Tips for Parents for Disrupting a Gaming Addiction

In our psychotherapy clinic, we have seen a significant increase in the number of families who are experiencing disruption due to conflicts stemming from the use of technology and gaming in the home.  Compulsive video gaming is a modern-day psychological disorder that is becoming more and more popular among children, teens and young adults.  Gaming addiction is defined as extreme use of digital video games that interferes with daily life. Instances have been reported in which users play compulsively, isolating themselves from family and friends or from other forms of socialization, and focus almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than other actual real life events while exhibiting mood swings and lack of motivation for other activities. There is no formal diagnosis of video game addiction in current medical or psychological literature, although inclusion of it as a psychological disorder has been proposed.  Players may play many hours per day, neglect personal hygiene, gain or lose significant weight due to playing, disrupt sleep patterns to play resulting in extreme fatigue, problems concentrating and focusing on school and work and stagnated social development.  Two common signs of addiction include: (1) a person needing more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going; and (2) If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, he becomes irritable and miserable.  Both of these indicators are commonly found in teens and young adults who become addicted to gaming.  Most gaming addicts tend to be males under the age of 30.  They tend to have few friends, social problems and be highly intelligent. For gamers, the gaming becomes a fantasy world that makes them feel better. Their virtual life becomes more appealing than real life. 

Listed below are five steps parents can take to help a child who has developed a gaming addiction:


(1)     Be proactive in monitoring and evaluating your child’s gaming behaviors.  It is a mistake to assume that gaming is just a phase and to ignore the problem.

(2)    Intervene and disrupt the formation of an addiction.  This would include unplugging the computer and setting and enforcing limits on time spent gaming.

(3)    In today’s technology driven society, because video game addicts can't avoid computers, parents need to teach their children to use them responsibly such as for research, learning and homework as opposed to only gaming.

(4)    Assist your child in developing interests, hobbies and talents that don’t involve technology and help to create "real-life excitement as opposed to online excitement."

(5)    Find a therapist who can assist you and your child in designing and implementing a reasonable plan for managing your child’s gaming behaviors.  A therapist experienced in working with youth and gaming addiction can provide support and guidance for both you and your child as you work to disrupt the addiction.


We are sponsoring two families struggling with tech addiction to participate tuition free in the August 2014 Family Bootcamp

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Is your family struggling with technology addiction?
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We are looking to sponsor two families struggling with technology addiction by waiving the $2500 tuition fee for the August Family Bootcamp
(Dates August 19th-23rd )
Technology addiction refers to teens who have become obsessed with internet surfing, social media, texting, video games, smart phones, etc. at the expense of managing their real lives.

Counseling program for teen video game addiction

Video Game Addiction Treatment for Teens

Video game addiction, also commonly referred to as video game overuse, is excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games to such an extent that it interferes with daily life. Some cases have been reported in which teens play compulsively, isolating themselves from social contact and focusing almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than actual real to life events. There is no official diagnosis of video game addiction, although it has been proposed for inclusion in the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Video Game Addiction: How Common is it?


Video game addiction is one of the fastest growing types of addiction. Playing video games can seem like a harmless way for teens to relax, but this behavior can sometimes spiral into a serious video game addiction. Since the problem is a relatively new issue in society, the exact cause of video game addiction unknown. However, the treatment is the same as drug addiction and often requires an addiction recovery treatment program. This addiction seems to be most prevalent with male teens and young adults.  The addiction can also be seen in adolescent girls as well.

Characteristics of video game addiction include:

1. The teen needs more and more engagement in video gaming behavior to keep him/her going.

2. If the teen does not get more video gaming engagement, he/she becomes irritable and miserable.

Teen video gaming addicts often demonstrate withdrawal symptoms similar to drug addiction including becoming angry, violent, or depressed.

Detox from Video Games?

As unusual as this sounds, there actually is a Detoxification process for video game addiction. Similair to other addictions, the objective is to disrupt the addiction and replace the addictive behavior with healthy coping skills. With video game addiction, the video games and source of gaming is removed. As the removal of the source of addiction occurs, other psychological issues typically emerge which reveal the core issues driving the addiction. 

Many teens use video gaming as a form of “self-medicating” or seeking a feel-good feeling in response to unwanted emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, stress, boredom, discouragement, abuse or trauma. The need to escape and temporarily avoid emotional pain increases and the video gaming becomes addictive, resulting in daily life responsibilities and relationships, suffering and eventually making daily life functions nearly impossible.

Counseling and Therapy Programs for Teen Video Game Addiction

The treatment approach for video game addiction includes disrupting the addiction and then replacing it with healthy coping skills.  Programs such as Family Bootcamp offer an immediate and hard hitting intervention for disrupting a pattern of video game addiction.  Once the disruption occurs, it is followed up with psychotherapy in the form of individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Family Bootcamp uses a wilderness therapy approach to disrupt the pattern and then intervene with psychotherapy.

Addiction Warning Signs – Video Game Addiction

Warning signs for video game addiction in teens include:

Playing for increasing amounts of time

Thinking about gaming during other activities

Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression

Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming

Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming

Loss of time with family and friends

Loss of time in academics

Loss of time in employment 

Enroll Your Family Today!  Call 800.584.4629

Extended stays now available for teens for summer camp dates

Family Bootcamp offers a therapeutic summer camp experience designed to impact both the teen and his/her parents.  After an active day of hiking, learning to build fire with sticks, building a shelter and cooking his/her own meals over a camp fire, your child will experience a feeling that is largely unknown to many youth today.

