Neri was 14, and the oldest of three. He had always been a sweet, loving boy, but since hitting adolescence everything had changed. He locked himself away in his room as much as he could, and he was usually blasting music through his headphones so no one could talk to him. Sometimes his parents insisted that he sit and have a conversation with them, but they only ever managed to get him off his phone long enough to issue monosyllabic responses. Neri seemed permanently annoyed and bowed down by the weight of mysterious troubles. His mother was particularly upset when he got his eyebrow pierced- seeing it as highly aggressive and a sign of deep anger against the world. The final straw was when
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money started going missing from her bag, and she realized that Neri was stealing from her. It was at that point that she called Kav L’Noar, saying that she had a son who was out of control.
At the intake meeting with the Kav L’Noar therapist, Neri sat slumped, chewing gum while his parents explained how concerned they were about him. “We know teenagers need their own space, and we understand that they are dealing with hormones,” said his father while Neri cringed in embarrassment. “But we were never like this when we were his age. We feel like maybe he has developed some condition or something that’s causing him to go off the rails.” The therapist responded neutrally that she looked forward to getting to know Neri and seeing how she could help.
In the first session, Neri said straight away that he felt guilty about stealing the money. “I knew it was wrong and it’s not like me- I’m a good kid really despite the impression that you might have of me.” The therapist smiled reassuringly and said she didn’t have any preconceptions. Neri said that most of his fights with his parents were about screen-time. “I barely get to see my friends- we’ve hardly had school for months because of Coronavirus- and we all stay in touch through Whatsapp and TikTok. But then my parents just switch off the wi-fi without even warning me! I’m in the middle of a conversation and I can’t even say goodbye! They say I don’t listen to them and that’s why they do it, but they don’t listen to me! They say it’s because they care but clearly they don’t!” The therapist said, “social media networks are your only way of ‘getting out the house’- ?” Neri replied,
“Yes, and it’s not just about ‘getting out of the house’- if I don’t keep up with my friends, I’ll lose them. My parents think I’m just making stupid videos. But ‘stupid videos’ keep me relevant and my friendships alive”.
The therapist said “I can hear how important your friends are to you, and it sounds like you want your parents to understand that too.” Neri nodded enthusiastically.
The therapist met separately with Neri’s parents once a month. She asked them about the screen time issue. Neri’s mother rolled her eyes.
“Kids are literally addicted to their devices. They have zero self-control. If I didn’t force him to stop, Neri would be on his computer all night long. I read about the dopamine hits that social media gives kids and it’s so scary to me- plus I don’t even know what he gets up to online- he’s much techier than I am so I’m sure he can trick us if he wants. I wish I could throw all the screens away. But he gets so incredibly angry when I tell him to cut down, I really think there’s something wrong with him. Have you noticed anything?”
The therapist said,
“I hear how worried you are. But the screen issue comes up for pretty much every family. And you’re right, too much screen time can be damaging. I haven’t seen any signs that Neri has a particular problem. But I do want to ask you if you ever talk to him about it?”
Neri’s father answered, “We talk about it every day, we’re constantly telling him to get off the screens!” The therapist gently answered, “That’s not what I mean by talking. Talking means giving your perspective yes, but also listening to how Neri feels about the issue, why he spends so much time online, why it is important to him.” Neri’s mother bristled. “So you’re on his side? You think we should just give in?” The therapist responded, “I understand that it feels like you and your son are against each other and now I’m taking sides too. But I’m not on anyone’s ‘side.’ I’m trying to help both you and your son get to a better place as a family, and I do believe that open communication and negotiation will help no matter what the issue is.
That’s not ‘giving in.’ Your son feels like you don’t understand him and his needs. Making space for a genuine dialogue with Neri shows him that you care and gives him a chance to open up to you. That means not making decisions on his behalf without involving him. Maybe you could discuss how boundaries are important, and also be prepared to hear from him that, especially in a pandemic, social media is important too. Make a joint decision as a family about a screen time policy- you could even draw up a family contract. That process is more important than the content.”
Over the next few months, the therapist worked with both Neri and his parents on improving their sense of connection to each other. She helped each one of them feel listened to, respected, and understood, while gently guiding them towards being more sensitive to each other’s perspectives. She reassured Neri’s parents that there wasn’t anything ‘wrong’ with their son- but empathized with their experience, saying that adolescence can be a huge and painful challenge.
After six months of therapy, the family decided that things had improved enough for them to manage on their own again. In their last session, Neri showed the therapist a TikTok video that he’d made specifically for her to say thank you.