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To Smartphone? Or, not to Smartphone?

Focus on the “Why”… and the “When” will be a lot easier.

“When should we give our children their own smartphones?”  Spoiler alert!  There is absolutely no consensus on how to answer this fundamental question for raising kids in the Digital Era.  The most common and most logical recommendation goes something like, “there is no specific age at which a smartphone should (or should not) be given to a child.  Rather, parents should determine the right time based on their child’s maturity.”  Again, not very helpful.

FamPlan provides strategies and actions parents can take to give their children a head-start at maintaining a healthy relationship with their digital devices, reaping the rewards we have all been promised, and hopefully, avoiding the dire outcomes so many of us fear.  We organize these strategies into four, easy to learn categories.  Model – Delay – Manage – Connect  In our previous post, Kids and Smartphones… Be a Good Role Model, we described the concept of parents as positive role models.  This blog post explains the concepts of “Delaying” your child’s smartphone all together.

The only strategy that ensures your child will not experience the negative consequences of having a smartphone is to Delay giving them one.

Rather than ask “when should my child receive a smartphone”?  Ask the question a bit differently, and from your own perspective.

Why do WE (parents) want our child to have a smartphone?

This is a question you have a chance of answering.  But first, let’s quickly review why you might NOT want your child to have a smartphone.  For all of the research we have done on this topic, no person or group has stated the challenges associated with “Kids and Smartphones” more succinctly than Wait Until 8th (go check them out).  Founder and Mom, Brooke Shannon sums it up like this, “concerns over social and relational impairment, as well as addiction, distraction, depression, and exposure to mature content.”  Whoa!  This is scary!  At a minimum, it should cause you to pause and consider your options.

So with all of the potential bad outcomes related to smartphones, why do so many parents decide to give them to their children at increasingly younger ages?  (Kid’s and Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives citing 2016 statistics states “kids are getting a first [smart]phone at 10.3 years old“.)  Of course, we hear many answers.  However, the one answer that almost every parent we interview includes in their response is, “we (parents) need the ability to be connected with our kids”.  Some parents qualify this statement with “in an emergency”.  Others cite the complexity and urgency of their busy schedules.  The point is, we all gave our kids a phone for the ability to connect with them when we are not together.

As honorable as our intentions may have been, in many families, connecting with our children via their smartphone regarding urgent and/or important matters represents a small fraction of how we (and they) use our devices.  As parents, it is our responsibility to determine when the Need of having a smartphone outweighs the Risk of having a smartphone.  And unfortunately, FamPlan cannot tell you when you should make that call.  We can offer this simple advice;

Parenting Tip… If they do not need a smartphone… Or, if they have not earned a smartphone… they do not get a smartphone.

In summary, delaying the day you give your child a smartphone ensures that they are safe from the potential negative impacts of having a smartphone.  And, whether you “Wait Until 8th” or you decide your child is mature enough for a smartphone earlier, always remember Your Why.  And finally, don’t be overly worried about what you ultimately decide.  There are strategies for ensuring your child’s smartphone experience is safe and productive.  We will share some of those strategies in our next post, “Manage the Phone… Not the Child“.

And, until next time #DoMoreHappy

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Kids and Smartphones… Be a Good Role Model

You are your child’s most Important Role Model

If you read the first post in this series Smartphone or Dumb Distraction, you are already aware that FamPlan believes that without their parents’ guidance, kids are just as likely to have negative experiences with their digital devices as they are to have positive experiences.  And depending on the age and maturity of the child in question, the outcomes of these negative experiences can have significant and lingering consequences.  Don’t worry.  We have a Plan!

FamPlan provides strategies and actions parents can take to give their children a head-start at maintaining a healthy relationship with their digital devices, reaping the rewards we have all been promised, and hopefully, avoiding the dire outcomes so many of us fear.  And, we organize these strategies into four, easy to learn categories.  Model – Delay – Manage – Connect

Best Practices to Model with Smartphones

Success is a well studied discipline.  Whether we’re discussing the best approach school or work, how we interact with friends and family, or best practices for how to use our smartphones, following the same strategies as positive role models often leads to success.  And when we are talking about our children, the most important role models most kids will ever have are their parents.

