Where Parents Talk

Digital Detox: Therapeutic Youth Summer Camp

Episode Summary

This week on Where Parents Talk radio on 105.9 The Region, host Lianne Castelino speaks to Michael Jacobus, Executive Director of Reset Summer Camp, a clinical program, supporting teens and young adults with technology or gaming addictions. He is also a youth a child development professional, an author, a trainer, an outdoor education specialist who has spent more than 30 years working with camps from administrator to facilitator and a father of five.

Episode Transcription

This is 1059 the region where parents talk and explore practical, proactive and evidence based solutions. This is where parents talk with Lianne Castelino

Hello and welcome to where parents talk on 1059 to region. I'm Lianne Castelino. Thanks for joining us. Does your child need a digital detox? That's the aim of a summer camp program set to enter Canada in July 2023. Our guest today is the executive director of reset summer camp and in person clinical program designed to support teens and young adults with technology and gaming addictions. Michael Jacobus is also a child development professional, whose particular focus is on youth formation and leadership training. He has spent more than 30 years working with camps from administrator to facilitator. Michael is also an author, outdoor education specialist, and a father of five. He joins us today from Orange County, California.

Thank you for being here.

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Michael, you founded reset summer camp in 2018. And it was really born from your own lived experience. Can you take us through what happened in your family?

My son who is 30. Now, when he was between 13 and 15, he became very gaming addicted, his particular game of choice was World of Warcraft. And it his mom and I didn't know really what to do. We had never experienced anything like that before. I use the term white knuckled because we really had to white knuckle him through high school to get him off his gaming addiction. That gaming addiction lasted all through high school. And it was a real daily challenge to get him to complete his his high school education.

It's interesting, because we're talking about more than 15 years ago now. So where did you turn for help, and was anything helpful for you and your family at that time,

we didn't turn anywhere because there was nothing available. You know, I was a summer camp director. So every summer I would go and run a camp. But those programs are filled with kids who want to be there, and who come for the experience. And they come back next year and they invite their friends. So there was a part from like a wilderness program or a therapeutic boarding school. And he wasn't that far gone. But it was it was still a real challenge. And it was really just daily setting limits, having him break those limits. And, you know, trying to reinforce every day, the importance of doing homework and family and her involvement, and good night's sleep. Because he would play until midnight, one two in the morning sometimes, and we would wonder why he's so sleepy when it's time to go to school. So it was it was a daily battle.


You talk about white knuckling through this period for your son and yourself. What other emotions were you feeling at that time?


much like the parents idea without reset, we were feeling very helpless, that we had failed as parents very ashamed and embarrassed that we allowed this situation to get like this. We had two other kids in the house and they weren't addicted to games. And so it was it was very odd. And and, and a helpless feeling to be in that situation.


When you look back on it now what, if anything, could you or would you have done differently do you think?


We would have regulated gaming activity and you know, the smartphones weren't such a thing when my kids were young. But you know, he had a gaming console in his room. And when I talk to parent groups all the time, I strictly warn against that. You know, because he's in his room and it's quiet, and you think he's doing his homework and everything's great. And that's not what's going on what's going on is he's got his earphones in, and he's playing a video game and you can't hear anything because his earphones are on. And he's not getting anything done. And he's sneaking food, which is you know, snack food and junk food, which is why he's not hungry for dinner. And then he'll say goodnight and go to sleep and we'll go to sleep and then he'll get up and turn his computer back on and be gaming again. So the strongest recommendation I always make is to room remove gaming from the bedroom.

What would you say goes through your mind as you reflect back on that time, armed with all the knowledge and information that you now have to address that very issue?

Well, I tell you, I just see things getting worse, quite honestly, anytime I'm in a restaurant and I see a child in a stroller with a rubber covered iPad. You know very Often you look at the table next to you, and everybody is on a device, mom and dad and the kids and grandparent everybody is elsewhere. They're not in the conversation with the people that they are there with. They're checking their social medias, checking their emails, you know, making an Amazon order. They're doing anything but social interaction. So it's, you know, I would love to say, I see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I don't at the moment.