Due to the onslaught of technology, many youth spend their waking hours in front of a computer screen or on a hand-held device, texting, gaming and surfing endlessly.   Too many youth today have developed a dependency to being entertained by their technology and have lost the ability to manage the emotional demands of the lives without escaping into technology.

With skilled outdoor specialists guiding them, the youth spend five days learning how to experience the remote, high desert of Southern Utah with only the supplies they can strap to their back.    Being unplugged from ALL technology and outside communication provides a strong "wake up call moment" for the  youth to focus and take responsibility for all aspects of their  well-being including cooking, caring for their supplies and learning to use only the elements of the desert to live.

We are happy to announce an extended stay option for Family Bootcamp youth for the May, June, July and August dates.  Parents have the option to arrange for their child to remain in the program beyond the five days.  The extended stay can last from a week to several weeks.   The length of stay depends on the youth’s progress.  Parents work closely with their therapist in determining the amount of time for their child to remain in the program.  

Enroll Your Family Today!  Call 800.584.4629

Teen school failure: a warning sign of other problems

Experts suggest that about one in five  teen students will have trouble keeping up academically at some point during junior high and high school. School failure requires the immediate attention of parents, before the impact to the teen’s self-esteem becomes too damaged or the teen begins to develop a pattern of avoiding school.  Family Bootcamp is the ideal place for parents and teens to get support and direction for disrupting a pattern of school failure before it becomes a significant problem.

Sometimes the cause of the problem may be academic or socially related and nothing more, a drop in grades can be a warning sign of other problems as well including:

A medical issue such as a sleep disorder, impaired vision or hearing problems.

A mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or a mood disorder.

Learning disabilities such as dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Drug or Alcohol Use often results in a decline in grades and school failure.

Family Bootcamp is a great place to talk to your teen about school problems.  The parent seminar will provide you with specific direction and ideas for how to approach the situation and your therapist will be able to assess for areas of deficit in your teen that may contribute to his/her school related problems.

Possible ideas for assisting your teen to experience more success in school include:

-arranging for parent-teacher meetings.

-hiring a private tutor to assist your child.

-re-evaluating his/her schedule and the types of classes he/she is enrolled in.

-seeking academic and cognitive testing to assess for possible learning disabilities.

-encourage your child to find a small study group of peers.

-consider a change in school or a different type of school.

At Family Bootcamp, we help parents and teens to evaluate the school problems being experienced and then to communicate and decide on a course of action for remedying the school failure.  Contact us today 800.584.4629 and reserve a slot for the next expedition.

Teen depression and anxiety: Treatment works

Depression, anxiety and other mood and affective disorders impact many youth in our society.  Unfortunately however, these issues often go untreated. Teen depression is a serious mental health issue that causes feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities and lack of motivation.  It influences how teens think, feel and behave and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems.  Mood disorders occur at any time in life, but often symptoms are different between teens and adults.  At Family Bootcamp, our counselors help parents and teens learn to manage depression, anxiety and other mood disorders so that these issues don't become life-long, chronic problems.

Teen Issues such as school demands, peer pressure, puberty and self-image can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens.  For some youth, the lows are more than just fleeting feelings — they are a manifestation of a mood disorder such as depression.

Teen depression often requires treatment such as medication and psychological counseling.

Signs of depression can include:

-Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason

-Irritability, frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters

-Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities

-Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends

-Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism

-Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance

-Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

-Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak

-Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

-Tiredness and loss of energy

-Insomnia or sleeping too much

-Changes in appetite, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain

-Use of alcohol or drugs

-Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still

-Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

-Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches

-Poor school performance or frequent absences from school

-Neglected appearance — such as mismatched clothes and unkempt hair

-Disruptive or risky behavior

-Self-harm, such as cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing

It can be difficult to tell the difference between ups and downs that are just part of being a teenager and teen depression.  At Family Bootcamp, we can help parents to assess depression and help facilitate communication about the issues between the teen and his/her parents.

When online gaming becomes an obsession for teens

Gaming addiction, also referred to as tech addiction or technology addiction refers to teens who become obsessed to online games is becoming a common problem that families face.

With the advance in computer graphics and technology, online video games are increasingly more visually enticing to children and teens that are spending more time in front of computer screens playing games.  Mental health experts are noting a trend in problems among these teen gamers.  Among the problems observed include a detachment from the reality of life around them at the expense of school success, development of a social life, physical activity and family responsibilities.  Some teen gamers forego eating and sleeping as they interact with screen characters such as enemy soldiers, zombies, aliens, wizards and monsters.

Video game addiction isn’t just limited to children and teens.  The trend has even been noted in young adult gamers and even married men who spend hours daily engaged in on-line gaming.

Common behaviors among teen and young adult gaming addicts include staying online gaming for seven or eight hours at a time, staying up most of the night playing video games and choosing gaming over social and recreational activities.

Tech addicted teens argue that they are socializing while gaming because they play online with other gamers around the world and suggest that their online friends relate to them more than kids at school or in the neighborhood. They suggest that having relationships with characters in the game is an adequate substitute for face to face interaction with others. For many teen gaming addicts however, the game provides an escape for their struggling social life.  A characteristic of some gamers includes struggles to make and maintain friendships in real life.

