Extinction - FamilyEducation


June 30,2011

I took L. for a check-in with his doctor yesterday. I think I've gushed before about how I love this woman. She is an exceptional developmental pediatrician in every way and she not only understands L., but truly cares about him. It also helps that she and I have a good rapport together and I always leave appointments with her feeling unburdened, as thought I've been helped. I've shared worries, fears, and even tears with her (not in front of L., of course) and she's helped steer us through some truly difficult patches--especially this past year. 

She has a gentle firm way about her. She was the one who, last year, explained the term "extinction burst" (it's summarized well here) and gently suggested that Scott and I needed to work on being better prepared as parents to deal with it in order to help L. move beyond some pretty destructive behavior patterns. Confronting the extinction burst pattern, living and breathing it is NO FUN AT ALL, as other parents can attest to as well. I can't emphasize that enough. Yet I have to also say that I see its importance, and I believe in it. I can't say we're pros at riding out the extinction burst tsunamis yet, but we are learning. We did notice some success in the car ride to the beach last weekend--L. was able to pull himself out of a downward spiraling meltdown after only 25 minutes, as opposed to the nearly two hours it took him the last road trip we took.

I told Dr. V.  yesterday about our beach week, and how amazing it was to see L. move beyond the rigid patterns he keeps at home--patterns that begin and end and center around computer time. The week was like a detox for him, and while I'm not sure we could have sustained it beyond the week, it was somewhat of a life-changing experience for me to see what L. could be like and to realize that I want that as a goal for him--and for us as a family.

When I told Dr. V. that L. averages about 5-6 hours a day of computer time over the summer--spread out over the day--she winced. This woman is very even-keeled overall, so a wince for her is big. I know why she did it, and in return I winced inwardly, too, in shame and guilt. We struggle with this so much at home--this computer time business. I know L. needs so desperately to feel in control, and that he is very attached to his computers, and that on the occasions that things have gone dreadfully wrong with one of them he's suffered what can only be termed a moderate psychotic break of sorts, trying to deal with it. I know, too, that we've been enablers; that letting L. have his computer time is often easier than the battle that will follow crack-downs and limits on this time. She told me some sobering facts, though, about the correlation between too much internet/computer gaming time and depression, anxiety, and sleep problems in children and teenagers. She also told us about a study that was recently done that showed a connection between too much computer/internet time and depression and anti-social behavior in adults. The internet can pose serious threats, even to the most cautious kid, like L. and, moreover, too much online time at age 10 or 11 can set dangerous patterns that could be nearly impossible to break in an older teen.

She asked L. to wait outside in the waiting room and she and I came up with a plan. The computer in his room will be powered down each evening at 8:00 and not powered up again until 8:00 am the following day. This should eliminate L.'s pattern of reading web pages for one or two hours each night--certainly not healthy given his current interest in conspiracy and armageddon theories (how could anyone fall asleep well at night after reading about soil liquefaction)? If he fails to comply with this, Dr. V. suggested we take his bedroom computer away. If we can eliminate the two hours of computer time at the end of each day, I would consider this a major success. Then, she said, we can go from there.

But you have to believe in this, she told us, and be strong.

We battened down the hatches yesterday. We steeled ourselves. Tonight is Night One of the computer power-down plan. Keep us in your thoughts because, I think-no, I fear--things are going to blow big time around here.