Thursday, March 28, 2013

Summer Program: "Get Unplugged"

“Get Unplugged!”

Wilderness Adventures for “Tech” Dependent-Addicted Kids and Teens

Christopher Mulligan LCSW is offering therapeutic activities in our local-natural surroundings designed to help children and teens break the destructive cycle of compulsive internet use and video gaming. Children/teens will participate in outdoor activities that are organized to develop self-awareness, empathy, physical skills, communication skills, respect, trust in self and others, self-regulation skills, and psychological and physical courage.

In order to create new and adaptive behaviors “tech” dependent/addicted children and teens must get “unplugged” from their home environment. Participating in outdoor activities is one of the most effective ways to create accurate self- awareness of the negative consequences of compulsive use of technology and develop social motivation, social skills, and new recreational interests.

Sample of Adventures:
Adventure 1: Day Hike
Adventure 2: Bike riding
Adventure 3: Pool and Beach Swimming
Adventure 4: Rock climbing
Adventure 5: Kayaking
Adventure 6: Surfing/boogie boarding
Adventure 7: Roller blading/Scooter riding
Adventure 8: Park day (relay races and capture the flag)

Adventure Groups will meet one day per week from 9am to 4pm (your choice of Wednesday/Friday/Saturday).
For more information, contact Christopher Mulligan LCSW at 855-735-4357 or email

Monday, March 18, 2013

Excerpt from my "Teen Cyber Pornography Addiction Workbook"


If an adult recognizes that he has developed a problem controlling his online sexual behavior, if he believes he has crossed the line from enjoying cyber pornography to feeling he is addicted, there are therapeutic options available. There are a wide variety of self-help books, 12 step meetings, outpatient counseling programs, as well as residential rehabilitation programs.

If, on the other hand, you are a teenager who has lost control of your online sexual behavior, particularly viewing cyber pornography, there are very few treatment options. In the greater Los Angeles area, for example, there are no programs specifically designed for teenagers who have developed an addiction to online or cyber pornography - whether outpatient or residential. In fact, if you need inpatient rehab, you need to go to Utah.

Additionally, there is no self-help book written for teens --nor are there 12 step meeting that are organized for teens with cyber pornography addiction. If you survey Amazon for books written for teens facing cyber pornography addiction, you will not find a single resource. However, there are multiple resources for adults, including workbooks that follow established and proven treatment programs.

Why is this the case? Why have mental health professionals and addiction specialists stayed away from teens who are struggling with their online sexual behavior? There are many reasons. At the top of the list is working with teens is far more complex than working with adults because teens come to therapy with parents. Parents need to be part of the therapeutic process – which means therapists have to incorporate family therapy and family therapy means working with siblings. In comparison, working with adults does not require the involvement of any family member – which makes treatment less complicated.

Another reason teens are left out of the current treatment programs, is the availability and intensity of online sexual content, particularly cyber pornography, has gotten out in front of most parents, mental health professionals, addiction specialists, and sex educators.

Although research shows that teens are accessing cyber pornography and are encountering significant problems controlling their behavior, there is a lack of awareness on the part of adults who are in a position to provide help to teens. This absence of awareness is not due to a lack of concern, but rather due to the absence of awareness of the type of sexual content that is now readily available online to children and teens.
In other words, the vast majority of adults, even those who focus their careers on  understanding child and adolescent sexual behavior, are unaware of the scope and intensity of sexual stimulation that is now part of the daily lives of children and teens through the Internet.

The fact that children and teens now possess Wi-Fi enabled devices, whether a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, has allowed children and teens to surf the Internet anywhere and find pornographic websites that most adults do not know exist. Most adults would struggle to believe the type of porn is now available without cost as children and teens “click” their way through cyberspace. In short, there is a high degree of ignorance on the part of adults about how Internet enabled devices are being used by children and teens to access sexually explicit, violent, and perverse images and videos.