Skeptics argue that obsession with video games doesn’t constitute a genuine addiction disputing whether the dependency exhibited is the same type of physical craving triggered by drugs or alcohol.  Parents of video games addicts would offer a differing opinion as the behaviors manifested by their children including lying, arguing, defiance, school failure, negative attitude and laziness are similar to behaviors noted in teens addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The types of games to which teens addict vary from shooter games to sci-fi adventure journeys.  Many agree however that "massive multiplayer online roleplaying games"(MMPORG) as the most addictive. A gamers success in these types of games is entirely dependent on the amount of time the game is played. Occasional gaming playing in MMPORG leaves the gamer behind those who put in more time.  This drives many teen gamers to revolving their life around playing the game.

For parents who are struggling with a teen obsessed with gaming, help is available.  Family Bootcamp is an ideal intervention to assist both the addicted teen and the parents with the implementation of a family plan for managing teen gaming addictions.

A Christmas vacation your teen will never forget!

Are you worried about the Christmas break and the family problems that this time of year can bring? If you are like many families, the holidays can be a difficult period of time. In fact, some studies show an increase in family conflicts during the holiday season.  These problems range from kids who spend days at a time glued to a computer screen developing a gaming addiction while ignoring all other aspects of life, to parents subjected to the whining complaints of an entitled teen that is ungrateful for their Christmas gifts.

 Whatever your situation may be, consider giving your teen a holiday present they will never forget—five days in the wilderness of Southern Utah!  Come to warm and sunny St. George with your teen and spend five days of your Holiday season with us at Family Bootcamp.  The next expedition is scheduled for December 26th through 30th and slots are still available!  

Your teen will spend five days learning how to survive in the remote, high desert of Southern Utah with only the supplies they can strap to their back.   Being unplugged from ALL technology and outside communication provides a strong "wake up call moment" for the youth to focus and take responsibility for the simple day-to-day tasks of their  well-being including cooking, caring for their supplies and learning to use only the elements of the desert to live.

While your teen is experiencing the wilderness, you remain in St. George and participate in an intensive two day "Parenting Boot Camp."   Under the direction of “Doc Dan”, parents engage in two days of comprehensive parent training sessions focused on the discovery and disruption of unhealthy family dynamics.  Dr. Sanderson's trademark theory of Developmental Vacation provides the underpinnings of the instruction.

Time is of the essence as the next expedition begins next Thursday, so call us today at 800.584.4629 and give your teen a Christmas vacation they will never forget!

What help is available for teens who have a video game addiction?

More than ever before, many teens spend their time in front of a computer or television screen playing video games.  Some skeptics question whether a video game addiction actually exists.  Ask a parent with an addicted child and they will surely attest to the veracity of the addiction.

What is a gaming addiction?

While there is not a formal DSM diagnosis called “video game addiction” it can be classified as an impulse control disorder, and is very similar to pathological gambling.  Video game addiction has also been referred to as video game overuse, excessive gaming, pathological or compulsive use of video games.

Many teens who are video game addicts use the Internet to access massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs).  These games involve networks of individuals, all interacting with one another to play a game in an on-line virtual fantasy world.  Similar to other addictions, teen gaming addicts use these games to associate with others through the Internet, as a replacement for authentic face to face human interaction, which many have been unable to find in their real life.  Many teen gaming addicts develop an emotional attachment to on-line connections who they have never met in real life.

Recent studies on on-line gaming suggest that men and boys are more likely to become addicted to video games versus women and girls.  The study found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers (ages 8-18) can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming.

How can I tell if my child has a video game addiction?

-Marathon gaming episodes-consistently playing longer than originally intended.

-Dishonesty with parents and others in an effort to hide the extent of their gaming.

-Obession with the Game. 

-Using gaming as a sole means of finding satisfaction.

-Repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Game use.

-Feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression, or irritability when attempting to cut down use of the Game.

-Loss of friends, school success and social activity because of gaming

-Using gaming to escape from problems and coping with feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety and depression.

What help is available for gaming addiction?

There is help for teens struggling with a gaming addiction.  Often times, professional treatment is needed.  The Family Bootcamp program offers a five day wilderness expedition for teens and their parents that can be a great way to approach this problem and make changes to disrupt the addiction.  See the Family Bootcamp website for the next expedition dates.

Programs for teen porn addictions

Are there programs for teen pornography addictions?

Treatment programs for teen sexual compulsive behaviors such as porn or masturbation addiction are designed to help the youth overcome compulsions that are very similar to drug and alcohol addictions. However, “process addictions” as they are often referred to, are treated differently as they involve processes that are normal for humans to participate in such as sexual activity.  The addiction emerges when the teen develops a compulsion to repeat the act until it begins to impede their emotional development as it becomes a form of coping with life stresses and begins to interfere with their relationships and day-to-day functioning.  Unfortunately, due to the abundance of internet pornography teens are beginning to develop sexual addictions at younger and younger ages wherein participation in sexual behaviors is harmful to their development. Treating process addictions such as pornography or cyber-sexual addiction requires a different approach than drug addiction recovery.  Programs for treating teen pornography addiction range from outpatient treatment such as the Mending The Armor program to intense wilderness therapy experiences such as STAR Guides wilderness

What is porn addiction?

Porn addiction is a sex addiction that is specific to viewing pornography.  It is the compulsion to view pornographic material and to masturbate to it with little regard to financial, social and other obligations. Like a true addiction, the pornography consumes a teens thoughts and acations.  Addicted youth will spend hours viewing and masturbating to porn usually in secret and hidden from the knowledge of their parents. The stimulation provides a pleasure that is similiar to the high that drug addicts experience.  Teen porn addicts feel driven to this compulsive behavior to obtain that pleasure again and again. However, each time, the pleasure becomes harder to achieve, leading to more masturbation and porn to achieve the desired euphoria.

