External Challenges to the Modern Family System

The world has changed dramatically in the past decade. The economic downturn, technological advances and social pressures have all impacted the way modern families function and interact. Jesse Quam, LCSW, and Brandon Moffitt, LPC, two adolescent specialists at SUWS of the Carolinas’ teen wilderness therapy program, have identified a series of external parenting challenges and offered creative solutions to improve the relationships between parents and teens.

Challenge #1: The Economy

Economic challenges have added a new dimension of stress to our lives. Families are working longer hours and spending more time budgeting to make ends meet.

Many parents feel torn, explains Quam. They want to connect with their children but don’t want them to miss out on various cultural and social experiences. As a result, modern teens may be involved in a wide range of activities, but the family system is fractured.

The Solution

“We encourage parents to continue to provide valuable experiences for their teen, but to simplify so that the entire family has moments to connect,” says Quam.

Some ways to simplify include:

  • Limit time spent watching TV and using other technologies.
  • Re-prioritize tasks so that only the most important activities detract from family time.
  • Find inexpensive ways to spend time together, such as gardening, cooking a meal or taking a walk, which only require a 1-2 hour time commitment.

Challenge #2: Technology

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average child age 8 to 18 spends 7.5 hours a day using technology such as video games, phone, Internet, TV, movies or music players. Since many teens use more than one medium at a time (for example, talking on the phone while watching TV, or listening to music while surfing the Internet), this figure is actually closer to 10.5 hours per day.

Although technology has enhanced all of our lives, it has also made it more difficult to foster quality relationships. We can access news, music, work and entertainment anytime, anywhere. As stated by author Rutherford Rogers, “we are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.”

This 24-hour access puts significant stress on the family and has limited the depth of the parent-child relationship.

“Our society has experienced major technological advances in the past decade,” says Moffitt. “The problem is that we don’t know how to integrate these advances into our lives in a balanced way.”

The Solution

Most people depend on technology for school, work and play, so it is a necessary part of our daily lives. But families – teens as well as parents – can set limits around how much time they spend using technology.

At SUWS of the Carolinas, the adolescent experts also recommend having teenagers do their homework in a public area where parents can provide assistance and also make sure their child is focused on their studies. Families are also encouraged to spend one day a week cut off from technology so that they can enjoy undistracted family time.

Challenge #3: Social Obligations

Despite the fact that everyone struggles with similar parenting challenges, there is a lot of judgment and competition among families. This is especially true when a teenager is in a wilderness therapy program. Parents may struggle with feelings of embarrassment, blame or shame even though they’re doing what is needed to help their child.

“If a child is diagnosed with an illness, loved ones do a 5K run, but when a child gets treated for an emotional or behavioral problem at a wilderness therapy program, there’s judgment,” says Quam. “We’re working to change the cultural paradigm so that families can feel less isolated and focus on their role in the healing process.”

The Solution

No family is perfect, even if it seems to be so. A shift in mindset can help relieve the social pressure to have all the latest gadgets and uphold the façade of perfection.

“We empower families to get honest with themselves and their social group rather than perpetuating the myth of the perfect family,” says Moffitt. “This helps relieve the isolation and the pressure to achieve the unattainable, and allows parents to forge genuine connections with other parents.”

Instead of judgment, parents need support. They also need to be a part of the growth that occurs during a wilderness therapy program as well as support groups and hobbies that recharge them.

“The problem is bigger than ‘fixing’ a struggling teenager,” explains Quam. “At SUWS of the Carolinas, we take a broader view of the problem, addressing the teen’s academic, social and developmental needs as well as the health of the family system.”

The wilderness therapy offered at SUWS was the dynamic solution needed to help my son with his behavioral issues. When my son left SUWS, he was completely changed for the better and also created new bonds and unforgettable memories! I can't recommend SUWS enough for anyone in a similar situation!

– Britney A.