Digital Footprint Plan – Using Technology in Teen Recovery

Digital Footprint Plan

At Discovery Academy (DA), they recognize most, if not all the students, have a cell phone which they use for social media and games. For many students, this use of cells phones contributes to the emotional and behavioral problems that led to them to be in treatment. For some students, social media may contribute to their lack of self-esteem. Other students might use their phones for addictive gaming apps, or to stay in contact with people who are unhealthy for them to associate with. DA is taking an active approach to dealing with this problem. Students learn responsible uses for technology as they progress through the phases at DA. This is part of what DA calls its Digital Footprint Plan (DFP).

Making a Plan

DA addresses the use of technology clinically, as part of their phase system. Also, students’ use of technology is addressed as part of both individual and family therapy. Students and their families work together to develop guidelines for the correct use of technology.  They make a DFP. The DFP includes meeting with the student, having access to their cell phone. The student’s therapist will keep the phone under lock and key until the therapist and the student’s parents agree that the student is ready to receive the phone again.

As part of this process, students give a full disclosure about what they have been doing with their phones. Most students have used their phone for purposes that they would not want their parents to know.  Students reveal all the passwords that they have used for every app and program. DA staff removes any inappropriate apps or unhealthy contacts. The phone is cleaned up.

Reaching Higher Levels of Trust

Then when students move up the phase system, they can start using their phone as part of a process called support calls with their family. So, they can start using their cell phone to call home once or twice a week. When students reach the highest phase, the honor phase, they are provided with one of our phones when they can use off campus if they go off campus to a recreational or service activity.

“Then we can encourage them or set it up as part of that experience to call home, touch base with family, report what they are doing and how things are going,” said Brian Allred, Clinical Director. “In that way, we are trying to turn this device that used to divide families into a device for helping families connect.”

When students get to higher phases, they practice using technology in healthy ways during off-campus activities. Students also continue to explore more depth of social media within therapy sessions. For example, students and their therapists may look at the students’ FaceBook pages and their Instagram accounts, and similar pages. Therapists help students to process the ways that social media has been a challenge to them, and how it may have contributed to the emotional and behavioral problems that the students have been having.

Going Home

The DFP is new, but it has already had some success stories. Brian personally worked with a young man who had been battling addiction. He used his cell phone as a way to help him support his addiction.

“His phone was about maintaining connections with people to get and use drugs,” Brian said. Brian helped the young man through the process described in the article. “Towards the end, he was going off campus to perform service and enjoy recreational activities. While off campus he called his parents and reported how things were going.”

The young man has been home for more than two months. When he needs to, he uses his phone to maintain contact with his family rather than for activities that could drive his family apart. He has also stayed sober without relapse.