A lot has happened in the eight weeks since my 17 1/2 year old was enrolled in the step down co-ed boarding school in Southern Utah. He is doing well and according to his advisor, he is not only compliant and respectful, he has become a favorite of the staff and fellow students alike. He is friendly to everyone, continues to make new friends and has stayed out of the normal drama which can frequently happen in a high school setting.
Isn't that wonderful?
You bet! And with the good news and his positive progress, comes more responsibility and privileges. After his initial two week orientation, my son was able to request privileges towards more independence and "freedom". Every Friday there is a staff "board meeting" where the advisors and administration consider the requests of the students. The students have to fill out forms with info of what privileges they are asking for and why they should be granted.
At this boarding school, there are of course rules, but it's not just "one size fits all", as it was at the Residential Treatment Center before. Along with parent's input, the student's off campus therapist's comments, teacher's recommendations and their advisor's observations, the student moves forward at a pace that is tailor made for each of them individually. If the privileges are broken or rules disobeyed, then the consequences are given as learning opportunities rather than strictly punitive, giving the student a chance to learn from their mistakes in a healthy way. It's like a built in safety net, which can be very positive and still instructive.
So far my son has earned many privileges: trust walks in the neighborhood surrounding the campus, dorm alone time, time off campus without staff AND the use of a cell phone. The cell phone we chose to re-introduce him back into the electronics world is an old fashioned "flip phone". It can of course make phone calls, but has a lot of limits to texting and other uses that "smart phones" have made common place. Many have commented that this "retro" style phone is becoming popular again!
My son's therapist says that he likes to "front load" the electronics use for kids at the boarding school, so the patterns of usage and potential problems can be addressed right away. For my son, he jumped back into the use head first. It was actually surreal when I purchased a new phone from the AT&T store and sent it to Utah initially. It took me right back to a time before my son went to wilderness that was not pleasant to remember. At that point, his iphone use was constant. He kept the device by his bedside all night long. He texted non-stop and was on social media too frequently.
He even recently shared that as he was being told he was heading to wilderness that fateful middle of the night, that he texted a friend to "Please keep my string of texts going on SnapChat for me!" That's how out of control he was: as he was being sent away, his texting "string" was still his biggest concern.
As a family, we have discussed these old and often negative patterns in many conversations since the time he's been away (end of June 2017). We talked about the anxiety and depression that the phone has caused for many, including him. We came to an understanding that while we as parents really thought of his electronics use as an addiction and he didn't, there would have to be a balance of use/non-use in the future. We know that we are not going back to the "string tied to tin cans" kind of communication of the past and that the cell phone is here to stay, in all of our lives. Yet, that balance is so essential for our minds, bodies and overall health. That goes for kids and us adults alike!
So when my son came home for his Spring Break, five weeks after beginning the "step down program", he had his phone with him as he came off the plane. The list of his approved contacts were only a handful at that time. The list has been growing, as we continue to talk about who should be added and who should not be. Though it is somewhat limited, he is able to be in contact with his fellow classmates at the boarding school. He has reached out to some boys from wilderness and the Ranch and a few old friends from back home. We will see which ones rise to the top quickly enough. We are encouraging positive connections moving forward!
Well, as you have guessed, it was super easy for my son to resume using his phone, even a flip phone, for more time than we wanted to see. This was expected, especially after twenty months without having one to use at all. We were able to set boundaries of keeping the phone on the charger downstairs in the living room at night, so his sleep wouldn't be interrupted. That was an improvement! We did see some old patterns come back, but we talked about them in family therapy. Part of our agreement is making sure that he is active and participates in family duties and chores, when he is visiting at home and does his homework and other obligations while he is at school. He has been agreeable to those terms. Even my son's therapist says he is working on those same balances with his thirteen year old. It is a common dilemma these days and one we knew we were going to face!
As the newness of the phone wears off, it will be up to him, to make these choices of amount of use and who he can call or text. In the meantime, we have received very good weekly calls from him. It's always good to hear his voice when he's away. Our week long visit was good overall, and we want to continue the conversation of balance as we move forward with this part of our journey. It will be an important topic for many families, I suspect!
Next up, adding a computer, internet and approved social media to the mix. Privilege by privilege we are heading down the ROAD TO EIGHTEEN when he enters adulthood officially near the end of July.
As challenging as re-introducing the phone has been, we are glad he has jumped back in! The question remains: How well will he balance it all?
"The future is ours to see, Que Sera, Sera".
I remain ever grateful,
This post is a bit different, but a very important one, none the less. Have you seen this article from The New York Times? It's titled: "A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley" by Nellie Bowles. After reading this piece dated October 26, 2018, I was reminded of our old life, when my young teenage son was on his phone, computer, playing video games and watching TV, ALL of the time. It was a big part of what ruined our family life.
"It's time to get off", I would say to him.
"Okay, I will, I will, I just have to finish this game....post....video....text....movie....coding....fill in the blank. It didn't matter that I turned it off or took it away, he found a way to get it back.