Apologies if you feel you have been tricked.  But Yes, this post is about how you should be using our technology…  And No, parents are not always the best role models.  However, we owe to our kids to be the best role models we can be.

“The surest way to achieve success is to model someone who is already successful.”  Anthony Robbins

The following list was generated by a group of teens and preteens in my living room.  This list took less than two minutes for them to create.  And they not only implied, but they outright stated that their parents (yes, I am one of said parents) were providing these bad examples.

  1. Put away the phone during conversation.  Don’t just turn of the sounds.  Place the phone in airplane mode and leave it somewhere you cannot see it.  It is amazing how codependent we have become with these little devices.  Remember… there is no relationship more important than that of parent and child.  Treat it as such.
  2. No phones while driving.  Yes, the public service reminders tell us not to text and drive.  But, this goes for almost every function the phone provides.  If you need to check maps or other travel-specific information while in the car, find a place to stop.  And 9 times out of 10, calls can wait.  Here’s a Parenting tip… if Mom calls while you are driving the children, ask the children to answer the phone.
  3. No videos, alarms, or ringers in public.  Noise pollution!  Please be considerate of others.
  4. No phones at the Dinner table.  Once again, relationships make the world go round.  And for your family, there is no better opportunity to share experiences, thoughts and dreams than at the family meal.  Pro-Dad tip… Make time for Family Dinner and ditch the phones.
  5. No screens before bedtime.  This advice supports both physical health and mental health.  The “blue light” emitted by smartphones is interpreted by our brains as daylight.  As such, it stimulates your brain at the very time when you want to be winding down.  And form a psychological standpoint, searching for that one last affirmation in the social media haystack is far more likely to lead to anxiety that it is to lead to contentment.

This list is by no means scientific or exhaustive.  It is based on a variety of sources and readings, and as stated earlier, the observations of a group of kids.

The most important concept to remember from this post is that your children watch you… they learn from you… they want to be like you.  Be mindful of what you are teaching them.

Check out the second FamPlan strategy for Kids and Smartphones, Our Kids. To Smartphone? Or, not to Smartphone?

And as always, #DoMoreHappy 

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“Smartphone” or “Dumb Distraction”

Your Kids and Smartphones… You Better Have a Plan.

In at least one urgently important way, childhood is radically different for today’s kids than it was for their parents.  Kids can now, quite literally, be connected with the entire world, the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Parents, educators, and the medical community have good reason to be concerned.  Cyberbullying, screen addiction, inappropriate content, and myriad other challenges are real issues for young people navigating a complex, online world.  And when kids run into challenges, the results can range from “bummer” to “life-altering”.

While being “over-connected” to the outside world can be scary, the flip-side of this “connectivity challenge” is just as important.  Children are becoming less connected with family and friends.  And, this makes sense…  when all that is required to steer clear of a challenging conversation is a quick tweet and the requisite emoji, it’s little wonder that today’s kids find it increasingly difficult to communicate face-to-face.  And though this side of situation may not seem as directly negative in its impact, the outcomes are no less serious in a child’s long-term ability to thrive and be happy.

In fact, the physical and mental-health impacts that are now attributed, both directly and indirectly, to smartphones have been well documented (see The Atlantic’s, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation).  Smartphones, sleep patterns, lack of exercise, relationships, anxiety and depression are all now interconnected.  And as painful as it may be to admit, smartphones are going to remain a part of modern life for all of us.

What can parents do to prepare and protect their kids?