So you go through this experience in your own household. And then in 2018, you decided to start up reset summer camp, which was the first camp of its kind at that time. What was the catalyst that led you to start it?


Well, I had been working with teenagers, mostly, and younger children pretty much my entire career. So over 30 years, and I noticed the advent of fortnight, I would say fortnight was really kind of the catalyst. Because when I played video games as a kid, and we're talking, you know, Pac Man and Space Invaders and things like that, you would see on the screen the words game over, either you lost or you won, it didn't really matter, you finish the game. Well, now there's no end to games, there is no ending, there's no game over, there's a constant quest, with the exception of when fortnight came out. And when fortnight came out, there was this urgency to win. And, you know, it's a Last Man Standing shooter game. And if you lost, you would go into the lobby and sign in again. And there was no, there was no way a teenage brain who you know, is prone to gaming addiction could could handle that. And that was also about the same time the World Health Organization declared gaming disorder to be a diagnosable mental health condition. So it's like the world was starting to take notice that this was an issue. So I decided to sort of combine a summer camp program with a therapeutic residential program, we ran a three or four to one ratio of campers to staff, we have a clinician who's working practicing therapist, b be on site at our camp 24/7 The entire time that kids are there. So they'll run group therapy and individual therapy all day, every day. So it's funny because as a as a summer camp, we're a pretty expensive program, as a therapeutic residential facility were the cheapest game in town. So like I said, there was nothing to send my son to. And he wasn't really a candidate for wilderness program were therapeutic boarding school, he would have been perfect for a reset program. But there wasn't any at that time.

We are in conversation with Michael Jacobus, Executive Director of reset summer camp, a specialized clinical digital detox camp for teens and youth set to debut in Canada this summer. Now, you talked about the professionals that are part of your staff. Could you take us through some of the other unique attributes of reset summer camp? What can campers expect to experience during their time there?


Well, reset is a four week program. And it's housed on university campuses. So we market it as a digital detox program, but also a life skills program. And especially with the advent of COVID, than the worldwide pandemic and all the kids being shut in and going to school online, that didn't help things. And a lot of their social skills deteriorated during that time. So, you know, the first week of camp, like I said, nobody is excited to be there. Most kids feel they're being punished or being sent there. And the first week is kind of tough. And I even tell my staff during the staff training week that that you're not gonna get a lot of sleep the first week, because the kids who arrive at camp are used to being up till two or three in the morning, their eating habits are horrible, their sleeping habits are horrible. So the first week in addition to the group and the individual therapy, which isn't very deep the first week, we get them on a regular schedule, you know, they we have lights out at 930 at night, now they don't go to sleep. But then they can talk to their roommate. They're in college dorms, and they have roommates. And we do that on purpose to give them a feel for what college life might be like are living in an apartment outside that after they move out at home might be like, and then we wake them up at 630 in the morning because we gather at seven and go to breakfast and nobody wants to get up at 630 in the morning, especially that first week. But by the by the second or third week, they're kind of on you know a much healthier eating and sleeping habit and it's really amazing how quickly they kind of revert to who they were before they got wrapped up in their technology and it's not just for gaming addiction. We have social media addicts we have streaming addicts and they're not all addicts you know that that's such a negative connotation word but you know, it's unhealthy overuse in excessive of sleeping and schoolwork and family time?

Did you paint a picture for us in terms of the types of kids attending this camp and the six years that it's been running? Are there certain trends you're noticing?