How do you treat teen porn addiction?

For most teens addicted to porn, there is typically an underlying psychological issue that drives the porn addiction. In some cases, youth are victims of childhood abuses, in other cases youth were exposed to pornography at a very early age. Due to the ease of access to pornography, some youth simply become addicted out of curiosity.  

Treatment for porn addiction begins with a comprehensive psycho-sexual assessment to determine the underlying conditions driving the addiction.  This assessment provides parents with a guide for the treatment needs of the addicted teen.  Typically, the recommendations for treatment include participation in psychotherapy services in the form of individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy sessions. These sessions may take quite some time to complete. For many teens, learning to manage this addiction can take several months and a great deal of hard work.  The STAR Guides and Mending The Armor programs utilize a combination of these therapies with a particular focus on group therapy. Group therapy is especially helpful to the teen porn addict, as it reverses the solitary nature of that addiction. The compulsion to view porn and masturbate is a private, solo act. In group treatment, the act is no longer personal. This helps tremendously in healing.

Whether the youth is treated in a wilderness or outpatient setting, the mental health portion of porn addiction recovery is the most important and cannot be duplicated without the help of a professional.

The goal of pornography addiction recovery is to teach the teen to survive in a world where sex is a normal function, without developing a dependency on sexual behaviors for emotional coping. This means learning control and self-discipline over the addiction through lifestyle changes and development of healthy coping skills to help the young addict stay on the road to recovery.

Teen entitlement issues? Trade-in the smartphone for a campfire!

Some experts have labeled the youth of today as the "entitled generation".  Many teens today have become accustomed to getting what they want immediately.  Delaying gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward.  Many teens today have a desire for nice things, but they don’t want to work hard for the money to obtain nice things. Too many struggle with entitlement believing that they “deserve it” or “they are owed it”.  Many youth today are incapable of handling discomfort on any level due to the ease of their lifestyle.

Parents don't do their children any favors when they reward an entitlement mentality in the home. When parents provide their children with unwarranted reinforcement, they stagnate their coping capacity for handling the future realities of what it takes to be a successful young adult.  Recent studies show that this new "entitled generation" display high rates of mental health problems, loneliness, isolation and failure in their young marriages.

Family Bootcamp is the ideal intervention for assisting parents to eliminate the entitlement mentality from their teens and provide them with a first-hand experience in delaying gratification.  Upon arriving at the Family Bootcamp offices, the ceremonial “trade” happens where the teen hands over his/her smart phone and other hand held digital devices, and in its place is given a stainless steel cooking pot which will be used for cooking meals on a camp fire for the next five days while the teen experiences life unplugged from technology and learning to survive in the high desert of Utah. 

Those five days allow the teen to explore who he/she outside of their technology, friends and other material items for which they had previously developed a sense of entitlement.  Without these dependencies to hide behind, teens have to face who they really are, which sometimes can be an uncomfortable realization and reveals their vulnerabilities.

A mistaken belief many parents possess is assuming that children can't handle difficult situations. Too often parents assume that if kids start getting into difficulty they need to rush in and do it for them, rather than let them flounder a bit and learn from it.   Family Bootcamp allows children to navigate a difficult situation on their own.

Coping with Self-Harm Behavior and Moving On

 How can I find hope and healing?

          Some people who engage in self-harm behavior are able to stop without intervention.  They simply outgrow the need to resolve their emotional troubles in this way.  Others benefit from self-help groups, cognitive therapy to address the thinking behind the behavior, and behavior management strategies to examine the act of self-harm (Van der Kolk, 2002).  In A New Earth, Tolle (2005) describes the process of healing.  Awakening becomes integrated with the authentic self and gradually transforms everything we do and think.  Tolle continues “Instead of being lost in your thinking (and acting) you recognize yourself as the awareness behind it” (Tolle, 2005, p. 259).

            The work of deliberately healing personal pain that has led to self-harm behaviors is accomplished through the development of new behaviors (Favazza, 2011).  These new choices will create the ability to make a positive contribution first to the self and then to others.  It is simple to observe the effect the healing process can have on only one.  It is possible for a person to become one of the few who have confronted unbearable emotional pain, ripped bandages from tender flesh, and allowed wounds to heal.

            It is imperative that any therapeutic approach is specifically designed to meet the needs of the individual (Prout, 2007).  Self-harm behaviors do not occur in a vacuum.  There are other damaging behaviors that go hand in hand with self-harm, e.g. drug and alcohol use.  Treatment must address the needs of the holistic person.  Therapy Associates is a group of competent, compassionate professionals who tailor each treatment plan to the needs of each client.  We are compelled to reach out to those who have been wounded to assist in the achievement of awareness.  We can each take another by the hand and draw them into the circle of joy and laughter that is life.


Favazza, A. (2011). Bodies under seige. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Prout, H. T. (2007).  Counseling and psychotherapy with children and adolescents: Historical developmental, integrative, and effectiveness perspectives. In H. T. Prout & D. T. Brown (Eds.), Counseling and Psychotherapy with Children and Adolescents: Theory and Practice for School and Clinical Settings (4th ed.), (pp. 1-31). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Tolle, E. (2005). A new earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose. London, England: Penguin Group.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2002). Posttraumatic therapy in the age of neuroscience. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12(3), 381-393.

What professional help is available for those who self-harm and those who love them?

