Guiding Parents and Children Through the Maze

Steven Freemire, MFT and Dominic D’Ambrosio, MFT

April 9, 2013

Technology is a powerful tool for pleasure, productivity and enhancing connections with others. However, excessive or improper use of it can lead to abuse or unhealthy dependence.


Way of building relationships and sense of community with friends/family

Finding out what friends are doing/saying, getting news of social gatherings

Being in on gossip

Using the safety of the Internet to take greater risks in showing oneself

For those who feel they are “different,” way to connect with others

Being really good at something: gaining sense of mastery, accomplishment


Feelings hurt by social inclusion/exclusion

Dissemination of information deemed private or hurtful

Cyber bullying

Instantaneous access to hundreds of people 

Innocence and desire for acceptance leaving teens vulnerable to predators

Emotional numbing

Loss of opportunity to develop coping skills personally, socially & emotionally

Neural patterning

As a parent, how do I:

1.Encourage my child to enjoy and benefit from the technology without falling prey to the hurtful aspects of it?

2.Distinguish between use, abuse, dependency of the Internet, Video Games, Social Networking Sites, Cell Phones, TV and other Electronic Communication and Entertainment Devices? And support use and prevent abuse?

Means of Connection

Healthy Enjoyment and Use includes:

Enhances my well-being and sense of mastery: Playing video games or going on Facebook adds to how I already feel good about myself and my life

Focus/Mono-Tasking: When I’m not doing it, I can immerse myself in and focus on other activities (dinner with family, homework, time with friends)

Self-Regulation: I can do it for an agreed-upon period of time and stop when I’m supposed to, although I may need help from parents to shift gears

Balance: I have a balance in my life that includes good friends, activities I enjoy and taking responsibility for schoolwork, chores, etc.

Appropriate Risk-Taking: I do things online that may be edgy but not abusive toward or exploitive of others

Connection: I find connection and build relationships in that world that enrich my life rather than increase my loneliness and isolation

Productivity: I use the technology to assist me in making plans and getting things done in ways that ease the pressure and stress in my life rather than add to it. In essence, my maturity is reflected in how I use my cell phone rather than the fact that I have it.

Tool of Addiction

Unhealthy Level of Dependence Usually Includes 3-5 or more of the following:

Loss of Control: I’m unable to adhere to time limits

Can’t Stop: I can’t stop myself from doing it even when I know I must

Preoccupied: I’m constantly thinking about when I can do the activity next

Neglects rest of Life: Family, friends, school, sleep, hobbies, self-care

Denies Problems that are Obviously Related

Lies About or Hides frequency and duration of the activity

Withdrawal: When doing without it…  is irritable, pouting, angry, depressed

Tolerance/Binging: Progressively wanting more – and/or it’s never enough

Excessive Risk-Taking: I use the anonymity of that world to try out behaviors that are unhealthy and I wouldn’t dare to do face-to-face

Hunger for Acceptance justifies harmful behaviors (i.e., participating in chat rooms that are unhealthy – eating disorders, promoting suicide, etc.)

“Life is Bad” Starting Point – I’m bored, frustrated so I need an escape

Overuse puts at risk: relationship, other activities, educational opportunity


1. Parents and their children have differing priorities during the teen years, as follows:


Independence and Controlvs. compliance and compromise

Privacy and Personal Territoryvs. family sharing and togetherness

Peer Relationships and Feelingsvs. parent’s, siblings’ feelings

Pleasure and Funvs. work

Experimentationvs. sensibility and caution

Experiencing the Presentvs. planning for the future

Freedom and Privilegevs. limits and responsibility

Acceptancevs. achievement

“The Online World” adds some new twists on these age-old conflicts:

Teens have more privacy vis a vis parents due to cell phones and social networks

Ironically, teens have less ability to control what stays private with friends and even future employers-- online postings are widely accessible and hard to erase

Teens can develop and maintain much broader networks of “friends”

Teens’ ability to experiment is exponentially greater online

Immediate gratification is just a “click” away

As with driving a car, cell phones and online communities provide the means but not necessarily the maturity for being more independent

Multi-tasking is now considered the norm – mono-tasking, “down time” is “boring”


Teens have always needed parents to provide structure, help support, guide, contain, and set limits during the turbulent years of adolescence. The amazing possibilities yet worrisome dangers of technology and the online world make parents’ role of providing structure, setting limits and helping ensure their child’s safety that much more important!


What parenting strategies work best in the “The Online World”?


Create a road map and structure in your daily life that provides clear guidelines about use of the Internet, cell phones, video games, social networking sites, etc. with incentives for following those guidelines and consequences for not doing so.

In general, three approaches we’ve seen parents successfully adopt are:

1. Strict controls and oversight

Parents limit access: little/no use of technology or firm limits on media content (G/PG/PG-13 rated movies, video games); weekends only; no Facebook; Parents model living with clear cut limits and boundaries

2. Balanced Approach: Parents set norms with teen input

Access a balancing act with quantified limits that include some use during the week (i.e. 1 hr per night after homework); up to 2,000 text messages a month; computer in public space: Parents model balancing/enjoying use of computers, TV, cell, etc.

3. Parents provide much freedom with minimal oversight and high level of trust

Parents trust teen to self-regulate and adjust accordingly if choices negatively impact health, school productivity, time with friends and family. Computer in bedroom. Multi-tasking: teen watches TV, listens to music, is on IM while doing homework. Parents model ability to make good choices without external limits.


