Effectively Monitoring Technology Use of Autistic Teens Struggling With Sexually Inappropriate Behavior

Explore strategies for parents to oversee technology use among autistic teenagers, highlighting the difficulties with filtering software and the importance of establishing clear boundaries. Autistic teens often seek connection through technology but are at risk of encountering inappropriate content and online bullying. Parents should become well-versed in the platforms and tools available for monitoring technology use, and might consider postponing access to social media. Instituting clear rules and boundaries from the outset can simplify the management of technology use as children mature. Fostering internal motivation and empathy can also mitigate sexually inappropriate behavior.

Managing Technology Use for Autistic Teens - A Parent's Guide

As parents and caregivers, we grapple with the challenges of monitoring our children’s digital behavior while ensuring their safety and well-being. In this podcast episode, we explore practical strategies, share insights, and offer guidance for effectively navigating this critical terrain. Join Tiffany Herlin, LCSW, and Matt Call, LMFT of Oxbow Academy as they discuss:

  • Understanding the challenges and potential barriers to preventing technology misuse with your teen.
  • How parents can be empowered to set clear rules and boundaries with technology.
  • Working together with your teen to boost their internal motivations by discussing the “why” behind rules.
  • Increase your teen’s sensitivity and empathy towards others by helping them understand the experiences of victims.

Concerned about your teen's escalating sexual behaviors? Don't wait. Get the support you need now. Oxbow Academy can help. We offer personalized support for families facing these challenges. Call 855-676-4272 to learn how we can guide your family toward healing.

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    Tiffany: Welcome back. My name is Tiffany and I have Matt here with me from Oxbow. For this topic, we said we were going to talk about it in the last episode but we didn't get to it. So we're going to touch on it here. We feel like there's so much we really could cover on this that we'd give it its own episode.

    So what are some tips for parents or caregivers monitoring technology, especially with kids on the spectrum?

    Matt: This is such a huge topic. I remember about 10 years ago, and in hindsight, it seems like this is an obvious thing to do nowadays, especially post COVID. But about 10 years ago, in the small town where I'm from, they started this initiative of we're going to give kids iPads at school and we're gonna have them start using them. And I remember that a lot of the parents were not too pleased about this because this is a big issue. Technology brings in all sorts of challenges and dangers and stuff like that.

    And I remember one of the board members said, "Don't worry about it. It's no big deal. I've got this really awesome filtering software and it's going to make it really hard for the kids to get around it. And it's just really awesome."

    Well, just for kicks and giggles later that night, I go home and I Google this filtering software. Hit number one is where you go to download this particular filter. Hit number two was a YouTube video on how to get around it.

    And I remember thinking to myself at the time that a real enterprising and proactive kid is going to have a really hard time getting around this filtering software if they don't want to be on it.

    Parental Struggle with Technology

    Tiffany: Yeah. Can we just admit that technology advances so quickly that we can't keep up with it?

    Matt: Exactly. I always say this to parents, the reason we have the filters and things like that is for accidental exposure. It's really meant to protect kids that still have that innocence and that are trying to not get exposed to it. You can't rely on it alone.

    I mean, having said that, one of the things that I think a lot of parents do, especially if there already are really serious problems around this issue, is that there's going to be a lot of fights. There's going to be a lot of arguments around it. And it's going to create some problems.

    So for a lot of the parents, I imagine, they're probably doing everything in their power to try to tame technology and kind of get it under wraps and they probably feel like they're fighting a losing battle right now. And part of the reason they are is because one of the biggest challenges when working with these kids is that those external supports, those external barriers only take you so far.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Well, I often like to tell my parents that it's hopefully a way to slow them down, right? So that in the process it slows them down so they can think through things clearly and realize I want to choose a different path.

    Now there are some occasions where the hunt actually is triggering in itself and actually stimulating for some of our kids. And so it's like figuring out a puzzle piece. So sometimes that can actually be a trigger, just even having it. So even that gets complex.

    Matt: Well, and there's just so many different ways around it. I mean, I always love to tell this story. We have an independence house at Oxbow right now. And there was a student that we had who was, as part of being in the independence house, he had earned his very first cell phone and it was a really stripped down basic set up like a Gabb Phone or a Pinwheel. There's like three apps that he could access. One of them was Google Maps. Well, it turned out that one of the things you can do on Google Maps, which we didn't know about at the time, is that you can actually send text messages to stripper agencies in various different towns across the country. And you can say something like, “Hey, I'm planning a bachelor party. Send photos of your girls.” And he was able to reach out to these stripper agencies in some distant city.

    Tiffany: Well, those of you who don't know what a Gabb and Pinwheel is, that's a pretty locked down device with parental controls.

    Matt: Hopefully I'm not giving kids ideas right now, but that's the point, right? As we can't keep ahead of it, and if you've got a clever, enterprising kid, who's really, really desperate or really motivated, they're going to find ways around it.