Now that we are all on the same page regarding the importance of the challenge, what is a conscientious parent to do?  Don’t lose hope just yet!  Truth be told, there are quite a few actions parents can take, to both protect their children from the most destructive impacts of using smartphones, and to teach kids habits and life-lessons that will serve them well into the future.  FamPlan adheres to a straightforward methodology described as “Model -> Delay -> Manage -> Connect“.  In a nutshell, one might refer to this as “Strategies for Parenting Digital Kids”.

As with most things that are worthwhile, the concepts are simple, while the details are a bit trickier.  So, we’ll dig in deeper in our next post, Kids and Smartphones… Be a Good Role Model.

Until next time…  #DoMoreHappy

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Connect with your Kids… Digitally

Make Technology a Force for Good in your Family

Technology as a “force for good” in your family may sound a little (a lot) counter-intuitive at first.  We hear about the downside of technology on a fairly consistent basis these days.  And, whilke it is true that everything with tech is not always “hunky dory”, technology has many amazing things to offer when used responsibly.  With a little research (see Social Media – Be There for Your Child), an open mind, and some perseverance, you and your children can enjoy the upside of healthy technology while avoiding the pitfalls.

The most critical component of your kids’ ability to safely and successfully navigate today’s technology landscape has nothing to do with technology.  In most situations, their success is highly contingent on their relationships with their parents… as in YOU!  Of course, the love and trust between parent and child is the cornerstone of much of a child’s development.  How and when our kids use technology is no different.

Kids need to know that Mom and Dad have expectations with regard to apps, games, social media, messaging, and even television.. do kids watch TV these days.  They need to understand that their use of technology is a privilege and not a right.  Most children do not have the financial means to purchase and maintain their computers, tablets, and phones, not to mention the requisite networking and data plans that make them useful.  As such, we parents need to be direct in explaining that we have every right to impose rules and consequences when our children misuse technology.

More Important than Control… Connection

All the “control efforts’ in the world will not keep a child from “exploring” or making the occasional “error in judgement”.  The stronger our relationships with them and the closer our connections, the less traumatic these missteps will be.  Admittedly, connecting with our kids on their own “digital turf” (i.e. SnapChat, Instagram, etc.) is going to be difficult, if not impossible.  It’s not that they don’t want to connect with us online.  It’s just that they don’t want us imposing on the connections they are building with their peers.  What Families need are solutions (apps) that are custom built for Parents and Kids.

And this raises an interesting question, “what do parents and kids both find important enough to actually get them to use a common app”?  Given all of the obligations and activities we find ourselves trying to manage these days, it turns out that sharing basic information about schedules, assignments, documentation and the like is critically important to every member of the family.  FamPlan brings all of this information together in one place, and brings it to life with a “social feed” that allows family members to discuss this information in context.

And the best part, the kids can now contribute and learn to be responsible for their own schedules and activities.  If you have ever tried to teach the kids to use a calendar, you already know that paper calendars just don’t meet these “Digital Natives'” needs.  They want their information with them and available at all times.  If we are honest with ourselves, we parents do also.  We have these capabilities through our employers, and perhaps even with our spouse.  But, a shared Family solution, designed to engage the kids has been, until now, out of reach.

In summary, be purposeful in your efforts to connect with your children digitally.  The shared experience (aka “Connection”) will provide the opportunity to guide their learning and ensure they have positive experiences with their technology.

Happy Parenting!

This is Part 3 of a 5 Part Series on Kids and Social Media

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Social Media – Be There for Your Child

Is Social Media “Really” Bad for Our Kids?

Many parents today, myself included, are concerned about the effects social media (and computer games, etc.) is having on our children.  If we are to assume that what we see on TV News (not to mention many of our own social feeds) is an accurate reflection of the experiences of most of our children, then the situation indeed may be dire.  But, is this actually the case?

Let’s be clear.  Social Media has definitely changed the way many of us interact with one another, adults and children alike.  Some of these changes are definitely for the better.  It’s great to be able to stay up to speed on the happenings of those you care about, but might otherwise never hear from.  The best example of this type of Social Media platform is, of course, Facebook.

