Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Teen Mania revisited - a mom's account.

Last week MSNBC ran a piece on Teen Mania, and it showed a part that isn't too pretty.  They highlighted an event that goes on at Teen Mania, called ESOAL, and MSNBC edited vivid images together for sensationalism.  To get over the harm caused by Teen Mania, a blog was started by "Recovering Alumni.",  and the girl who started the blog was featured on the MSNBC program, as she and others spent a weekend "deprogramming" with cult experts.  It really isn't necessary to sensationalize any part of Teen Mania, because there's been enough planting of harmful seeds into lots of kids, that finally they are getting a decent harvest - except that it's rotten fruit.  As much as Teen Mania's leaders (Dave Hasz and Ron Luce, et. al.) don't want to admit it, their program needs a big makeover.

Because I'm a parent of an Honor Academy (Teen Mania Internship) graduate, and because my four kids went on about 12 summer trips, and because I volunteered with Teen Mania in Miami and Garden Valley, and because I sponsored ministry teams who put on Acquire the Fire events, I feel I have the experience necessary to comment.  Because I've raised money for Teen Mania, in the past I've encouraged and supported the Teen Mania "machine," as well as having been part of many "behind the scenes" venues and I've had Ron Luce in my home, I am familiar with the organization and have credibility for what I've witnessed.  I feel I can surely speak out. 

Granted my kids loved their exciting trips, loved the friends they made, loved being part of what they considered God's work.  However, they were exposed to legalistic thought, elitist attitudes in regards to other Christian groups (much less non-Christians), and they experienced judgmental attitudes toward anyone who didn't agree with all they thought should be adhered to in order to be Christian. 

In addition, dangerous things happened while on the trips or when my son attended the Honor Academy, some of which I will list here: 

In the summer of 1997, my son had appendicitis in India and had surgery there.  He contracted MRSA, and nearly died.  He was 17.  While he was recovering from the surgery, still in India, I was told he was "fine," by his team leaders.  I was told by leaders in Garden Valley that all was well - not to worry.  This was not true, and when my son arrived back to Dallas, he was still so sick that he was in the hospital there for another two weeks. 

When at the Honor Academy ('98-'99), he got sick with asthma, bronchitis, and ear infections - all at the same time.  His fever was over 102*, but he had no medical care available on site, nor was there provision for him to get to a doctor.  He was still expected to be at work for his entire shift, as being sick was being weak.

On overseas trips, my kids were not fed adequately, and my daughter's hair fell out because of protein deficiency.  It has never come back.  (I have talked personally with the local contact who was to set up the food for the group.  TM canceled plans for good food to be provided.  This not only hurt the kids on the team, but the locals that had planned to have work through this, were left high and dry.  They said they never wanted to work with Teen Mania again.)

My daughter was left alone on the way to her team's "home" on the first hike there.  Details are too long to list, but it was definitely the opposite of the "we never leave your child on their own" claim of Teen Mania.

While interning for Teen Mania, my son worked in the call center by day, and as summer trips approached and housing was needed for the "missionaries," he was required to pour cement until after dark.  The work went on 7 days a week to get it completed.  

There are numerous details concerning how he went to his supervisors to appeal decisions that affected him.  It cannot be shown that going to his supervisors was ever a help, and it was very much a discouragement to him.  He tells his story here, here, and here

My daughter, Liz, wrote an entire Masters thesis on how her Teen Mania experience has affected her faith.  She blogs about it from time to time, and here is an entry on her changes.

The accounts I'm hearing nowadays are not surprising.  Those who once were kids are coming forward to reflect on experiences that are being discounted by both Dave and Ron.  These stories are NOT disregardable, which is how they (Ron/Dave) and the Board of Directors have responded.  

No, Teen Mania isn't all bad.  But it is not a place I recommend for impressionable youth.  It's not a place I recommend for any youth or adult.  My opinion:  Don't send your kids, and don't pay to fund this organization.


Recovering Alumni said...

Carol, thank you for writing this. I know that you and Ray were enthusiastically involved with Teen Mania for many years which only adds to your credibility and your right to speak out.

I will definitely link to this.

Shannon Kish said...

Beautifully written. Thank you so much for writing this.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your story. It is nice to see a parent perspective who has many years experience with things. Since the documentary has aired a lot of people were showing blind allegiance to Ron, Dave and TMM on facebook posts - and it just broke my heart that people are so brainwashed with allegiance to them that they can't see that there are real issues there. They continue to just say move on to those hurt, and as much as I'm thrilled to be moving on, there is anger that exists since you don't want to see other naive kids walk into that situation. Thanks for your post.

Carol S. said...

Thank you so much for writing this account of your experiences with Teen Mania. I too was a parent volunteer, sent my kids on 6 trips,each with their own positive and unnecessary negative experiences. Like your kids, mine experienced lack of medical attention and poor food at times. And, went on a trip myself, as an adult Team Leader. I also sewed thousands of dollars into other kids' trips and fund raised. I have pictures of me with Ron Luce, and had them in my kitchen for YEARS. They reminded me to pray for him and the ministry daily. I have a great picture of me with his daughter Hannah (she was about 4 then).
One of my daughters was an intern for a few months. Since she is an independent thinker she was sent home before her internship was over (Thank God).
I so loved this ministry when it first started. I had personal phone conversations with Ron Luce as this ministry was birthed. What a great thing to do... Take kids to foreign countries and have them experience and see God move. I'm horrified at what Teen Mania has become. I want to hold every person hurt by this ministry and say; "PEOPLE are the MOST important thing to God. This should never have happened to you...I am so sorry". And to Ron Luce: WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU THINKING? Someday you will stand before God and have to answer for this. Harming one child is bad enough, but hundreds, maybe thousands....God have mercy.
Thank you again for telling your family's story. If one family decides NOT to send their child it was worth it.