Over and over I would ask for him to stop and he wouldn't or couldn't. Part of it was our fault for letting him have the devices and part of it was his fault for using them. However, according to this article, it is becoming well known in the tech community that part of the problem lies with them too! Most of the big wigs in the industry do not let their own kids have much screen time and have at least monitored it. Steve Jobs' young kids weren't allowed to use Apple iPads! Bill and Melinda Gates wish they would have waited longer to give their four kids cell phones.
What positively changed for us was my son's forced absence of screens. In the Wilderness Therapy Program my son went to last summer, at fifteen years of age, there was no screen use at all. Period. Cold turkey. Nada. What that did for his brain was let some "green" in and allow nature to cleanse and let his mind mature on it's own. His mood became better. He actually could participate in conversations without constant distraction. Without the use, mis-use and over-use of screens, it made him a better person. He became less isolated and ultimately happier.
Another plus from no screen time, was that the majority of his anxiety went away. Bingo! What a concept. If we as adults, who already have formed brains, have a problem, how is a young person supposed to put down the screen? This article points out that the developers know how to program their content to go right to the pleasure centers of our brains. We are at a severe disadvantage that allows the devices to win every time, just like the casinos in Las Vegas, the house (the screen) will always win!
This article is eye-opening to the degree that those in Silicon Valley understand what their products are doing to the people they are selling to (us parents). One tech magazine higher up calls it closer to "cocaine than to candy" as to effects on the brain. Is anyone paying attention? I hope so! It's all around us, and we are paying them to do it to us!
As far as our story goes, my son is able to use a computer to type some school assignments at the RTC. He still has no phone use and no internet use. When we visit with him, we talk about how we will move forward with technology in the near future. The ironic part is that technology is an area of interest and skill for him. We will continue to explore and examine the pluses and minuses of that use. In the meantime, read the article and ponder why Silicon Valley is keeping this dark secret?
Below is an important article written by Cecilia Kang and published last week by The New York Times. It is quite alarming to see what Facebook has up its sleeve for our kids and social media. I hope you join with me in letting Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, know how harmful it could be for the development of our youngest members of society. You can snail mail letters to him at Facebook's headquarters: 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025.
Full disclosure: I am on Facebook. I am an adult. My brain is already fully developed. I do enjoy sharing comments, links and stories with friends and family. I am aware of the risks of overuse and addiction concerning social media and technology. I know limiting its use can be challenging for me and other grown-ups.
"Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Plead to Facebook"
The New York Times Technology Section
By CECILIA KANG JAN. 30, 2018
WASHINGTON — At the age of 6, a child is full of imagination and may not distinguish reality from fantasy. She is beginning to read and can’t grasp nuances in written communication. She also doesn’t understand privacy. Citing those reasons and more, dozens of pediatric and mental health experts are calling on Facebook to kill a messaging service the company introduced last month for children as young as 6.
In a letter to the company, they said the service, Messenger Kids, which pushes the company’s user base well below its previous minimum age of 13, preys on a vulnerable group developmentally unprepared to be on the social network.
The letter was organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that has successfully pushed companies to abandon marketing like a Pokemon Go app that sent children to fast food and other stores, and McDonald’s advertising on the envelopes of report cards in Florida.
Facebook’s new app for young children opens greater concerns, the group said. “Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the experts said in the letter. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”
The opposition to Facebook’s app adds to growing societal concerns over digital media and devices. Some big Apple investors called on the company this month to work harder to make the iPhone less addictive, and some former Facebook employees have warned about how effectively the service hooks users.
And academic research, including a study released last week, shows that the rise in smartphone and social media use tracked with greater unhappiness among teenagers. Messenger Kids is a texting-type service that a parent sets up for a child. The parent uses his or her own Facebook account for the child, but the app is otherwise not a part of the main Facebook service. The app doesn’t have News Feed or a “like” button, which some mental health experts have linked to anxiety among teenagers on social media.
But many elements of the social network are there, including emojis, selfies, video chat and group texting.
Facebook says Messenger Kids provides a safer environment for children than many online experiences. The app has no advertising, for example. The company said it had consulted with the National PTA and several academics and families before introducing the app. “Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions,” Facebook said in a statement. But many health advocates say the app is still engineered to hook users, and that it is giving Facebook early access to its next generation of users.
“Facebook is making children into a market, and the youngest children will be more likely to get hooked even earlier,” said Michael Brody, a former chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
A version of this article appears in print on January 30, 2018, on Page B5 of the New York edition with the headline: Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Plead in a Letter to Facebook.
How can the use of this new App not be of concern to parents everywhere? Why do kids need this? We have seen the increase of anxiety in our teens? Do we need to push it down to elementary aged kids, too? Will babies be next? This is insane! Please feel free to comment below. I will be sending a letter to Zuckerberg this coming week. Please join me!
I am Warrior Mom. I am a self proclaimed Techy and I'm NOW calling a halt to the excess use of it! Let's put some balance back into our lives, especially our teens!
Modern Map Art takes your favorite cities, mountains, and places and turns them into beautiful works of art. Our maps are a great way to display that nostalgia in your home. They make great gifts, too!