Unfortunately, the good is offset by a number of potentially significant problems.  One such dilemma is our inability to exclude the negative information that we would not otherwise seek out (in your kid’s world, think “cyber-bullying”).  It can be very difficult to disengage from negative conversations when you carry them around in your pocket at all times.  A second serious challenge is that we tend to find ourselves in “echo chambers”, where much of the content we are presented simply reinforces currently held beliefs.  As you might imagine, a child with low self-esteem, who is constantly presented with information that devalues him, may find himself in a downward spiral.

Of course, we all face these problems to some degree.  But, the consequences can be far more pronounced when experienced by our children.  Sadly, they do not possess the experience or the wisdom to always know what is healthy and what should be ignored.  And more consequentially, they often have very limited frames of reference when attempting to understand the situations they find themselves in and what they feel about them.

Which is Why We Must “Be There With Them”

As parents, it is both our privilege and our responsibility to instruct our children with regard to what is “right and wrong”.  When we were children, much of this education was focused on how we should interact with a limited number of friends, family, and situations, most of which were well known to our parents.  Today, our children may literally be interacting with hundreds of other people in far more situations than we might even imagine.  So, how do we ensure their health and safety?

First and foremost, we have to become educated ourselves.  Don’t worry, you do not need to be an active user on every possible app out there.  Start by researching the “Biggies” (here’s a fairly comprehensive list).  SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook command a high percentage of the average young person’s social media exposure.  If you want to create an account on each of these platforms and be linked to your child’s accounts, go ahead.  But, it is probably not necessary “to spy” on them.  The chances that they would do or say something far enough outside your expectations that you would feel compelled to intervene is slim.  It is probably enough that they know you “are around”.  And, they might even take comfort in the knowledge they are not alone.

This approach makes the assumption that your child understands your expectations.  And, this brings us back to parenting.  Not the “Control” parenting many of us would prefer.  This parenting effort is going to require continuous interaction.  To succeed when it comes to social media, we must be present for our children, understand the challenges they may face, and be prepared to listen, empathize and mentor.  Which is why it is absolutely critical that we know what we are talking about.

And, if you think you and your child would benefit from a private environment where you can connect and share information and technology strategies, you can certainly give FamPlan a try.

Just remember, the only thing parents can do that is definitely a bad idea when it comes to social media is to allow their kids to go it alone.

Happy Parenting!

This is Part 2 of a 5 Part Series on Kids and Social Media


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Social Media & The Attention Economy

What is the “Attention Economy” you ask.  Great question… scary answer!

Some of the world’s most recognized technology brands, like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are in a race for our attention.  They no longer have a choice.  These “solutions” are backed by business models that rely on money from advertisers that, quite literally, pay for our attention.  And, since we only have so much time in a day to engage in social media, these tech titans must continually design and deploy increasingly addictive techniques to keep us “hooked” and glued to their app!

As adults, we must learn to treat this phenomenon as we would any addiction.  A little knowledge, recognition that the threat exists, reasonable goals, and “all things in moderation” and we will probably be OK.  But, what does the Attention Economy mean to our children?

Unfortunately, this problem is one that affects both adults and adolescents.  And, the younger (and less mature) among us have little chance of dealing with this problem on their own.  Social Media has conditioned a generation of children to view “Likes”, “Streaks”, and “Shares” as a measure of their self-worth.  This has been so successful that it is now commonly believed that children are less capable of forming real friendships (see TED Harvard Happiness Study), and engaging with those friends in healthy, face-to-face conversations and activities.

To be direct, the Attention Economy is negatively impacting the health of our children… both in the present and well into their futures.

What Can We Do?  Family is the Key!

First, we must all agree that we cannot count on the large technology companies to be part of the solution.

Second, we must all educate ourselves.  Groups like Center for Humane Technology, Siempo, and #UseTech4Good are great places to start.