Christopher Mulligan LCSW

This Loss of Self-Reflection in a Networked Life


This Loss of Self-Reflection in a Networked Life

I can vividly recall lying in my bed at night, during middle school, thinking through the events of the day, scrolling through images and pieces of conversations. I recall enjoying this time alone, in the dark. I recall thinking, contemplating, remembering up until the point I drifted off into sleep. There was something deeply relaxing and fulfilling about this private time. It was in the quiet of the night that I could consider ideas, question feelings, let loose fantasies in complete privacy. I had the opportunity to work out and work through embarrassing encounters with friends, confusion about my feelings, wonder about a possible romantic partner, or fantasize about playing alongside Jerry West, wearing Laker purple and gold.

For many 21st century teens, the quiet of lying in bed is interrupted by the sound of a text coming through their smart phone or the sound of an instant message arriving on their laptop or desktop. Today's youth are “networked “at all times of the day and night. Many teens experience fear, even panic, if they are separated from their web of contacts/friends within their smart phone, Facebook page, or e-mail list.

The constant opportunity for communication seems to have the unfortunate consequence of decreasing opportunities to be alone and, in the experience of being alone, the expansion of self-awareness. The process of being in a contemplative state, a focused state of personal reflection about one's identity, is diminished by always being tethered electronically to one's peer group (and or family).

It is the expectation of today's youth (and adults, for that matter) they will be able to reach peers twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. The expectation of connection seems to have created an aversion to being alone, simply because being alone is so unfamiliar. Rather than see periods of quiet as opportunities for recharging, contemplation and reflection, quiet is experienced as alien and, because it is alien, as uncertain and frightening.

In William Deresiewicz’s essay “The End of Solitude,” he writes: “So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone.”  He goes on to say: “Young people today seem to have no desire for solitude, have never heard of it, can't imagine why it would be worth having. In fact, their use of technology -- or, to be fair, our use of technology -- seems to involve a constant effort to stave off the possibility of solitude, a continuous attempt, as we sit alone at our computers, to maintain the imaginative presence of others.”

The implication of this essay is the more teens try to keep aloneness at a distance, the less they will be able to deal with being alone and the more terrifying aloneness will become. Because of this fear the “I generation” may lose the ability to be still or idle and, therefore, the capacity for solitude. And if solitude is gone, what exactly does this loss involve? What is at stake? Well, the ability for introspection, the capacity to examine the self, to discover hidden or nascent parts of the self. Deresiewicz writes: “But no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude.”

As Sherry Turkle points out in her book Alone Together, in addition to the fear of being alone and the loss of the opportunity for contemplation, when today's youth experience an uncomfortable feeling, they can fire off multiple texts immediately to gain support and validation. According to Turkle, the teen of today has little time or patience to sift or sort through their feelings. As feelings emerge, their first response is to reach out and share the feeling, achieving clarification and validation through a peers’ “texted” response. Turkle says one can make the case that for today's youth a feeling isn't truly “real” until it is communicated – which means texted or posted.

Another important dimension of today's youth is the messages that are sent via text or Facebook, must be brief and tailored for the consumption of an audience --  not for one' private consumption or process of reflection. Through this type of writing, it seems fair to suggest the self is reduced and diminished. Whenever teens begin to write, they “size up” their thoughts in terms length of “text” or “post” and public perception. They do not have the luxury of time to first rehearse what they want to say, to investigate their own private ideas and feelings, precisely because technology requires immediate, synchronous, communication.

The “always on” and constantly networked youth has little need or capacity to contemplate their lives because they are never truly alone. And, when they do express themselves, they are focused on tailoring and revising their thoughts with an audience in mind. The reality is, this type of communication decreases and, perhaps erodes, the circuitry in the brain responsible for self-reflection and contemplation.

It has been noted by Gary Small, M.D., that the high-tech revolution places teens in what he calls a “state of continuous partial attention.” This means teens are constantly keeping tabs on multiple activities without fully focusing on any one subject/activity/person at a time. Small says continuous partial attention ultimately places teens’ brains in a heightened state of stress, precisely because they do not have the time to reflect, contemplate, or make thoughtful decisions. They exist in an “alert state,” always waiting for a new contact or new information to come in through whatever technological device they are using.