Well, the typical camper who comes to our program is a 14 or 15 year old boy who is into gaming, so not so much on their phones, but on their computers set up at home. That isn't to say, we don't get girls who are gamers or girls who are into social media, and other kids that are into other unhealthy tech addictions. But our typical camper is a boy. And they have very low self esteem, they're usually not in really great shape, because they if they did play a sport, they haven't played in a couple of years because they got lost in technology. And all of them have caused their parents to reach kind of a breaking point, kind of the white knuckle point that I mentioned earlier, that they don't really know what to do. And they are unable to digitally detox these kids at home, because the parents can't be everywhere. 24/7. And they all have different environments and different other siblings. So we run the four week program. And it's funny, because parents will ask me sometimes is this program guaranteed? And I'll say, Absolutely not. I can guarantee the detox your kid because they're going to be with me for four weeks and not have a device. But then we're going to send them home to the environment where the problem started. So during the camp, we will send emails to the parents updates with how their kid is doing, but also recommendations that they take a look at their own lives and their own relationship with technology, the example they're setting, we recommend that they go digital free for a weekend, whether they can do it or not as another story, and then they we recommend they change the home environment. Like I said, pull the electronics out of their kid's room, we close the camp with family workshop weekend. So a parent, at least one parent has to show up on Friday and stay till Sunday. And I'll hold up a Walmart alarm clock. And I'll say use this instead of your phone, you know, charge the phone in a neutral location, perhaps under lock and key if you need to. But get the technology out of the bedroom so they can concentrate on getting a good night's sleep.

So campers enter a device free environment away from home with a structured schedule. What else do you think that they're learning at this camp that they may not be getting at home?


In addition to the therapy that I talked about, we do a lot of life skills. So we'll do a cooking class, and it's twice a week, every week that they're there, we'll have them do their own laundry, and many of them have never done their own laundry. So we take them through exactly how a washing machine works, and how you know a dryer works and when the lint screen is and how much soap to use. And and that's kind of embarrassing for some of the kids to not know. But if you've never been taught you don't know. So in addition to regular how to live your life, we'll have classes on exactly what big tech wants from them. And it's not their enjoyment of playing the game or being on social media, it's their their time and their money and their friends time. We'll have a What's your financial footprint class? And we talked to them about exactly what it costs for them to live in their current situation that you know, how often do they go to Starbucks? How many streaming services did they subscribe to, you know what is rent in their neighborhood, because they're all going to be adults sooner or later, mostly sooner. And they're going to have to be out on their own. And some of them are going to have to deal with these expenses. So we talk about, you know, when the kids are right, we tell them we're not here to tell you never to play games again, or never to be on social media again. We're just here to teach you how to get what you want in life and watching YouTube for 20 hours a day isn't the way to do it. So we try to get them to understand the healthy balance and the importance of social interaction, the importance of good grades, so they have some college choices. The reason we hold the program at College campus is so they get a feel for what college life is like. We change their roommate assignments every week because it's uncomfortable. Because life is uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes you get a great roommate, sometimes you get a roommate you don't get along with so well. And dealing with that situation is part of learning how to be an adult.

where parents talk on 1059 the region continues after the break. Stay with us.

Want to learn more about the show? email info at where parents talk.com Stick around Lianne Castelino And where parents talk we'll be right back on 1059 the region Welcome back to where parents talk. Listen Live at 1059 The region.com Here's Lianne Castelino

Welcome back. We are talking about a summer camp program. Designed to detox kids from excessive screen time gaming, digital technology, and social media, and even streaming. Our guest is Michael Jacobus, founder of reset summer camp, which will be coming to Canada for the first time in the summer of 2023. Michael, for parents listening, how can they try to incorporate some of what you've described, that you do at camp in their own homes, to be more proactive about addressing technology, and preventing a dire situation that requires an intervention from occurring?


Well, it all depends on where they are on the journey with their kid. And what's funny is, every kid is different. You know, we talked to parents all the time, we have one kid who's really addicted to the internet, or gaming or whatever. And they might have two or three siblings that don't have an issue. So it's not necessarily the family or the home environment, it could just be that one kid and their psychological makeup that makes, you know, technology more attractive or addictive to them. When I talk to, I'll do talk sometimes with grammar school parents, and I'll explain what my camp is and what my program is. And I'll always start by saying, I don't want your kid at my camp, I want you to get ahead of this right now. Monitor their screen time, monitor who they're chatting with online, play the game with them, if that's what they want to do, even if you don't want to. I mean, the more parents involvement in the kids lives on a day to day basis, the less likely or to need my program.