Third, connect “digitally” with your children.  As counterproductive as this may sound, we have to be engaged with our children where the problem exists.  We recommend you start with FamPlan.

Fourth, go to extremes to create opportunities for Relationships & Experiences.

And finally, share everything you learn with your children.  They will benefit from your efforts more than you can imagine!

This is Part 1 of a 5 Part Series on Kids & Social Media



Our Children’s Connection Crisis

The Connection Crisis is real, and it is here to stay!

You may be thinking, “I have never heard this term before.  What is a ‘connection crisis’?  Mankind has never been more connected.”  And, in a span of seconds, you have accurately identified the underlying challenge.

Over the past 10 years, we have all been sold an “untruth”.  Not a deliberate lie.  And, certainly not for malicious purposes.  Since the introduction of the smartphone, or more accurately, the proliferation of social media and social communication “apps”, we have been spoon fed the consistent (and continual) message that “the more connections we have, the happier we will be”.

Unfortunately, many of us – and, especially our children – have traded this interpretation for the correct one;

“positive, meaningful CONNECTION makes us happy

Likes, Streaks, and 2000 “friends” are not designed to make us happy.  They are designed (literally by thousands of software engineers) to command our attention… to entice us to use one solution more than another, in the interest of maximizing advertising revenue.  As stated earlier, I do not believe the intent is nefarious.  However, you can be confident that the “owners” of these “solutions” are not in the position to make significant changes in favor of our mental health… multi-billion dollar valuations will not allow it to happen.

So, if the sources of the problem are unlikely to change, how can we, as individuals and families, contend with these huge corporations that are [inadvertently] wrecking havoc among an entire generation?  And more importantly, how do we protect our children and prepare them to remain safe when we are not there to safeguard them directly?

As with most worthwhile causes, there are three actions we can all take.  First, we must educate ourselves… both on the causes and results of The Connection Crisis, as well as the actions we might take to make a positive difference.  Second, we need to support the teams and individuals on the front lines.  There are a growing number of companies and organizations that provide a wealth of information and solutions that can help.  And finally, we must all put what we learn into action and encourage others to do the same.  It may take a bit more effort than learning how to apply rabbit ears to a selfie.  But, rest assured, the rewards will far outweigh the investment.

In conclusion, please know that there are many of us who are  dedicating our careers and lives to making a difference.  We do so because we believe everyone has an inalienable right to be happy.  In today’s “uber-connected” world… we can all use a little reminder of the value of “real connection”, and a bit of help in creating that connection… especially our children!

The Jackson’s Story

A Generation of Children Under Siege

There is a quiet and growing crisis affecting families today. One which is negatively impacting our most cherished loved ones – our children.

Behind the smiles and jokes, the selfies and snap streaks, lurks an insidious risk.  To be blunt, our children’s mental health and happiness is under attack.

Fighting words, right? Unfortunately, there is no single bad guy to defend against.

Let’s be very clear.  Mental health is complex.  It’s not only trauma or abuse that threatens our children.  Genetics, poor diet, lack of sleep and sunshine, isolation, and now even our technology are just as likely to be at the root of any particular person’s mental health challenges.

No matter which contributing factor impacts your family most, they all wield a sword or an axe. The ideas listed here, and many more, are chopping the foundation of our children’s lives out from under them.

Many of the causes of this calamity are cultural, unintended and wide-spread. As parents, our best defense is to become as educated as possible to protect and prepare our children to navigate this new and complex world in a positive and healthy way.

We hope our story may provide your family some small comfort.  Perhaps it may encourage you to look for the information and resources your family needs to be your healthiest and happiest.  At the very least, please know you are not alone.  There are many of us out there who want to help!  Please, do not hesitate to ask.