    Barriers to Preventing Technology Misuse

    Matt: And so, one of the assignments we do on phase two with the kids is we talk about these four barriers that I like to think of as forensic. If you're going back and saying, “How did this happen? Why did it happen? How did this kid find himself in a spot where he could do these things?”, that's really what this assignment is designed for.

    And it's really that first, they have to be motivated, right? They have to have a compelling reason. We've already talked about a lot of this with autistic kids. They're going to be motivated because they're going through puberty. Their hormones are through the roof. They are socially struggling to know how to kind of navigate that. And so they're going to be motivated. Then there's the internal barriers and that's really your conscience. It's anything that you do to stop you. Then there's the external barriers and that's anything anybody else does to try to stop you.

    And then finally victim resistance, which is that last step of “now I have to get the victim to go along with this.” And if we're talking about technology, obviously there's not a specific victim, but I still have to kind of make this mental thing where I'm watching pornography and I don't see the other person on the end of that pornographic video as a person.

    Tiffany: You're objectifying.

    Matt: I have to objectify them.

    Tiffany: You have to justify what you're doing. I'm going to jump into the external boundaries and then I want you to jump in and help parents understand why that's not enough. They matter. They're important. But yet you need more than just external boundaries.

    Setting Clear Rules for Technology Use

    Tiffany: So a couple things, I think a lot of these we're going to talk about, parents are going to kind of already know. So, obviously establish clear rules. If you hand a smartphone or anything that has connection to wifi, know that your kid can access pornography.

    It can be a Kindle. It could be an Xbox.

    Matt: PlayStation. Switch, anything.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Establish clear rules. I actually for my own kids who are just entering preteens, we actually have a technology contract that they had to sign that was like, here's our rules and boundaries. When can you get on them, for how long, you know, what needs to be done before you're allowed on them? What are you allowed to do with them? And so we had them sign it. And it's something that I've had to pull out and show them again when they're like, why do I have to clean my room to get on it? And I'm like, because that's part of the rules, right? Here's the clarity. And sometimes those rules change and they evolve because kids evolve and technology evolves.

    So that's going to be really important to establish clear rules. So sit down and figure out as a parent, what are your rules around technology? If you're worried about handing your younger kids an iPad and they turn into little monsters after like 30 minutes on them, know that that should probably be a rule that they can only be on it for this long. I've learned that when I've allowed my kids to have access to iPads, the more I set clear boundaries and follow through with those boundaries, the less meltdowns I get.

    So that's going to be important. Obviously only allow technology in public and family areas. My girls constantly fight with me about this, but they want to take them to their room and shut the door. I'm like, “Nope, that's a clear rule. You don’t get to take them to your room.” And I just gave my 12 year old a smartphone and I did put on parental controls, which obviously is another step to do.

    Now we talked about how, look, if your kid wants to get past the parental controls, they can, but I'm still going to put them on, especially when I'm handing it to my younger child who may not have that intention. Yet I don't let her take it to bed with her. And she's funny, she's like, "Mom, you already have all these limits on my phone. I'm not going to be doing anything past nine cause I can't do anything on my phone." I go, "Yeah, that's not the point. The point is the rule is "they can't go to bed with you." Cause she doesn't realize she still has access to text messages past nine and eventually there might be some day where some friends text her late at night that I don't approve of and they ask for things that aren't appropriate and that she'll have to face.

    Now she's 12. I'm not necessarily going to walk her down that road just yet, but I'm like, here's the boundary and this is why it doesn't go to bed with you. This is why we plug it in where I can have access to it. Then I actually don't allow my kids social media accounts until they're much older. That's just a personal preference.

    Matt: I recommend 30. Yeah. 30 is a good time. [laughs]

    Tiffany: I mean, there's research coming out now that's showing that kids who have social media accounts at a young age are facing serious mental health issues, depression, suicide, ideation. It's just such a complex world. I mean, even as an adult, it's a complex world for me. There's times where I'm like, this person makes me feel bad about myself. They're not meaning to, I'm now just comparing myself. I'm struggling ultimately in this area of my life. So I'm going to unfollow them or I'm going to mute them. But when you're 12 or 14, you don't have that understanding and capacity to do that.

    So if they have a social media account, make sure they understand how to navigate it, understand the complexities with when they post something it's out there forever.

    Also teach that what people post isn't always reality. They're just showing a small portion of their life. And so ultimately, though I would say either really monitor them or limit them for when they're older, when they have that personality maturity to understand it.

    Challenges of Social Media for Autistic Kids

    Matt: And this is especially challenging for autistic kids because a lot of times they're going to actually be drawn to social media because when you take out the aspects of communication that there are probably the ones that you're going to struggle with the most, like reading social or nonverbal cues, understanding subtext, anything that creates anxiety, like worrying about stumbling over your words and getting the things right.

    If I'm sitting there, and as an adult, I do this all the time, I'll punch in something into Facebook and then be like, maybe not. Maybe I'll phrase it this way, right? And I'll rewrite my post multiple times and then be like, okay, I think that's what I actually want to say.

