This series tells fictional stories of the counselling journey. Drawn from our counsellors’ extensive experience, this story explores the use of mobile phones in our everyday.
Laura came to Relate family counselling as she was worried about Sophia, her 15-year-old daughter. Constant arguments were making their relationship difficult and disrupting family life with step-dad Paul and brother Joe.
Mum described a familiar picture: Sophia was spending increasing amount of time online, and there was a drop in grades at school. She then discovered Sophia and her friends had been involved in cyberbullying on Facebook. Having confiscated Sophia’s phone their relationship was at an all-time low.
We discussed inviting Sophia to join us at the next session. It was important that Sophia chose to engage in the counselling process.
Sophia agreed to join the next session where I invited mum to express her concerns and then asked her to leave the room so Sophia and I could explore some things together.
It was clear that Sophia was extremely angry with her mum. She was hostile towards me too, viewing me as her mum’s ally. I explained I was here to listen to her too and invited her to express what she truly felt.
Sophia felt isolated and alone. She was deeply upset about what happened online and worried about what her friendship group might be saying about her. School was shut because of the pandemic and she had no social media access. She was really angry at her mum for cutting her off from her friends. It was clear that removing Sophia from social media had actually withdrawn her support network.
At our next session, I focused on discovering a bit more about Sophia’s relationship with social media. What did she like about social media? When might it be good for her? When might it be bad for her?
We also discussed the cyberbullying. Why did it come about? What happened in real life to cause it? How did it affect her and her friends? What might she do differently in the future?
These conversations gradually lead to a discussion about what Sophia wanted, and what she needed to do to get there.
Her main goal was to get her phone back. Sophia recognised for that to happen she needed to understand why her mum was so concerned about her and what her mum might want to know to return Sophia’s phone.
Our next session was with both mum and Sophia. We started by building a picture of their family culture around phones and technology. We talked about their collective habits. When were phones good for their family, and when were they not helpful?
This was not a comfortable conversation for Sophia or her mum.
Longing for Time
Sophia felt her mum never had time for her as their conversations were regularly interrupted by her phone and her mum would stop their conversation to respond.
This was a pivotal moment for mum. She suddenly saw that their phones were robbing them of precious family time together. She was shocked that Sophia wanted time with her – and that her own phone use was getting in the way.
We ended this session with homework for Sophia and her mum. They needed to work on how they might spend time together. What would that look like? How would they guard that time, and what would the boundaries be?
In the following sessions, we discussed their family culture around internet use. They realised they were “always-on” and experimented with turning phones off for a family meal – and found that it was actually quite nice.
On returning Sophia’s phone, the two were able to talk together about what the limits ought to be. These limits were not just about Sophia. They included the whole family’s phone use.
They started with two simple changes. When mum picked Sophia up from school their phones stayed off. And now with phone-free meal-times they are beginning to think about bed-time routines without phones too.
As we ended counselling, Sophia and her mum had a completely different relationship. They understand each other better. They were learning how to listen to one another. And they were learning how to cooperate to solve problems.
This story was told by Caroline, a Relate counsellor and Clinical Supervisor at Relate Northamptonshire.
If phone and technology use is causing problems in your family, you might find Smart Kids Dumb Phones a really useful starting point. This website contains a whole selection of practical ways of tackling addiction to phones, starting with conversations and moving on to building new habits.
Family counselling is flexible. We can work with whole families, or as in the case above, part of a family and even one individual family member. For families with young children, we frequently only meet with the parents, even if the issues they face involve the children. During coronavirus, we are counselling remotely which means that we can work with children aged 13+ via Zoom. Contact our support team to book an assessment with us.