The Jackson’s Story

This is how our story began…

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 began in typical fashion.  I had returned from an overnight business trip late the previous day.  I was a bit tired, and not in the most positive of mental states.  Arwen, my beautiful and loving wife, was also tired and stressed from having “single-parented” our four amazing, over-achieving, and over-extended children in my absence. She’d also simultaneously juggled the kids’ activities with the various leadership positions and responsibilities she holds within the community.  Can you say… modern busy family! That was us. We were “living the dream”. Our life was exactly what we had always dreamed it should be.  Or, so we thought.

In hindsight, there were plenty of clues that we were tempting fate.  Blinded by our own naivety, we launched ourselves into each new day.  Therapists and medication for both parents and children should have been all the information needed for us to get real, to take a breath, to make a change.  Of course, the “should have, would have, could have” is behind us now.

That evening, I drove Madison, our eldest daughter of 14 years, to her club soccer practice in Houston.  This bi-weekly excursion totaled three hours each practice, and resulted in her getting to bed quite late, 10:00PM at the earliest on those nights.  This was our norm and we didn’t think much of it.


This Night was Different

We made it home a little early that evening, 9:30PM, and I was quickly under the covers.  I’m a morning person and I was ready to get some sleep.  As I headed to the master bedroom, Madison headed to her room upstairs.

Shortly after I had tucked in, certainly no more than 20 minutes, I was nodding off when Arwen shook me awake.  Our 16 year-old son Mitchell was standing near the foot of our bed with a shell-shocked look on his face.  I will never forget that look… he was scared and lost.  His look and demeanor shook me to the core.

It took us a long time to get him to even speak, much less tell us what happened.  Eventually Mitchell confided that he had just made an effort to kill himself.

Only minutes earlier, he had “snapped out of a trance” standing in front of the door to the bathroom he and his sister share.   Knife in hand, he had gone there with the determined plan to disrobe, step in the tub, and “sever his femoral artery”.

I often think about what might have happened that night.  As disturbing as the memory is, it’s not the violence or finality of the act itself that I most often reflect on. That’s not what tightens my throat and catches my breath when I think of that night.

Instead, my mind zooms in on Mitchell’s own description of how he’d removed his clothes and climbed in the tub, “so we would not be burdened with cleaning up the mess”.

To this day, I feel physically sick when I try to resolve the conflicting thoughts my son faced.  On the one hand, he had come to the conclusion that he had no reason to live. While on the other hand, he loved us enough that he did not want to burden us more than necessary.

As if cleaning some blood could in any way compare to losing our child.  It is my greatest life’s regret that I didn’t realize how conflicted and tortured he must have been… long, long before he reached that point.


We were Lucky!

Mitchell does not remember much, from the time he picked up the knife in his room, until he found himself standing in shock at the foot of our bed.

His plan was thwarted by sheer, dumb-luck.  Madison had decided to shower before turning in, instead of the following morning, as was her typical routine.  And, as is often the case with siblings, she was not interested in her brother’s wish to use the bathroom, and not the least bit concerned he might think she was hogging it.  She simply ignored his knocks.  None of us know how long he stood at that door. A minute? Five?   Sometimes life throws you a bone.

After getting enough of the story out of him to realize the gravity of the situation, we grabbed the cot we keep for family visits, placed it beside the bed and had him sleep there, inches from us, the rest of the night.  I sat and or lay in my bed and watched him – simply watched and thought.  Hour after hour, I watched and I thought.  Every parent’s deepest fear was so narrowly avoided.

At first light, we got up, got the girls to school and headed to the hospital.  Mitchell stayed there for the next 7 days.  His recovery has been consistent. Not perfect or fast, but consistent.  Healing deep mental wounds is not an easy path.


Unfortunately, Our Story Doesn’t End There…

Both Mitchell and Madison had seen therapists prior to that fateful night,  Mitchell for depression, Madison for anxiety.

Madison has always leaned toward perfectionism.  And though she’s absolutely amazing in everything she attempts, the pressure she places on herself can be immense.  And, it was that pressure that created significant, mental health challenges for our second child.