Successful treatment programs for self-harm behavior incorporate elements that teach the regulation of emotions, interpersonal worth, the ability to tolerate stress, personal mindfulness, and self-management skills within a nonjudgmental context (Slee, Arensman, Garnefski, & Spinhoven, 2007).  Clients are encouraged to become the benevolent observer of self and circumstances.  The main goal of therapy is to achieve unity with the self, others, and the world in order to make a positive contribution.  This is a way of life that is congruent with the human community.  Healing allows the development of self-worth, courage, and the ability to view others with optimism.  Through this process, self-harm behaviors are reduced and less potentially damaging strategies to decrease emotional angst are developed.

How can I find an intensive outpatient treatment program for self-harm?

Intensive outpatient treatment is available for adults and teens.  Therapy Associates in Saint George, Utah offers professional services for adults and teens. Therapy Associates offers the Family Bootcamp program as well.  Clients benefit from individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy.

Individual Therapy

Meeting one on one with a clinician provides teens with an understanding, caring, and neutral party with whom to share thoughts, feelings, emotions, and difficulties.  Being able to build a relationship of trust with a responsible, objective adult provides support for a teenager to achieve an outside perspective concerning the problems they are dealing with in their lives.

An outsider may not understand the complexities of teen life.  Adolescence is viewed as a confusing developmental phase (Prout, 2007).  A competent counselor will not over interpret apparently bizarre behavior or become frustrated by the unpredictable course of treatment.  Teens are at a crossroads with developmental tasks and exhibit idiosyncrasies that are not abnormal for their stage of life.  Counselors will distinguish between occasional explorations of risky behavior versus chronic patterns of dysfunction (Prout, 2007).

Group Therapy

Research on treatment for teens has shown that group therapy is an effective modality for working with youth (Corey, Corey & Corey, 2010).  Therapy Associates offers several groups on a weekly basis.

The group experience is the optimum environment for new learning to occur.  Learning is thought to be a combination of self-disclosure and feedback (Corey, Corey & Corey, 2010).  Teenagers especially benefit from group feedback.  The ability to choose behavior that works within the context of a common worldview and shared past experiences is accelerated through the group experience.  Group participants acquire the ability to participate in activities that contribute toward personal change within the culture of the group and the culture of the family of origin.  These goals are accomplished through the improved belief in personal ability and the ability to continue despite obstacles and setbacks.

Family Therapy

A holistic treatment approach often includes family therapy.  Family therapy sessions with parents, the target child, and siblings can be an effective intervention for stabilizing and resolving behavioral challenges.  Family therapy improves relationships by providing a platform for communication and problem solving between the children and the parents.  Family therapy can be a useful tool when a teenager is resistant to attending individual therapy.  Family therapy can add perspective to many problems that are family issues rather than focusing specifically on the teen’s problems. 

The focus in family therapy is on the family system, not the individual (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2011).  Both state law and ethical code define family therapy as the diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders, whether cognitive, affective, or behavioral, within the context of interpersonal relationships (AMHCA, 2010).  The term includes, without limitation, the rendering of professional marital and family therapy services to a person, couple, family, or family group, or other group of persons.

There are several websites that are available for help with self-harm behaviors and the difficulties that accompany them:

Bodies Under Siege Web Ring 

Secret Shame                            

Self-Injury Resources Page       

Sidran Foundation                    

Healing Self-Injury                   

NSHN (National Self-Harm Network)



American Mental Health Counselors Association. (2010). AMHCA Code of Ethics (Revised 2010). Retrieved from

Corey, M. S., Corey, G., & Corey, C. (2010). Groups process and practice (8th ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

 Corey, G., Cory, M. S., & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA:Brooks/ Cole.

Slee, N. Arensman, E. Garnefski, N., & Spinhove, P. (2007). Research trends: Cognitive-behavioral therapy for deliberate self-harm. Crisis, 28(4), 175-182.

Prout, H. T. (2007).  Counseling and psychotherapy with children and adolescents: Historical developmental, integrative, and effectiveness perspectives. In H. T. Prout & D. T. Brown (Eds.), Counseling and Psychotherapy with Children and Adolescents: Theory and Practice for School and Clinical Settings (4th ed.), (pp. 1-31). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

How can I understand self-harm behavior?

 Everyone experiences emotional pain to some degree (Van der Kolk, 2002).  Emotional pain can be perceived as the path toward growth, or as harmful to all that is good.  There are those among us who have experienced seemingly unbearable emotional pain.  As a result of the personal response to these types of experiences, some people may overflow discouragement.  They may feel that they have no purpose and believe themselves to be burdens to the world.  In this case, emotional pain becomes unresolvable.  Many believe that this unanswered woundedness is carried in the body and expressed through mental illness, anxiety, mood disorders, and depression. 

 In fact, Armando Favazza (2011), a leading researcher of self-harm behavior describes all self-mutilative behaviors as forms of self-help that provide rapid, although temporary, relief from upsetting symptoms like growing anxiety, feelings of being disconnected from one’s own body, hurried thoughts, and rapidly shifting emotions.  Adults and teens who engage in self-harm behaviors are making attempts to resolve intense feelings of angst.  These behaviors can restore a sense of control and temporarily provide relief from extreme emotions.

 Imagine riding a roller coaster that is traveling faster and faster along the track.  Your head spins, your neck aches, and you wish to stop, but you have no way to free yourself from the straps holding you to the speeding car.  You want to put out your hand or foot or anything that will stop your plummet into the abyss.  You resist these urges because you know two things.  You know that the ride will eventually end, and you know that the consequences for extending a limb to stop yourself would be disastrous.  A person who engages in self harm does not know when or even if the ride will end; and this person does not consider the physical consequences of extending a foot to be worse than the mental anguish currently being experienced (Kortge, Meade, & Tennant, 2013).