What does a healthy self moderated use of technology look like to you?

healthy self moderation means that it's not a primary focus in your life. So if you're getting good sleep, if you're doing well in school, if you're interacting with your family, you know, some so many families do, they don't have a family dinner, not even once a week. Everyone's just winging it. So. And again, like I said, different kids react different ways. I had one mother that wanted to sign her kid up for camp. And she said that she was unhappy with his video gaming. But he was also on the basketball team, on the debate team had a part time job and got straight A's. And I'm like, I don't think he wouldn't be a good fit for our program. Because it sounds like he's regulating, you might not be happy with the time he's spending. And that can be something communication wise, you can talk to your son about. But you can't just sign your kid up for our program, you fill out an application, and it gets screened by a clinical director, who will then call the parent back and discuss the answers to the questions on the application. And mostly we're trying to screen out anger management kids, or sexual deviation kids or substance abuse kids, because we're not a we're not a detox for marijuana or alcohol. We're not that kind of program. And we had one mother call and say she wanted to sign her daughter up who had come at her with a knife when she turned the Wi Fi off. And the police had already been to the house twice this month. And we're like, yeah, that's not our program. That's an anger management issue. It could also be an unhealthy gaming, addiction. But there's more to it. So we're trying, we tried to screen the kids as best we can to make sure everyone can actually benefit from the program.

Is there a story in particular an anecdote that you've heard over the years Michael, that really strikes you in terms of somebody that reached out for help, potentially attended the camp, and then was able to completely change their behavior as a result.

we actually have many stories like that. One of my favorite is a kid who was getting D's and F's in school. He came to the camp didn't want to be there very unpredictable story the first week like most of them are, but ended up you know, getting in the groove getting some good sleep, got detox from his his social media and his gaming and gut when he was done. You know, we we have a bunch of regular summer camp activities. We'll go to the beach, we'll play basketball and volleyball and we have an improv class. And he really got into the improv class. And he ended up joining his high school drama team. And I actually went to his one of his plays, and he was really good. And then he went out for the football team, and now he's a student, that Ole Miss on the football team and in the drama program. So and his parents totally credit the camp for that, because they didn't know what to do. They were white knuckling. You know, just to get through the day with him. And, you know, to us, it's really to detox them, get them off their screens, and open their eyes to some new possibilities.

Given what we know today and what we're seeing in the news, the global epidemic that youth mental health is do you believe the average parent is taking technology and device attachment seriously enough?


Absolutely not. And I wish I had a better answer, because the parents are just as addicted, but they're addicted in different ways. You know, technology was supposed to make our lives easier. But it's really just caused things to be quicker and faster. Some of the stories in the news today are kids getting drugs, through Snapchat or something. And then the drugs are laced with fentanyl, and the kid dies and things like that. And the parents want to know what to do about it. And sadly, I think it starts with your kids access to social media platforms, and not knowing what your kid is up to. You know, when I talk to parent groups, I'll be asked to speak sometimes on the dangers of social media or something like that. And, and I'll talk about five or six different platforms. And when I'm done, I'll say now you can forget everything I just said. Because while I've been talking, six new platforms have been launched, and two new apps and three new games. And, you know, there just is no way a parent can keep up with everything their child is being bombarded with, other than communicating with their child, and having their child show them on their device, what they're doing, who they're chatting with. And for parents to reach out. I've often said, I've asked kids at camp, how many of you have online friends, you've never met in person? And everyone raises their hands? And I'll say, how do you know that that person is who they say they are? And then I'll get different answers, you know, well, this person goes to the neighboring school, and they're friends with this person that I do know, and that's all fine. But if you truly don't know somebody that you're chatting with, I recommend that you open up a FaceTime or a zoom call with them. And you really want to make your parents happy. Have your parents and their parents in the room. So you can actually meet in person, even though it's via zoom. So you can tell if the person is who they say they are. And if the person rejects that invitation, then that should be a red flag. But I've even had parents say, you know, I've recommended parents, you know, reach out to the parents of the kids that that their child is playing online with, you know, mostly to kind of schedule for lack of a better term playdates. You know, if your kid is playing a game, say it's world Warcraft online with three of their school friends, then all the parents should be talking and decide that from four to six, that's what they're going to do. And then it's actually turned it off. So there's no complaining that Oh, I just got on and or my friend just got on why do I have to go off? And I even get pushback from parents on that recommendation. I had one mother say, Well, my son's best friend is Asian and his parents only speak Mandarin. And I don't know how to communicate with them. And I opened up Google Translate on my phone. I said, I spent a month in China, I don't speak Mandarin. Try Google Trends. I mean, make the effort. And there's so many parents and today and it's not just parents, it's just how the world is we're, it's becoming so much smaller, and so much easier just to stay in your little bubble, and not reach out and not socialize with anybody. That like I said, I don't see it getting better anytime soon.