For a long time, Madison was not aware of her role in saving her brother’s life.  We did our best to shield her from the details of Mitchell’s experience, and for good reason.  Her ability to cope with her anxiety was already stretched thin.  She did not need the additional burden.

Most of the time with Madison, you wouldn’t realize she was struggling.  If you were around her a lot, you might notice a few interesting OCD rituals she enacted when stressed. Mostly though, she seemed healthy and happy and engaged in her activities.  That was soon to change.

When the girls arrived home from school the afternoon following Mitchell’s “near miss”, we gathered them together, told them Mitchell was having a really hard time with his depression and that we had checked him into the hospital.  We answered all of their general questions, if not the details described above, and made every effort to assure them that he was ok and that he would soon return home.

Almost immediately, Madison started imagining her brother harming himself.  The images and scenarios spanned the reach of her imagination.  They were at times graphic, and quickly became ever-present.  She was very open with us, telling us what she was experiencing.  We took her to her therapist immediately and repeatedly.  We talked with her and reassured her, in our attempts to help relieve her pain.  We did everything we could think of to help.

Madison’s thoughts soon turned from her brother to her harming herself.  They very rapidly escalated to what is known by the Psychiatric profession as “suicidal intent”.  These insistent thoughts continued to worsen even after Mitchell returned home.  By the second week, each day was chaos.  Each night, I sat with her, holding her hand, while she cried herself to sleep.

Whereas Mitchell’s episode had been an explosion out of the dark, totally unforeseen, Madison’s was more like a freight train, a terrible vision of sound and fury, barreling towards us every single day.  It was a device of certain destruction, one we could do nothing to avoid.

On March 3, just 19 days after we’d admitted Mitchell for psychiatric treatment, Madison told us she no longer felt safe.  After a group discussion, we all agreed to admit her to the hospital, where she would spend the next week.


Mental Health Affects the Entire Family

As you might expect, the rest of the family was affected by these events as well.  Arwen and I were exhausted, confused, sad and literally functioning minute to minute.  Taylor and Riley, our two younger daughters continued to go to school, attend practices and social events – seemingly regular daily life.

At the time, we provided for these two as best we knew how.  We took them to visit the person who was by then our “family therapist”… in that tumultuous period, she probably knew more about each of us than we did ourselves.  Basically, we triaged.  We left the mental healthcare of our youngest children in the therapist’s capable hands, while we focused on Mitchell and Madison.

Honestly, to this day I am not completely clear on how these events affected Taylor and Riley.  It would be almost another year and half before our family could come up for air and even consider this question.


The Road to Recovery

Over the next 14 months, Madison had three more extended hospital stays, and multiple months of daily outpatient treatments.  She cried, isolated herself, self-harmed, and fought with us.  She continued to think of doing far worse.   Everything we tried resulted in small improvements followed by seemingly insurmountable setbacks.  Her progress was far more challenged than her brother’s.  These were dark days for our family, and many of the details are murky, either suppressed or forgotten.

Fortunately, something finally clicked in her fourth hospital stay.  A new Psychiatrist tried a different medication, one that suppressed the impulse to self-harm.  That turned out to be the missing component in Madison’s solution.  Since that medication was introduced, her progress towards health and happiness has been consistent, and now she’s back on track, and enjoys many of the same pursuits she had three years earlier.

These are years we can never give back to her.  But, we’re committed to ensuring that she never has to endure such hardships again.

Mitchell and Madison, all of us actually, still have short periods when we become unhappy.  But these instances are less frequent, less severe, and far shorter in duration now that we have the knowledge and experience to better deal with them.


Our Wish for All Families

We’ve always considered ourselves “fairly normal”… and you would too.  “The Jackson Six” as we call ourselves, thankfully are still six.  We are truly blessed.

We experienced a bone-jarring, eardrum-blasting wake-up call… not an “aha moment” or your standard “epiphany”. We went from “generally healthy and happy” to full-blown crisis literally overnight!