 If you are interested in understanding more about self-harm, pick up A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.  Maya Angelou can also be found at her website


Favazza, A. (2011). Bodies under seige. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2002). Posttraumatic therapy in the age of neuroscience. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 12(3), 381-393.

Kortge, R., Meade, T., & Tennant, A. (2013). Interpersonal and intrapersonal functions of deliberate self-harm (DSH): A psychometric examination of the inventory of statements about self-injury (ISAS) scale. Behaviour Change, 30(1), 24-35.

Is pornography as destructive to adolescent development as drug abuse?

The abuse of drugs and alcohol during by teens has been an area of concern among parents, teachers and mental health experts for many years. Prevention and treatment efforts are found in virtually every community in the nation and most agree that teen drug abuse is a societal issue that needs continued focus due to its damaging effects.

In recent years, due to the ease of access to pornography and the increased sexualization of our culture, increasing numbers of teens are viewing pornography on a regular basis, and in many cases becoming addicted.  Unfortunately, the same level of concern that accompanies teen drug abuse seems to be lacking with the new phenomena of teens and porn.  There are a variety of explanations for why there is not more being done including the mistaken belief held by some that “boys will boys” while normalizing the behavior and accepting the idea that it is simply part of adolescent sexuality to be curious and to explore porn.  Another is the incorrect idea that it is a moral issue that should be left to parents and churches to deal with, rather than viewing it as a developmental issue that impacts a teen’s emotional, psychological, neurological and social development. 

According to sociologist Jill Manning, the research indicates pornography consumption is associated with the following six trends:

1. Increased marital distress, and risk of separation and divorce

2. Decreased marital intimacy and sexual satisfaction

3. Infidelity

4. Increased appetite for more graphic types of pornography and sexual activity

associated with abusive, illegal or unsafe practices

5. Devaluation of monogamy, marriage and child rearing

6. An increasing number of people struggling with compulsive and addictive sexual Behavior

Too often, we minimize potential problems with teen pornography use and simply hope they will somehow go away on their own.  As parents and professionals, we need to be more vigilant to assure that those teens who are struggling with pornography addiction are able to get help in breaking free from the addiction.  Failing to do so holds both short-term and long-term damaging ramifications for youth.  In most cases, individuals addicted to pornography are unable to break the addiction on their own and as outlined above, the potential trends lead to the destruction of future families and the decay of society.

Does your teen’s smart phone have more influence than you?

An increasingly common frustration we hear from parents is the competition that exists between them and their teen’s smart phone.  Parent complaints cover a wide variety of concerns including trouble listening/focusing, obsessive game playing, viewing porn, sexting, cyber-bullying and staying up all night watching videos to name just a few.  We all are aware of just how consumed we can become in our phones and of course, teens are no exception.  While it is a fact that most teens are now packing smart phones, our belief is that there should not be a competition for a teen’s attention.   Parents should always trump a smart phone.  If you are losing this competition and your teen’s smart phone has more influence than you do, then we have eight suggestions for you to take control of the situation:

1. You as the Parent owns the phone—The teen needs to know you bought it, you pay the bill and you are simply “loaning” it to them.  You set the password and you have the right to take the phone whenever you want.

2.  The primary purpose of the teen having the phone is for YOU to contact THEM.  The teen needs to understand that whenever the Caller ID says MOM or DAD that the call NEVER goes to voicemail. 

3.  You as the parent set the curfew for possession of the phone, and yes, there needs to be a curfew.  The teen should not have possession of the phone beyond the time you set in the evening.   You as the parent charge the phone in your safe keeping overnight and then assign to the teen’s possession again in the morning.

4. It is the teen’s responsibility to care for the phone.  Lost or damaged phones are on him/her, not you as the parent. 

5.  There is a zero tolerance policy for dishonesty, deceit or manipulation of others.  Any involvement in cyber-bullying or conversations that are hurtful to others are not tolerated.  Parents are to be accepted as followers on all social networks. Message to the teen: Do not text, email, or say anything using the smartphone you would not say in person or with me as the parent in the room.

6.  No porn and no sexting.  Message to the teen: Search the web for information you would openly share with me.  If you have a question about anything, ask me as the parent.  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.  Do not send or receive pictures that in any way are revealing or sexual in nature.   The development of a cyber-sex addiction will not occur on my watch.

7.  Face to Face conversation always takes precedence. Message to teen: Never allow your smart phone to interfere with a face to face conversation with someone else.  Do not text or browse while speaking with another human being or while you are supposed to be listening or paying attention to adults.  You are not a rude person; do not allow the smart phone to change that.

8.  The smart phone is an earned privilege.  Message to teen: You will mess up.  I will take away your phone.  We will sit down and talk about it.  We will start over again.  You may lose internet access on the phone or you may lose the privilege entirely.  You must show me you can be trusted to possess a smart phone.  Post the rules in plain sight and draft an agreement. Once you’ve set the ground rules, make sure the rules for your teen’s smart phone usage are crystal clear.

Warning to parents: cyber-sex addiction is a teen issue

Cybersex addiction is the compulsive use of internet pornography, sexually-oriented chat rooms, sexual- fantasy role-play sites, use of social media, smart phones and other handheld devices for sexual pleasure which  in turn, negatively impact an individual’s functioning.  As much as we would like to conclude that these issues only impact adults in our society, we must begin to accept the fact that children and teens develop cybersex addition as well—and more often than many realize.  Unfortunately most don’t seek help until later in life after the addiction has resulted in significant disruption to their lives.

