Why It’s Wise to Unplug From Time to Time

Let’s unplug so we can plug in.


The current generation of kids has been raised on Internet memes and media sensations, and they have learned to communicate via social media and texting. This makes them tech savvy, but it also makes them disconnected.  Every day that I pick three young teens up from school, I notice that the first thing they do is jump onto their phones to check their Instagram accounts.  Social media has become THE way to communicate with one another, and sites like Instagram, Vine and YouTube have opened up the world of media consumption.

As we have become more plugged in and more connected, we have ironically become disconnected. Text messaging has become a primary means of communication for many, because it’s fast, convenient, and it takes away the discomfort of confrontation. It’s become commonplace to break up with someone via text, or to ask someone out. Bad news is more often than not shared via texting or social media. I, myself, have found out about a death in the family via text, and there is something deeply impersonal and haunting receiving such a weighted message digitally. While social media is convenient, it places a keyboard and/or screen between you and the person you are attempting to communicate with. It’s easy to “unfriend” someone on Facebook or “unfollow” someone on Instagram—often times, the person in question has no idea of the “unfriending” and won’t for a while! This is surely much easier than letting someone know you are unhappy with the way your relationship has devolved.

What baffles me the most is seeing groups of kids having “conversations” but never once making eye contact with each other. Even in my car after school, the kids will talk, but all of them are ensconced in their phones.

NPR recently reported on a UCLA study that investigated the effects of screen use in 6th graders. Their findings were that kids who spend 5 days in a media free zone (aka camp), had more positive interactions with their peers, and a marked improvement in their ability to read social cues in people’s faces. I would agree that the removal of digital screens does improve social interactions and it also creates a more stable community. At Visions, we don’t allow phones in residential treatment, and as a result, a community develops. Even in our Intensive Outpatient Programs and Day School, screen time is limited — and earned.

In recovery, community is foundational. Reaching our hands out and introducing ourselves helps us stay accountable, and it lets others know we are present and part of the same thing. So perhaps we can let our screens go dark for a spell and reconnect with our communities. Make an effort to unplug and spend some quality time with your family, your community and even yourself. Check out the sky, or the clouds, walk on the beach, feel the sand in your toes and the air against your skin. It’s enlivening to do things like this and it’s innately grounding to connect with the earth, yourself and those around you. Unplugging is good for you, the community, and your recovery.

Addiction Adolescence Communication Recovery

Worried About Smartphone Overuse? There’s an App for That!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you worried you might be addicted to your smartphone?

Well, researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany have created an app called “Menthal” to track your smartphone usage and help you determine how much time you’re spending checking messages, email, or playing Candy Crush.


It’s an interesting study, to say the least. Using an app on your smartphone to determine if you are overusing your smartphone is ironic. But the hope of these researchers is that people will become aware of their excessive smartphone use and back off.

The study was small—only 50 participants—but researchers discovered smartphones were accessed every 12 minutes. That’s 5 times in an hour, and frankly, that’s too much. Not surprisingly, they also found that people felt like they were missing something if their phone was missing. We have become significantly attached to our technology and this idea that we have to always be connected. I’ve noted this before: in this attachment to staying connected, we have inadvertently become disconnected.  Ask yourself, do you really have over 700 friends?

Teens and tweens are often chided for not having the “right” smartphone or for not having a smartphone at all. Those who do have smartphones tend to flaunt them like high commodities, bragging about their Instagram accounts and how many followers they have. Note, Facebook is becoming an outdated space for teens. Sites like Instagram and Snapchat are of higher interest now, and part of that is because they are easier for teens and tweens to navigate without being under the watchful eye of their parents as a result of privacy settings. I hear kids talk about how frequently they block people whom they don’t want to follow them.


Smartphone overuse hasn’t been deemed an actual addiction, but if addictive behavior is present, it needs to be addressed. In our residential treatment facilities, cell phones are not allowed. And in our day school and outpatient facilities, cell phones are stored during class time and only permitted to those who have earned the privilege.  Cyber addiction is a real issue, and the reality is, having dedicated times that are unplugged are invaluable.


Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who has a phone glued to his or her hand? Eye contact isn’t even plausible let alone a cohesive conversation. I often find myself around gaggles of teens and tweens and I have to say, the ones who are unplugged are far more engaged. The ones neck deep in their smartphones think they’re engaged but they are in fact, detached from the present moment.


Try any of all of these suggestions:

  • Have dedicated smartphone-free zones: mealtimes or (gasp) the car
  • Turn off your phone when you go to bed.
  • When you are out with friends, keep your phone in your purse or pocket.
  • Unplug for 24 hours – call it a retreat – go outside, read a book, play an instrument, meditate, do yoga, go for a run or a hike, take a walk with a loved one and enjoy your environment.
  • Volunteer at the Los Angeles Food Bank or at an Animal Shelter.


Will this app work? Who knows, but it offers an opportunity to continue this conversation about the overuse of technology and our disconnection from each other. A hug, a genuine laugh, eye contact: all of those things trump the latest meme or sunset on Instagram.

Adolescence Communication Parenting Prevention Safety

What You Need to Know About Sexting

TEDxBKK – Sexting (Photo credit: isriya)

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit photographs or messages via your cell phone.


The Internet is a vast, unchartered space. Technology has expanded so much that our means of communication has forever changed to include text messaging, emailing, instant messaging, video calling, and emailing. As a result, we are faced with things like sexting. One of the most troublesome things about sexting is its wide reach. A text message can circulate remarkably fast and beyond the control of its original sender.


A recent study has shown the following:

  • 20 percent of teenagers (22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys) sent naked or seminude images of themselves or posted them online[1]
  • nearly one in six teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who own cell phones have received naked or nearly nude pictures via text message from someone they know.[2]


Notably, researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch discovered teens that sext are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors:


  • 28% of teens admitted to having sent a sext.
  • 76.2% of teens who were asked to sext admitted to having had sexual intercourse.
  • 68% of Girls were asked to send a sext vs 42% of boys
  • The peak age of sexting is around 16-17 years old
  • Sexting seems to decline in people 18+


From the perspective of the criminal justice system, teen sexting can fall under the child pornography statutes[3]. For example, a teen that takes a nude photograph of themselves has created child pornography; as soon as they hit “send” they have distributed child pornography. The significant danger lies in the fact that these images inevitably get passed around and often spread like wildfire across a school. This creates an environment rife with bullying, shaming, exclusion, and in some cases, suicide: An 18-year-old high school graduate committed suicide after a nude photo she sexted to her boyfriend was also sent to hundreds of teenagers in her school.[4]

Thus far, only 17 states have sexting laws in place.

Here’s what you can do to prevent sexting:

  • Parents, talk to your kids in a safe, relaxed setting about the perils of sexting. Ask what they know about it. Express how you feel in a non-threatening, non-confrontational way. Create a healthy, two-way dialogue. Remember, you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
  • Some kids are responding to peer pressure in the form of bullying, sexual harassment—after a breakup, those images can be used as revenge. Sometimes it’s impulsive behavior or flirting. Help your child understand that it is always a poor choice.


  • Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a comprising photograph to someone via text. You could get suspended, expelled, kicked off of a sports team, and/or get in trouble with the law.
  • Never take photographs of yourself you wouldn’t want everyone to see (classmates, parents, teachers, employers)
  • Before hitting “send,” remember that you cannot control where this image goes. What you send to your romantic partner or friend could be forwarded to their friends and friends of friends.
  • If you forward an image of someone that is compromising, you are as responsible as the original sender. You have essentially become complicit in someone else’s criminal activity.
  • Report any nude or compromising photographs you receive on your phone to an adult you trust. Do NOT delete it. Instead, immediately get your parents, teachers, and school counselors involved.