Through hard work, open communication, persistence and love, we overcame our situation.  For more than two years now, I have studied books, researched everything I can find on the web, and spoken with countless other parents and children who have endured similar experiences.

Our family now has the knowledge to identify when things are trending in a negative direction.  And, we have the skills to correct our course effectively when this happens.  These skills give us better control and help us monitor our own mental health situations, identify our challenges, support one another and seek help when we need to.

That first night, and the ensuing three years, shaped our family’s focus and purpose in dramatic, and hopefully valuable ways.  We are all now healthy and mostly happy. We continually prepare ourselves to deal with a complex world, as we pursue our goals and dreams.

Our deliberate and consistent efforts are leading us to a “happy ending”, at least to this life episode and we want others to have full and happy lives also.

As a result of our experiences, Arwen and I have rededicated ourselves to ensuring the health and happiness of our children.  We have also come to realize that we want to dedicate the remainder of our lives’ work to helping as many families as possible do the same.

To this end, we are creating multiple pathways to share our story and the knowledge we have gained with as many families as we can reach.  You can find us on social media, learn more about us on our website, and even put parts of our methodology into practice with an app that we have created.

We share our story in the hope that other families will be inspired to seek the knowledge and skills required to ensure their own family story is filled with health and happiness.  We will continue to share what we learn, and to support everyone who wants to join us on this critically important journey.

And finally, please know that the Jackson Six wishes your family nothing less than Health and Happiness.

Family in a Chaotic World

Healthy and Happy Family is the Goal

As parents, we all share the common desire to raise a Healthy & Happy Family.  In today’s complex and often chaotic world, this can seem easier said than done.  At FamPlan, our singular focus is to provide information and tools to help you reach your goals, and enjoy the Healthy & Happy Family you deserve.

We’re Moms and Dads just like you.  And, if your family is anything like our families, you probably find yourself juggling work and personal efforts on a impressive scale.  “Work – Life Balance” is not a new concept.  “Work” is pretty much a given.  Every family needs a roof over their heads and food on the table.  “Life” has certainly accelerated over the past few generations, perhaps to the point where you have considered scaling back.  There is a third factor – a less obvious factor – that is causing many of our lives to spin out of control!  The problem so many of us are just now coming to grips with is, of course, Technology.

Let’s take a step back and reflect on the concept of “Family” for a moment.  At FamPlan, we define “Family” as “A basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of parents and the children they are raising”.   From our perspective, “raising children” consists of two primary responsibilities.  First, is the sharing of resources.  Food, shelter, money, and the family vehicles obviously come to mind.  But today, we must also add “time” and “attention” to our focus.  Second is our ability to successfully instruct our children with regard to our values, social norms, and expectations.  And, it is the latter that may one day define how our generation is remembered.

Today’s parents and children have more opportunities (and the resulting commitments) than ever before.  In addition to work, school, and church, we all have a multitude of extracurricular activities, ranging from the arts, to sports, to clubs, and much more to choose from.  Of course, all of these opportunities require resources… at a minimum, our most precious resource, Time.  For many of us, balancing our opportunities has become something of an art form.  And if this were not enough, our current generation of families is the first to contend with a new, even more impactful challenge… Technology.

Ours is the first generation of families (both parents and children) to use the Smartphone.  When Steve Jobs and Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, we all envisioned a simpler and smarter future… a future where everything we needed to know was always at our fingertips (quite literally).  For Apple’s part, the smartphone has largely delivered as promised.  The challenge, one that few of us could have conceived of, is how we would come to use these amazing devices.  Apps of all kinds, games, and especially social media have “snuck up” on us, to dramatically change the way we learn and are influenced, and subsequently how we interact with each other… and not always for the better.

Please join us for part two of this series, where we will delve deeper into how technology impacts the family.  For now, know that you, and your family, are not alone.  We all face similar challenges raising our children in today’s chaotic world.  With a little thought and effort we will all be OK!  Until next time…