Outward Bound for Troubled Teens: Interview with Seth Ruggles

Seth Ruggles
Seth Ruggles

LoveToKnow had the opportunity to interview Seth Ruggles, customer service representative for Outward Bound Intercept Program for troubled teens. If your teenager has started down the wrong path, you may be interested in learning more about this at-risk youth program to help your teen get his or her life back on track.

About Outward Bound Intercept Program

LoveToKnow (LTK): How does Outward Bound help troubled teens?

Seth Ruggles (SR): Outward Bound helps troubled teens by giving them an extremely positive experience, which is challenging physically and emotionally. We take students out of their comfort zone, which shows them the potential they have not been able to see up to this point.

LTK: What types of problems do teens have in this program?

SR: The teens involved in the Intercept Program, which is one of our at-risk programs in Outward Bound, are generally having issues with poor school performance, anger management, defiance, low motivation, and are engaging in risky behaviors such as drugs, alcohol, sneaking out, or truancy. In general, parents start to see a trend of bad decisions, falling/failing grades, hanging out with a new/wrong crowd, and they want to step in and give their son or daughter a life experience before more serious behaviors present themselves.

LTK: What are typical days like at the program?

SR: A typical day on an Intercept expedition is to wake up with the sun (they camp from day one), break down camp, have breakfast, go over the expedition route for the day, pack up, and head out on the lake, river, or trail. Students are "on" from sun up to sun down continuing on their expedition route and travelling from campsite to campsite. The students and staff travel as a group, rain or shine. Once camp is reached, students have chores such as getting water for the group, setting up the kitchen and getting dinner ready, and setting up their tents or tarps, depending on the location. After dinner, there are group discussions and lessons as well as route planning for the next day. Then it's off to bed for a well deserved night sleep until the morning.

LTK: How much support do teens receive from the program - who is involved in the experience?

SR: During our expeditions, we have a staff-to-student ratio of one staff member to four students. The Intercept Program is extremely structured and with increased staff-to-student ratio, the students receive a great deal of support and positive recognition of their accomplishments. Individual interviews as well as group lessons on decision making versus consequence, anger management, conflict resolution, responsibility versus freedom, as well as communication skills are all integral parts of the Intercept Program. Safety is of the highest priority, both physically and emotionally, for all students while on any Outward Bound course. Our staff are trained in both technical skills and facilitative skills with an emphasis on behavior management. Intercept is designed to be a first stage intervention and as a result, we do not serve youth with serious addictions and/or current criminal background within this program.

LTK: How long are the sessions?

SR: Our 12 and 13 year old courses are 20 days in length, 14-17 and 18-20 year old courses are 28 days in length, and we offer 50-day semesters for 16-18 year olds as well as 18-20 year olds. Unlike other at-risk programs out there, we have a set length for our Intercept expeditions and work with our students to reach the ultimate goal of graduating course.

LTK: Where are the programs located?

SR: Our Intercept courses are located in Maine, Minnesota, California, Florida, and Alabama. The expeditions involve canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing, and/or a ropes course element depending on which base camp it runs out of.

LTK: What is your success rate (if you have one) - what are some of the reasons why some teens do not find success at Outward Bound?

SR: Surveys filled out by students both pre and post course show significant to extensive growth in the areas of Character Development (self confidence, self actualization, compassion, and living a healthy life), Leadership (goal setting, conflict resolution, group collaboration, and problem solving), and Service (both social and environmental responsibility). Students who complete the Intercept Program have a decrease in school problems, family conflict, substance use/abuse as well as an increase in self-esteem and confidence.

Some teens do not find success at Outward Bound because they are not at a point of seeing a need to make any changes in their life. If a student is unwilling to participate in the course or does not follow our policies, they are asked to withdraw.

LTK: What about after they leave the program - do teens have any type of continuum support or how does the program continue to help after the teen leaves?

SR: Due to the numbers of students served we cannot personally support them after they leave this program. We do provide the students, as well as the parents, with resources if they need additional support once they leave the program.

Family Involvement in the Intercept Program

LTK: How are families involved in the experience at Outward Bound?

SR: At the end of all of the courses (minus the 18-20 courses) we require at least one parent or guardian to attend a seminar that is facilitated by the instructors who were working with the students during the expedition. The purpose of the seminar is to give the parents an overview of what we have been working on with their son or daughter for the past 25 days.

We also teach the parents the skills and tools we have taught their teenager so once both return home, they will have the same tools to build a more open and trusting relationship.

During the seminar, we also facilitate a one-on-one with the parents and instructor that has been working with their son or daughter. Instructors meet with the family to create a plan to assist them in a successful transition home continuing on the positive path created during their course.

Tips for Entering the Program

LTK: What are some tips for teens who are about to enter the program?

SR: One tip is to realize everyone is nervous going into expeditions and it is to be expected. It is a normal reaction when one is going into a different environment, taking part in activities they have never done with people they don't know. It is a great idea to prepare for courses both physically and mentally. Outward Bound has found that coming physically fit to courses enables the student to have an even better experience, and coming in with the right mindset is a huge plus as well. Lastly, remember it is going to be hard, but it is going to be fun!

LTK: What are some tips for parents who may be interested in using a program such as this one for their teen?

SR: One tip is when introducing the Intercept Program to their son or daughter to try have their child view it as an opportunity rather than a punishment. Another tool is to take them to our website to have him/her watch videos or read testimonials from past students. You can view our videos and testimonials at OutwardBound.org. Lastly, most students in the beginning are resistant, which is to be expected. In most cases, when they find out more about the program, what they will be doing, and there is less of the "unknown," they tend to be more willing to attend and have an experience in the wilderness they will remember for a lifetime.

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Outward Bound for Troubled Teens: Interview with Seth Ruggles