Anonymous said...


Having been raised in a minister's home and experiencing missionary life on foreign soil, I too have witnessed some of the horrors of ministry. I suffered from nightmares for 38 years due to events I was exposed to as a child.

Thank you for speaking out!

"Madness in the name of God is still only madness."


Anonymous said...

Carol: Thanks for this. I've been concerned about Canadian kids who pay to head to Texas and to work for TM.
Your voice is important, it is critical parents do their homework.
There is enough information (not pr) out on Teen Mania now that informed decisions can be made by parents and their kids.

Blog on!

Bene D

Calulu said...

Carol thanks for speaking out about this. My daughter was another one not taken care of on a mission trip who has suffered long lasting damage. Teen Mania is toxic and irresponsible.

k8reeves said...

I cried while reading this post. So many of the things said were so similar to my experience. I was an intern the same year as your son, I think ('99) and for as strange as things were back then, I think it's only gotten worse. Thank you for showing your support to all of us recovering.

Doug Duncan said...

Thanks for sharing this, Carol. I posted it on my Facebook page. I hope many people will read and be encouraged by your story.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your story and rest assured that things have improved significantly. I have been an intern for a few years and have been on 6 trips around the world with teen mania and although there were some hard times, it has been an overall awesome experience. It is feedback like yours that helps teen mania improve as they press forward taking His life giving message to the ends of the earth! :)

Carol said...

Anonymous 11/26 @*;17 pm:
I'm glad you were not harmed or hurt. What I question is whether the basic methods have actually been revamped. There are so many "bad seeds" that have been sewn that now it is bearing fruit. Percentage-wise, if you compare Teen Mania to a post-high school setting, or with any local church, there should not be this many people with multiple reports of damage/harm/hurt. I know it happened with all three of my kids, and I insisted that our daughter not go with them - even though she wanted to. Our last daughter was never allowed to go overseas with Teen Mania.

And the details from my own kids still come out - things they didn't report at the times of their trips. The hard thing was how much they loved Teen Mania, loved [some of] their leaders, and didn't want to hurt any of them. However, the programs are flawed, the trips are dangerous, and the KIDS they are taking don't report the incidents. LATER, as you kids mature, is when you realize, "hey, that wasn't right when such-and-such happened to me/us/the contacts." It's just wrong.

Manny Kay said...


Thanks so much for your post. I went on two Teen Mania trips in the mid-1990s. As an adult, I have often reflected on my experience with Teen Mania and thought, "Wow, if my parents knew about that, they would have been ticked." and "Wow, that was really harmful." Through much of my twenties, I talked to my husband about writing Ron Luce to tell him about the dangerous and harmful things that happened. I thought that now as late twenties/early thirties professor, he might listen to me. I wondered if there were others like me that had processed through the harmful experiences. It is when I found the Recovering Alumni blog that I knew that this was an organization I could never recommend. Thank you for your post. In many ways, I am grateful that I experienced living overseas as a teen. However, my experience with Teen Mania was damaging.

Snipe said...

I went through a similarly difficult experience with YWAM a few years ago. I hoped it would provide my life with some direction, but the only direction I wanted was away from the base. The leaders engaged in a campaign to discourage me and break me down, and they refused to take me for medical care when I got sick. My story is far from the worst from that base, too.

Unknown said...

wow it's interesting how much experiences can vary from person to person. I was an intern with Teen Mania, and helped with a few Aquire the Fire events. I personally had an amazing experience with Teen Mania, and have very fond memories. I was challenged, and learned a lot. I have never been on a missions trip with them though. As far as the internship goes, the difference in experiences may be due to the fact that everybody gets a different 'core', a group of guys or girls you are with throughout your year, each with a different core leader.

Unknown said...

Also forgot to note, I went through ESOAL (as it is optional). and I thoroughly enjoyed it. it really challenged me physically, mentally, and spiritually, and I felt awesome afterwards like 'wow I did not know I could do that'.

Carol said...

"Unknown": Glad it went well for you. What years were you there?

Unknown said...

I was there 2001-2002.


Unknown said...

but like I was sayin everybody has a diffe everybody has a different core, I had a group of amazing guys and my core leader was awesome as well. There were judgemental legalistic people there as well, but I personally was surrounded by great people. with the amour of people there, I could imagine someone else having a completely different experience.

Unknown said...

I think I messed up on a post lol... I was in it from 2001-2002.


Debi said...

Wow. I just read this and am completely shocked. My husband went to Guatemala in 1989 and I went to Venezuela in 1990. We both had amazing, life-changing experiences with Teen Mania and had looked forward to one day sending our kids on a mission trip with them. Now, I'm left confused an wondering how things have changed so much. :(