The first major (and, arguably the most important) difference, is in the services that are available to troubled teens at both military and specialized private boarding schools.

Military schools rarely offer counseling or any other type of mental health services as part of the daily routine. These services may be available upon request, but are not built into the overall curriculum or schedule. This can become a significant problem for teens who are emotionally or psychologically troubled. A military school may be able to teach a troubled teen how to act, but if the underlying causes of a teens misbehavior aren’t address, the teen is likely to revert back to his “old ways” whenever he’s away from school.

In contrast, specialized private boarding schools do include mental health services as part of the overall schedule. Behavior modification, individual and group therapy, and individualized academic studies are all part of a specialized school’s efforts to restore a troubled teen back to emotional, mental and physical health. These programs work to uncover the root causes of a teen’s destructive behavior and address them in specific ways.

The second difference between military and specialized private boarding schools is the overall structure and daily routine.

Both types of schools require students to adhere to a daily routine, but a military school’s routine is much stricter. Cadets may have to be up as early as 6am, and in “formation” by 6:30 or 6:45am. There’s far less free time at a military school and activities like watching television or playing video games are often considered “rights” that have to be earned. Cadets wear uniforms which are expected to be kept looking as good as new, right down to the shiny boots. Ranks are earned and rule-breaking is never over-looked or excused.

Specialized private boarding schools have routines as well. But they’re not usually as strict, and there is more room for “error”. The staff at a private boarding school knows that the students will be difficult and sometimes defiant. But they also understand that there are deeply rooted reasons for the behavior, and they’re trained to handle it. Students have more free time at a private boarding school, but how that time is spent is still closely monitored.

The third main difference between military and specialized boarding schools is staff itself. Military boarding schools aren’t staffed exclusively with military personnel. In fact, most of the academic instructors are “civilians”. Though the staff is familiar with, and has made a commitment to, a military style of discipline and routine, they are not usually equipped to work with troubled teens. They rarely have the specialized training necessary to understand and address issues caused by trauma, neglect or abuse.

The staff at a specialized boarding school, however, is specifically educated and trained to handle those issues. They know how to respond appropriately to a whole range of emotional, physical and psychological challenges.

The differences between military and specialized private boarding schools are important. They’re designed for two very different types of students. It’s important to weigh these differences carefully before making a decision.