Experts are predicting that cybersex addiction is the next tsunami of mental health, and yes, this includes among teens.   The impact is far-reaching and its effects are yet to be fully realized as cyber-sexual activities is such a new issue and we have yet to see the outcomes on the current generation.  Consider just a few of the statistics regarding teens and porn:

93 % of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to internet pornography before the age of 18.

70% of boys have spent at least 30 consecutive minutes looking at on-line porn on at least one occasion.

35% of boys have done this on at least ten occasions.

83% of boys have seen group sex on the internet.

67% of children admit to clearing their internet history to hide their online activity.

0% of pornography users report being addicted.

The average age a child first sees internet pornography is 11.

70% of young men ages 18-24 visit pornographic websites on at least a monthly basis.

Internet porn and cyber-sexual activities supplies an immediate, private, and easily accessed "hit," thus changing the erotic template of the brain.  Its use has a drug-like effect on the body and mind.  It stimulates reward and pleasure centers of the brain instantly and dramatically, increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with both sexual arousal and drug highs.  Pornography and cybersex can also lead to "process addiction" in which the person becomes addicted to a set of behaviors that in turn powerfully alter brain chemistry.   In time, the user can't control his or her use, is aroused only by images and interactions on the screen, and natural sexual responsiveness is reduced.  Cyber-sexual addiction has the potential of harming the emotional, psychological neurological sexual, and relational well-being of an entire generation of youth.

Additionally, chronic exposure to cyber-sexual activities has led many teens to believe that being sexually active is normal.  It is now common for oral sex to be seen as the new kissing and for girls to send nude/partially nude photos of themselves via smart phones to boys as a way to communicate their interest.  

These new issues create some major challenges for parents which leads many to ask, “What can we do to protect our kids?”  We offer three important ideas for parents:

1. Supervise your kids when they're on the internet.  Use internet filters, but do not assume that filters will eliminate exposure to sexually explicit material.   Just as important--Be wise in the decisions you make about allowing your kids to have smart phones.  Be willing to take a strong stance if your child is not ready.  Some kids simply are not ready to have possession of a smartphone.  Allow them to have a phone, but do not provide a data package or internet access.  Your child must prove to you they are capable of using it responsibly.  When you do provide a child with a smart phone, you as the parent must retain ultimate control over the device which means you can take it and look through it at any time and without warning.  It also means if you suspect misuse in any way, that you have the ability to take away the privilege. 

2. Talk to your children about sexual issues—not just once or twice, but make it a regular on-going communication.  Too many parents “have the talk” once and then assume their child(ren) will be fine.  An open line of communication with parents about sexual issues throughout the adolescent years is vital to help teens navigate these challenges.

3. If one of your teen has become dependent on internet porn, get him or her professional help.  Most individuals who become addicted to pornography can’t break the addiction on their own.  Don’t trivialize or minimize the problems and somehow hope that the problem with go away on its own.  Helping your child to manage the addiction now, rather than later in life will save them having to deal with the negative consequences as an adult.

Assessing the parents role in a child's gaming addiction

In our work with children and teens it is rare to encounter a young person who does not play video games.  While the research varies on the percentages, a common estimate is that 90% of children play computer games while 10% of them are addicted.  While many youth are able to effectively juggle the demands of school, family life, social life and technology, those who are unable to do so experience problems that often times lead to a variety of mental health issues.  In this cases, it is important for the parents to become proactive in disrupting the formation of an addiction.

Internet computer games have an addictive dimension to them for which some young people are very vulnerable. Those children and teens impacted by gaming addiction often become depressed, their school work suffers, they drop other interests such as sports and the level of their social interaction decreases.

Experts suggest that video games fall into 3 motivational drives for teens:

Social: games include Minecraft and Farmville, where players can hang out with ‘friends’ and control their world.

Pleasure: games include Black Ops Call of Duty, World of Warcraft,  and World of Tanks; these games reward the player intermittently so they are motivated to keep playing to get the next pleasure hit. These games are often Massive Multi Player online games and are played against opponents all over the world.

Pain: games include World of Warcraft. They punish players who log off by threatening to take away any rewards or points that have been gamed so the players keep playing to secure their position and avoid loss.

How do parents know when their child needs help for a gaming addiction?

-Large amounts of time spent in Gaming: They spend more time on the computer than physically hanging out with their friends.

-Emotional Dependency on Gaming: The teen feels content when they’re online or playing games, but as soon as they have to stop, they become depressed, grouchy and irritable.

-Sleeping Problems: They go to bed very late and have trouble sleeping.

-Preoccupation with Gaming: They think about going online or playing when they are supposed to be focusing on other things, like doing school work or participating in other social activities.

Ideas for parents for helping a child overcome gaming addiction.

-Confront it: Help the child recognize they have a problem by engaging them in discussion about their struggles in school, in participation in social activities and lack of interest in other outside activities.

-Take Control: Manage their use of media and technology.  You are the parent and you need to set the rules for the use of technology in your home.  This may include limiting internet/computer time, taking away the use of hand held devices and rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior through technology privileges.

-Prioritize your child’s time: Computer games should be played in free time so help decide when free time is and what other commitments they might have (e.g. chores, homework, other activities).