Small argues the teenager’s brain was not made to maintain this kind of connection for extended periods. He warns that after endless hours of digital connectivity, the brain begins to strain. In this stressed state, the brain secretes cortisol and adrenaline, which can eventually lead to impaired cognition and altered mood, such as depression. Small also suggests a much more disturbing possibility: the fully networked brain may be permanently rewired, thus ending the capacity for contemplation, reflection, solitary moments.

As I write this blog, I am conscious of the obvious nostalgia, perhaps even romanticizing, a time long gone by. Perhaps the networked teen will experience an evolution in thinking and communication, rather than a regression or loss. Perhaps my concern for the loss of time for quiet contemplation minimizes the extraordinary opportunities for connection afforded through the technological modes of communication. Perhaps so.

But, I doubt it. One of the most important tasks of adolescents and young adulthood is the development of self-awareness. Self-awareness evolves through quiet moments of contemplation. Self-awareness grows through confusion and uncertainty about one's own thoughts, ideas, values, and feelings. If we can “text” a feeling before we are clear about what feeling we are having, we are deprived of the opportunity to deeply experience feelings, to turn them inside out, to connect our feelings and life choices.
So, what is the solution, if the networked teen is being deprived of the opportunity to develop self-awareness? Should parents step in and require teens to turn off their phones and computers? Should parents require teens to spend time journaling, reading, drawing, or having face-to-face conversations? Assuming parents did take on this responsibility, this mission to save the capacity for self-reflection and self-awareness, would any teen listen? Probably not.

Herein lies a fundamental decision in parenting today's “networked” youth: should the opportunity for deep reflection and contemplation be a requirement of family life? And, if so, what would this mean? What would it look like?

The 21st century, technologically savvy and connected teen, needs stewardship and guidance from his/her parent. Parents need to set firm and compassionate limits on access to technology. Reading, drawing, journaling, travel, exercise, outings, and face-to-face communication need to be priorities for the family.

Then the questions arises:  is today's “networked” parent, who is very likely as engaged and as distracted by technology as their teen, truly interested in preserving contemplation, reflection, self-awareness, and above all moments of solitude and quiet?
Sadly, it may very well be that the power of multiple technological connections through multiple types of media have overwhelmed parental priorities, and thus parents do not have the time, the patience, the endurance, to fight the good fight, to hold onto the value of contemplation, self-reflection, and above all, self-knowledge.

Perhaps the best course of action is for parents to unplug from their network life a day or two a week and, in so doing, invite their children into experiences of a contemplative, interconnected, quiet life.

I will give it a try and get back to you… Via another blog, of course.

Christopher Mulligan LCSW

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cyber porn overstimulation

When an adult thinks about porn they usually reference their experience with Playboy or Penthouse or maybe a DVD of soft core porn. The type of porn that is now available via cyber space is so intense and overstimulating that it actually rewires our brain - producing an increasing need to experience more and more cyber porn that pushes the envelope beyond the strange and perverse. How about Japanese anime porn?  An alien tentacle monster having sex with a teen dressed in a school girl outfit? Parents need to be proactive and understand that meaningful limits need to set precisely because there are no limits to cyber porn.

Overstimulated and isolated and sedentary

What are three of the most destructive consequences of technology over use by children and teens on the autism spectrum? They are sedentary rather than active. They are isolated rather than connected to their peers. They are overstimulated - the interaction with tech stimuates the release of the feel good brain chemical, dopamine. Dopamine creates a drug like high which eliminates any motivation to unplug and get connected. The solution? Set strict time limits - no more than 60 minutes of screen time per day! Very tough at first, but well worth e effort.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Key note delivered!

I gave my talk today: "Autusm and Technology: The Toxic Relationship at a conference sponsored by the Asperger's Association of New England. It was a great opportunity to talk about how technology exacerbates the core deficits of autism. I will post the power point at www.!!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Speaking at Conference on Autism and Technology

I am the key note speaker a conference focusing the relationship between autism and technology. The conference is sponsored by the Asperger's of New England and held Friday the 15th of March at Hebrew College in Newton Centre, MA.