[1] The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and, “Sex and Tech: Results from a Survey of Teens and Young Adults”;  

[2] John Sutter, “Survey: 15 Percent of Teens Get Sexual Text Messages”; 

 [3] Justin W. Patchin”Summery of State Sexting Laws,

[4] Mike Celizic, “Her Teen Committed Suicide Over Sexting”;


Teen Sexting–The Real Issue (psychology today)

Sexting: Risky Actions and Overreactions (FBI)

Cyberbullying Research Center

Adolescence Bullying Parenting Prevention Safety

What You Need to Know About Text Bombing

are you really laughing out loud? (Photo credit: MrPessimist)

The concept behind text bombing is to save time: you can send mass texts out to multiple people telling them where to meet you, et cetera. Ultimately, it was designed to be a cheap tool for efficiency. According to this latest from Huffington Post,  text bombing is the latest technological tool used by cyberbullies to go after their victims. The sender can be anonymous and the apps can be programmed to auto-send persistent, negative messages. Text bombing someone means you are sending 1000-10000 text messages to the same person in the same day, and it can go from being simply annoying to cruel. In the banal sense, one could look at text bombing as the equivalent of crank calling someone. Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, text bombing has sinister underpinnings.


Imagine repeatedly receiving a text message saying, “die” or “no one likes you,” in the same day.  The victim of the text bomb has to endure receiving the same hateful and/or degrading message time and time again, experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and even depression. Unless you have a means of blocking the text messages, there’s really no way to stop the barrage of hate. You are in a relentless technological loupe.


Alas, you can protect yourself!  You can download one of these spam-blocking apps, which allow you to block numbers and texts from coming in:


For the Android, you can use Text Bomb Defender or Anti SMS Bomber Pro.

For the iPhone, you can use NumberCop.


Parents, if you are worried that text bombing may be an issue for your child, look for the following:

  • A spike in the phone bill
  • Make sure your child’s phone isn’t rooted. (“Rooting an Android phone means that you give yourself, rather than Sprint/Verizon/T-Mobile/AT&T’s software, the permission to act as the administrator of the phone. New Android operating system 2.3 and higher only allows 30 SMS — texts — from the same phone at one time. Teens with rooted phones can still send thousands of texts.” – via Internet safety expert Sedgrid Lewis)
Adolescence Communication Recovery

Technology: It Will be There After Dinner

© sarit z. rogers / sarit photography

Technology allows us to be more connected, more in touch with what’s going on in our communities, and it enables us to reach beyond our wildest dreams in terms of connections; there’s also a dark side. With this incredible connection comes an inevitable disconnection. This may sound ironic coming from me, the New Media Manager, but stick with this, I promise you, it’s relevant.


How many of us have a few hundred or a few thousand followers and connections across several social media platforms, whose lives we “know” and “touch” on a daily basis? Most of us do. In fact, if someone says they don’t have a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, we find ourselves at a loss for words. Let’s be honest, technology is a wonderful tool: it gets a message out there in a way that analog marketing couldn’t. One post can reach thousands of people at the press of a button. The fingers of the Internet and social media mavens are long and far-reaching. It’s phenomenal, to tell you the truth. The current technological age is monumental.


So what’s the catch?


As we have become more plugged in and more connected, we have subsequently become disconnected.  Text messaging has become the primary means of communication for many, because it’s fast, convenient, and it takes away the discomfort of confrontation. It’s much easier to dump someone via text, or tell someone off via text, or give someone bad news via text…isn’t it? In a sense, but it’s deeply impersonal and detached.  We have deluded ourselves into believing we are “safe” behind our smart phones and computers.  I have seen teens in coffee shops hanging out and texting to each other in lieu of having a real conversation: Eyes on the iPhone, rather than on each other. Conversations seem to happen technologically rather than face-to-face, which is, in this case, a disservice. Talking to each other is an invaluable way in which to connect, and making eye contact is part and parcel to that connection.


I realized I was doing some of this myself. I was disconnected to the people trying to talk to me in real time, because I was too busy staying “connected” in tech time. This is a problem. So I made a decision. I decided to unplug when I am sitting with people, and chose to engage with and be present for the people I’m with.  Texts and the like could wait. As a result, I find myself less stressed out, less anxious, and more connected with the present moment.