Most EffectiveLeast Effective


Verbal AssertivenessThreats, Yelling, Acting Powerful

Letting GoAdvising

Structure, Incentives Lectures, Bringing Up Past Failures

and ConsequencesGuilt-Tripping

Playfulness; JokingHarsh Punishments

Praise With LimitsBacking Down

Positive AttentionCriticisms or Put-downs

Cuing, Helpful Reminders Nagging

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘EmAtoning


Cyberbullying refers to any behavior using information technology that involves sending or posting text or images intended to embarrass or hurt another person.

According to a study reported in “Common Sense Media,”

43% of kids ages 13-17 have been cyberbullied

53% of teens admit sending a hurtful message

Only 10% of bullying victims tell their parents

The #1 form of cyberbullying: making private information public

Sometimes teens are unaware they are causing harm as it may seem like it’s just part of youth culture. In other situations teens are well aware but have been victimized themselves so they feel justified hurting others, or just think it’s fun.

Some Kids are more Vulnerable to Being Bullied

Studies show that kids who get bullied and snubbed by peers – in person and in cyberspace – may be more likely to have problems in other parts of their lives. A study by the Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Chicago has identified deficits in three key behavioral skills can lead to a child experiencing social rejection:

Reading nonverbal cues

Understanding their social meaning

Coming up with options for resolving a social conflict

For teens who are challenged in these areas, the online world – with few nonverbal cues -- is that much more of a set-up for running into difficulties.

How to Watch for and Reduce the Chances of Cyberbullying:

Set clear expectations

1.Don’t text/post anything you wouldn’t say in person

2.Never share your or friends’ personal information online

Monitor cell phone and Internet use

Urge them to pause/think before sending text/post

Look for recent changes in your child’s mood or behavior

Inquire about their/others online life in a curious, interested way

Assist them in their “emotional intelligence” skills re: social interactions

Urge them to tell you or an adult they trust if they experience cyberbullying

Open-ended questions you can ask include:

Is it easier to say certain things texting rather than in person?

Are all “Facebook friends” really friends? What if you’ve never met them?

How do you know what someone is feeling from just a text (without facial expression or voice tone)?

I hear about these awful things kids do or say to each other online? Have your friends or classmates ever had to deal with that?

You’ve seemed out of sorts. Anything going on that you’d like to talk about?

What to do if Your Child is experiencing Cyberbullying:

Have them save communications that have already taken place

Have them block communications that are hurtful and delete messages

Be there for them, listen to their experience (trying not to be highly reactive): First and foremost, convey your unconditional support and find out as much as you can about the circumstances

If you determine your child is the one who has done the cyberbullying, be firm in restating expectations and enforcing consequences. Have them apologize and/or make restitution for their behaviors

If it is someone your child and you know, consider contacting the parents.

If appropriate, notify the authorities to follow-up: the police, Internet Service Providers, etc.

In cases where your child has been deeply affected, get professional help



1. Don’t be scared to venture into the “World of Technology”

You can learn your way around. Really!

2. Determine where you stand and set clear expectations regarding

What is allowed and what isn’t: (i.e. no weekday use until homework finished)

What is private: (whom you talk with online is not private; what you say is)

Rights and privileges (i.e. Having a cell phone is a privilege)

How much is OK and what is excessive (# of hours per day/per week)

How you will hold them accountable and monitor their activity (POS)

3. Provide structure that supports a life in balance and sets clear limits

Establish clear rules and conditions for usage

Include incentives for good behavior as well as consequences for bad

Get their input on structure and show understanding for their desires/needs

Components include: homework, chores, family time, fun, down time, creativity and face-to-face time with friends that are not “screen-based”

Say “no” with sympathetic firmness to requests that are not acceptable; “I’m not comfortable is valid reason for saying “no”

4. Reinforce the positives

Applaud what’s good about it: it’s fun; it’s a way of building friendships, etc.

Play the Wii, PS3, Xbox, learn to text, Skype with them with grandparents

5. Identify use that is excessive/unhealthy

Use the guidelines above to help distinguish between use and dependence

If there is disagreement, have them chart their usage for a week

If they insist they are not dependent have them go without for a week

6. Apply tools you have to help ensure their safety and let you sleep at night

Computer out of the bedroom

Knowing with whom they are talking online or on their cells

Insist they set “privacy controls” to limit access; look at their settings

Google your child’s name to see what information is available publicly

Review cell phone calls/text messages; use monitoring software – even if they get around them, knowing you are monitoring will be inhibiting factor

7. Examine your own behaviors to see what you are modeling to them

Are you on email constantly or taking phone calls during meals?

Are you spaced out in front of computer or TV after tiring day?

Does a part of you relish them being “addicted” because you get down time?

8. Get Networked Yourselves

Talk with other parents to find out how they are handling these issues

Use online resources to get information and advice (for teens)

Online Assessment Tools:

From Ofer Zur: Self-Assessment Test for Gaming Addiction: Beard and Wolf’s 2001 Criteria for Maladaptive Internet Use

Monitoring software:  “Net Nanny”

9. Additional Rules We Recommend Implementing:

Never give out screen name or cell number online

Don’t ever express negative feelings through email/IM/Facebook – words alone without seeing/hearing the person can lead to huge misunderstandings

Have your child show you their Facebook profile

Tell us, tell friends, tell someone if you are the victim of cyber bullying – we will not punish/shame you for telling even if you’ve been breaking our rules!

10. Your involvement may meet with resistance, but it communicates to your child that you care and that he/she matters. Never forget that!

For more information or questions:

Steven Freemire, MFT: 510-869-2505 Offices in Walnut Creek, Berkeley

Dominic D’Ambrosio, MFT: 925-284-1898 Office in Lafayette

Contra Costa Men’s Center:

       4/9/13©Steven Freemire 2013