This is where parents talk. I'm Lianne Castelino. And we're talking about a digital detox summer camp for teens and youth, with our guest, Michael Jacobus. Michael, can you take us through the therapy and the clinical aspect of the camp? What types of support is provided?


Interspersed with all the group therapy is individual therapy, and the individual therapy? What I like about our program and the camp in general, is the individual therapy doesn't happen, you know, Thursday at 430 for 45 minutes. It's not a scheduled thing. Because the therapists are members of the staff and they're there 24/7 The therapy happens on the walk to lunch, or sitting at the beach, or in a walk after dinner.


How does a parent determine if their child needs something like a digital rehab camp?


You know, the typical camper that comes to our program. Their grades are falling like sharply they're almost flunking out of school. The home situation is horrible. You know, they're they're locked in their rooms they're playing the video games are not engaging in family activities. They're not coming down from meals. If they call mom a bitch when she says it's time for dinner, turn off the game. That's pretty much our kit. Parents really kind of know, you know, that, that their efforts are falling on deaf ears. And you know, when they feel like they've reached the end of their rope and they don't know what to do and they're white black going back like I told you in the beginning, that that's when they need to send their kid to a detox


Reset Summer Camp will be held in Canada for the first time this summer at Bishop's University. Sherbrooke, Quebec. What prompted a Canadian camp and why this location?


We've had kids from Canada that every year we've done this program. So we've gotten a lot of parent requests for when are you going to open a program in Canada, and also being at Bishop university that's very close to the Vermont border, which is kind of the extreme east coast. So parents who don't want to travel to California for our program, they have an option, even if they're in the US, they have an option to maybe just go north of the border over there.

What steps are taken to help ensure that what's learned at Camp is maintained at home,

we close the program with a family workshop weekend. During that weekend, there is a family therapy session where everything the child has revealed other than anything that should be kept confidential, is shared with the parents. And everything we talked to the parents about is kind of reinforcing everything we've emailed them the whole four weeks. So you know, and part of our intake process is you know, you have to agree to attend the family workshop, to participate in the therapy and participate in the aftercare and the aftercare is eight weeks of communication after the kid goes home, really, just to make sure that things are sticking.

When you look at the big picture and the root causes here, what concerns you the most, and also what gives you hope. What concerns me most is the gaming companies and social media companies are are pretty much unchecked. Now I know there was like a class action lawsuit against I think it's Epic Games, the maker and fortnight and epic lost and it was like a half a billion dollar, it was a big settlement. But when after that was done, they just keep doing what they're doing. So they're making so much money, that a half a billion dollar penalty didn't really affect them. So that that really worries me. And every every action parent group or government takes to restrain or control can be bypassed by a savvy kid. And the kids who go through these programs usually come out with a better understanding of why they got addicted in the first place and some healthy self regulation tools to not let it happen in the future. So it's not all doom and gloom, but But it's pretty stormy.


Michael Jacobus, Executive Director of reset summer camp. Thank you for your time and your insight today.


My pleasure.


And that is this edition of where parents talk. Thanks for listening. Remember, you can check out the podcast version of this show available wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Lianne Castelino. Hope you'll join us next time.

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