Where do we go from here?


First of all, technology is here to stay. It’s incredible. I couldn’t do my job without it. There are outlets like Skype and Google Chat, which allow us to stay connected with family, friends and co-workers that are not geographically close. Social media provides a global connection.  These tools are invaluable.


To me, the solution is to use these tools wisely and consciously. We can choose to unplug at:

  • Meals
  • With our family
  • With our friends
  • While we’re driving

We can pick up the phone to share pertinent information with those in our lives.  Yes, even the uncomfortable stuff. Confrontation is tough, but so is being on the receiving end of a terse or insensitive text message. I write all the time and am enamored with words, but it’s more authentic and heart based for me to directly communicate significant information. I recently received a text message in text lingo telling me a distant uncle had passed. I was more jarred by the transmission of the information than the loss. It was clear to me that using that form of communication for that type of information had desensitized my reaction.


I encourage you to unplug incrementally: be present at dinner, with your friends, and with your family. Technology isn’t going anywhere. It will await you in all of its magnificence when you return. That’s the beauty of it.

Education Recovery Service Treatment

Visions Outpatient and Day School Gets a Facelift!

Stepping into our 10th year of business, we took a quick breath to enjoy the adventures life had brought to us as a company.  Our second breath was in true Visions form: an analysis of how we can continue to evolve in the next 10 years. It started small by first addressing our Mission Statement, making sure we continue striving to be the Visions we can be.  Next, we reflected on each of our programs, examining areas in which we could improve.  Do we as a team believe in ourselves?  Do our families and teens believe in us?  A value that the Shumows always wanted was to invest in a supportive and caring staff culture.  In return, they knew that would create a platform to provide the utmost in exemplary care for their clients. It has been quite a process, combing through every level of the Visions experience, and fine-tuning the environments and their processes, but it’s been well worth the effort. It’s wonderful to recognize how this fresh breath has propelled us into our next decade.

One of our largest projects this past year was to bring our 8-year old Brentwood Outpatient Facility up to date with our ever so quickly evolving teen needs.  This called for a sophisticated facelift and an adjustment to our technology.  Our vision for Visions Outpatient & Day School was to create an educational environment that was something our teens looked forward to being a part of on a daily basis.  The Goal: a cyber café with a touch of warmth and wit.  What we have now are clean, streamlined, modern classrooms, filled with natural light and charming colors, and new Mac computers to create an environment that is conducive to learning and healing.

Check out the new digs: [slideshow id=3]

The new technology allows for teacher and students to be on the same page, something typically variable due to individualized educational goals. While every client may not be working on the same subject at the same time, with this updated technology, our teachers can access any subject or lesson plan at lightning speed. There are some truly terrific, new amenities to behold in our classrooms: There is a beautiful, community table, which encourages a European approach to lunchtime, creating a connective environment for our clients and staff alike. The walls are lined with an innovative framework of natural wood, designed to hang art with non-traditional clamps–this is something I want to recreate myself, it’s so cool! Ultimately, our new classroom design allows for effective and immediate communication between our teachers and students. It has also created a virtually paperless classroom, which meets the needs of the modern Internet driven educational system we thrive in.

In addition to the classrooms, we’ve also revamped our therapists’ offices. They were given a mini-facelift of their own, and they genuinely look and feel like a place where healing can and will continue to occur. Our updated environment is both therapeutic and welcoming, allowing our extraordinary team to work with our clients via an easier system of support and inter-office efficiency.

With gratitude, we must give a well-deserved shout-out to the wonderful designer Curtis Micklish, who handcrafted the majority of our new furniture and designed a unique space for our teens to thrive! Curtis has already been recognized by the modern design industry for the work he has put together for Visions. You can also check out Curtis’ blog and/or purchase his wares on his Etsy page!

We have stepped into our 10th year in style and we couldn’t be more excited! Here’s to another 10 years and beyond.

Thank you to Christina Howard for her eloquent input to this blog. 

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