-Enforce bed time rules: Train your child to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Often, someone addicted to computer games will stay up late. Get them to go to bed earlier each day, so instead of the early hours of the morning it is a reasonable time in the evening.

-Arrange recreational and social activities: Replace computer time with more productive activities. They can exercise, play sports, participate in community activities, read or do something else that stimulates and interests them.

-Encourage daily face to face interaction with peers: Encourage them to go out with their friends more. Provide opportunities for healthy peer interaction and activities ou

Treatment not just prevention efforts needed for teen pornography problem

Over the past year, we have had the good fortune of visiting with parents, teens and professionals from around the country regarding the topic of pornography use among youth.  We have been encouraged by the level of concern expressed by many of those with whom we have interacted.  While most are greatly concerned about the issue and agree that prevention efforts among our youth are vital, those young people who are struggling with addiction issues relating to pornography continue to remain in the shadows.  While research is limited regarding the number of teens addicted to pornography, it does seem apparent to us that very few struggling with compulsive use of pornography are actually getting help.  The fact that so few youth are accessing treatment for this issue is a big concern to us.  Certainly the shame and embarrassment that so often accompanies a pornography addiction is a factor that prevents more from seeking help.  Additionally, the use of pornography becoming more widely accepted in society and its use being considered “normal teen behavior” is likely a factor as well. 

Too often, we minimize potential problems and simply hope they will somehow go away on their own.  As parents and professionals, we need to be more vigilant to assure that those teens who are struggling with pornography addiction are able to get help in breaking free from the addiction.  Failing to do so holds both short-term and long-term damaging ramifications for youth.  In most cases, individuals addicted to pornography are unable to break the addiction on their own.

According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, prolonged exposure to pornography leads to:

–– An exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society

–– Diminished trust between intimate couples

–– The abandonment of the hope of sexual monogamy

–– Belief that promiscuity is the natural state

–– Belief that abstinence and sexual inactivity are unhealthy

–– Cynicism about love or the need for affection between sexual partners

–– Belief that marriage is sexually confining

–– Lack of attraction to family and child-raising

Too many youth do not deal with this issue during their teen years and move into adulthood with an addiction.  As evidenced by the above mentioned study, the consequences lead to the destruction of families and healthy relationships.  In addition to prevention efforts and education about the dangers of pornography, we need to assure that teens struggling with pornography addiction have the chance to get help to break free from the addiction while they are still young.

Why are today's teens so vulnerable to developing a pornography addiction?

 Mental health professionals are seeing a pattern of more and more teens and young adults seeking treatment for problems related to pornography addiction and its accompanying behaviors.   This pattern leads to the need for further analysis as to why this is occurring and what the long-term ramifications of this may be.

Studies already suggest that most adults struggling with sexual addiction first developed the addiction during adolescence.  Does this pattern predict an epidemic of future sexual addiction?

The Youth Pornography Addiction Center was founded in 2010 and has been studying this trend and providing treatment to teens and young adults in this area since that time.  Based on its experience, listed below are three reasons why this trend is occurring:

  1. Access—Pornography has always been available, but until the age of the internet, had to be accessed in magazines, video tapes and often required entry into adult books stores and was difficult for teens to obtain.  Never before has sexually explicit material been so readily available and easily accessed.   A majority of teens and young adults have laptops, smart phones, I-pads and are constantly connected to the internet.  In a matter of seconds and virtually anywhere, pornography can viewed.  Internet porn is the medium by which most youth view pornography and most of it free of charge and without accountability for age of the viewer.
  2. Potency of today’s Porn—There is a drastic difference between today’s online porn and the porn of just a few decades ago. Now, youth can go to countless websites and find more free porn than they could ever find the time to watch….all in high definition video. They can even pick their favorite template, hair color, sexual activity, and just watch video after video of it. It’s all free, easy to access, available within seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can be viewed on phones at any age.  Addicted teens find themselves driven to view more and more pornography and becoming more and more secretive and deceitful in their efforts to do so.  It is true that erotic photos and videos have been around a long time, but the dopamine arousal from turning the pages of a Playboy magazine can’t hold a candle to the steady stream of ever changing erotic stimulation that is so easily obtained from searching for and viewing online porn. This is why online erotica can create such powerful addictions in teens.  Today’s porn doesn’t satisfy teens’ needs; it distorts them. Teens are particularly vulnerable as the strength of the dopamine high is likely the strongest, most euphoric sensation they have ever experienced in their young lives. Skeptics need to understand this “high” rivals anything that could be achieved with drugs.
  3. Diminished authentic relationships—The rising generation has been using technology on a daily basis for their entire lives and it is interfering with their ability to connect with others in a face to face and intimate manner.   Many teens text far more than they talk.  Some send more than 1000 texts a day.  Many teens spend hours and hours playing video games and interacting with “virtual friends” on Facebook while sitting at home alone and isolated from “real friends”.   Intimacy and connectedness can not occur in virtually or in cyberspace.  The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, which surveyed more than 12,000 high school students throughout the country, has noted that feelings of “connectedness” (feeling close to people at school, fairly treated by teachers, and loved and wanted at home) helped significantly to lower an individual’s likelihood of emotional distress, early sexual activity, substance abuse, violence, and suicide.  Another recent study found in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine has suggested that the more screen (computer, video game, cell phone) exposure teenagers get, the more detached they are from those around them.  There appears to be a relationship between adolescent screen time and the diminished social involvement with parents and peers.  Sexual addiction experts suggest that among the core issues driving the addiction is the lack of intimacy and fear of connectedness.