Last month at the Women’s Association for Addiction Treatment, Sacramento Chapter member meeting, Dr. Suzanne Pereira, Clinical Director at New Dawn Treatment Centers in Sacramento,  spoke about the process of wellness transformation in response to addiction as a learning experience.

Below I explain what I have learned about addiction treatment and recovery as it relates to human connection, and share a couple of  highlights from Pereira’s training that I gleaned to help parents respond to the impact of online experiences shaping the self-image of tech-savvy youth.

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What the sciences of addiction, treatment, recovery and faith reveal about human connection

A NBC news story features a recent public safety initiative by Instagram. The mega social media platform (owned by Facebook) initiated a “screen sensitivity” function that blurs images of self-harm as a way to mitigate youth suicide ideation. According to the news story, this prevention move was in response to a British teenager who died by suicide in 2017 inspired by an Instagram post.

No doubt youth are navigating a world of compulsive use of devices accompanied by chronic cyber-stress inspiring mental health issues. Three main truths emerge: 1) adult issues of anxiety/depression, bullying, addictions and sexual exploitation are hyped and fed directly into young hearts and minds with great intensity, 2) a child is actually in charge of him/herself, and 3) a parent cannot know what their child is thinking about or planning to do unless they choose to share their thoughts and life experiences.

After 15 years of research, fieldwork and personal experience, I have found that the best model for parenting in this networked environment is a “whole person” paradigm that features what the sciences of addiction, treatment, recovery and faith teach us about the human condition. I call it a “relational model of authority” that identifies the parent as the household executive and the child/teen as the emerging executive. Herein the parent recognizes that the child has the same inherent power of self-determination as adults (memory, intellect and will) even though their pre-frontal cortex of the brain (responsible for risk assessment and decision making) is not fully developed.

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Relational characteristics of tech-avvy youth

Insights for this model include:

  • The loved one afflicted with addiction is perceived as an agent for positive change (not a criminal, hence no judgment or condemnation);
  • Addiction is a pathological relationship to intoxication, which is the result of the brain convincing a person that spiritual fulfillment and feeling okay is dependent upon the short term “feel good” hits of the brain’s reward system ( associated with dopamine) triggered by substances or activities such as apps/devices, gambling or shopping that never satisfy and circumvents a pursuit for authentic human connection; and
  • Recovery happens when the inalienable, inherent capacity for self-determination (i.e., faith in the spirit of power and love and sound mind in every person) is called upon to guide the person suffering from addiction to reconnect into a healthy relationship with self, family and community. In a healthy relationship the part of the brain that secretes oxytocin, the genuine love hormone, is ignited and fulfills the universal need to experience secure belonging in human relations.

This model of humanity that recognizes children have these same powers of the soul as adults is understood by pedophiles and commercial interests. They are counting on it. So too parents are well served to understand the human condition as being prone to error (vulnerable to believing and acting on things that are not true) and fault tolerant (resilient – capable of positive change). This understanding of human nature is critical for effective parenting with mobile devices disrupting interpersonal relationships in the home.

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Human connection as a transformational experience

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Dr. Suzanne Pereira currently serves as the Clinical Director for New Dawn’s treatment programs; residential, detox, intensive outpatient and sober living. Over the course of thirty plus years she has served in such roles as a Counselor, Educator, Program Director and Clinical Director. Each of these roles focused on helping individuals who were seeking help with a Substance Use Disorder and the families of those individuals.

In her presentation at the Sacramento Chapter WAAT meeting last month, Dr. Susan Pereira, Clinical Director for New Dawn Treatment Centers in Sacramento, offered many insights about the process of transformation and learning as a path to healing and building resilience in response to addiction. Inspired by her presentation, below are some of the steps parents may want to consider when responding to some of the high anxiety and hostile responses children and teens have to parental guidance.

Step 1 – Accept that your child is in charge of him/herself. Realize that any attempts to change your child’s behavior by fiat (because I said so) is going to get a defensive response. Much like responding to a loved one suffering from addiction, there must be a certain confidence that every person possesses the inherent capacity for self-determination. In order to be a change agent or a primary teacher for life, parents need to be confident that their child, who is responsible for their own thoughts and actions, can easily perceive that what they need to feel empowered is to detach from open communication with their parents (or other trusted adults), especially if they are dealing with shame-inspiring experiences in their life.

That is why it is important to be aware that your opinion, which is limited human understanding and harbors judgment, and wisdom are two different things. Your job is to impart wisdom which is to communicate with thoughts that are eternal truths that bring about peace, empower self and others, and transcend religious dogma. This requires more listening and less talking.

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Step 2 – Listen to your child’s narrative. How does your child perceive their worth and how their life is going? What’s their story? Does your child view him/herself as a victim or free agent? What breaks your child’s heart? What inspires them? What are their interests and desires?

Step 3 – Identify undermining assumptions about your child’s narrative. Identify some of the underlying assumptions about your child’s narrative that inspire anxiety, powerlessness or hopelessness. Is your child struggling with a learning disability, bullying or addictions? Chances are they are believing that they are not smart enough or good enough and are measuring him/herself as less than others in their class. As the parent you are in a position hold up the truth about your child as a whole person with powers of self-determination. That means they can choose to agree with the thoughts and life experiences that make them feel sad or they can choose to agree with the thoughts that you want to share with them about their inherent value as a member of your family who has talents and abilities that the world needs.

Step 4 – Listen to your gut and seek help. At the same time, if your child is showing extreme behaviors (extreme withdrawal, spending more time online that in offline social activities, sleeplessness, use of drugs and/or alcohol), and you suspect there is something going on that your child will not reveal, then seek counseling and education support. This is an opportunity for the parent and child to learn about the vulnerability and resilience of the human condition.

  • To find resources for parents and youth struggling with learning disabilities, anxiety, depression or addictions, contact Joanna.

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In this modern paradigm of parenting in the digital age, behavior health issues may be perceived as an opportunity to learn more about your child, the human condition and yourself in order to strengthen family bonds.

  • To learn more about creating a family culture that regulates the use of technology and builds trust in family relations, contact Joanna.

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.

Peace on earth begins with peace at home.

Core Connectivity – A Foundation to Empower Families

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Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.