    You can't do that in real time in the real world. And that creates a lot of anxiety for autistic kids. And so I think a lot of times they are especially going to be drawn to that because they feel a sense of connection. They feel like they belong. It's not uncommon for the kids that I work with to hop onto Discords and get involved in various different groups and sometimes that can be a healthy thing.

    Other times it's not. I worked with a kid that was actually put in charge of his Discord group. And they liked him so much that they said, “Let's have you be the moderator for this.”

    Well, the problem is that in order for him to be the moderator, he has to go and read all the inappropriate things that people are posting on there and decide which ones should be kicked off. And so it created all sorts of problems because parents walk in and they look at his Discord and he's reading a post about something inappropriate and it creates all sorts of challenges for those kids. They want that sense of belonging and connection and the internet can provide that. And there can be some great ways in which it can be used, but there's just so many challenges with it.

    Tiffany: Well, and then there's sometimes people who might get on their account and troll them or say some bully them and be really mean.

    And there's also times too, where they can get on and say things that maybe are taken out of context because they are on the spectrum because they say things just how it is. And if people don't understand them and what they may mean behind it, they may take offense to it. I've had friends who are on the spectrum who, you know, social media is the worst place for them to be because when they'd have a conversation with me and say something kind of out there, I understand not to take it literally. But when they put it on social media, they get themselves into really big trouble.

    Matt: Right.

    Tiffany: But yet they don't understand why everyone's freaking out about what they posted. So it's just so complex, especially if your child's on the spectrum.

    Matt: And it's constantly evolving. I always chuckle a little bit when I talk about social media with the kids because most of the time, by the time I start getting some level of competency with a particular social media, they've already moved on. You know, they're like, “Who uses Facebook anymore? Who uses Twitter? Just old people. No one uses that. TikTok. It's not even Twitter anymore.” And even as I say TikTok, I guarantee there's going to be somebody who's watching this like, what the heck's TikTok? Nobody uses that anymore. So yeah, it's hard to keep up and it's hard for parents to keep up.

    Tiffany: Well, and as much as it's hard to keep up, educate yourself. Try to keep up as much as you can and learn about the platform, even if you're like, "What is a ticky talk?", you know?

    Matt: And there are resources for that. One of the organizations I always point parents towards is Fight the New Drug, which is a great organization that does a lot with awareness and issues around pornography, but they have something similar to what you talked about earlier where there's a family media contract. And I think they update it fairly frequently with like, these are the apps you probably should not let your kids have, like specifically watch out for these ones.

    But then even as I say that, you know, kids are constantly updating those. I mean, I know there's a fake calculator out there that looks like a calculator app and you punch in a code and it opens up a free photo storage.

    Empowering Parents to Set Boundaries

    Tiffany: Yeah, there's so much. That being said though, there's a lot of great resources still with filters and safety software. I mean, we could spend forever talking about what they are. Do your research and they can offer things like limiting screen time, which absolutely should be the case.

    I think ultimately, with parents setting screen time and filters and software and boundaries and clear rules and even privacy settings, ultimately, we need to empower our parents. And parents, you need to empower yourself to be like, "This phone is being used in my house, so therefore it needs to be in my rules."

    But I think parents are worried that they're going to infringe upon their child's privacy and their right, which I mean, okay, first of all, your kid's under 18. I apologize, but they don't have that yet. They will get that someday and until then you need to help educate them. And you have every right to navigate who they're talking to, who they're texting, what apps are on, what they're looking at and the sooner you can set that boundary versus trying to do it when they're 16 and they've had a smartphone already for a couple of years, the easier it's going to be.

    If you try to go back and set that boundary, which if you haven't you should, please know it's going to be a big fight, but it'll be worth it. The clearer you can set the rules and the guidelines, the easier it's going to be.

    Matt: Right. Yeah, absolutely. And so I think the only other thing I would add at this point is just, I think a lot of times kids will also develop a belief, because I've had this discussion with a lot of parents. So they say, "Well, yeah, that's all well and good. But what if he's the one that bought his own cell phone? What if he's the one that bought his own Xbox? He feels he has ownership of that."

    And the logical steps I take parents through is I say, "Okay, so he's got the Xbox. It's his. Where's he keeping it? In the house. Okay. Who pays for the house? He's using the internet. Who pays for the internet? He's using electricity because he has to plug it into the wall. Who's paying for that? You are." So if he wants to play that game, then the Xbox can sit out in the dirt, in the weather, and he can have 100 percent choice and decision about what that Xbox has done. And you don't have to go that level of snarkiness necessarily with kids, but I mean, some kids will take it to that level and you have to say, “So let's logically go through this.”

    Tiffany: Well, they do what we like to call a little professoring where they try to out argue and lawyer you and smart you or like why they should have their phones and this is their privacy, it's like, Yes. And I'm helping you and I love you and I'm trying to help navigate an adult world.

    Matt: And that's important. That's the other thing I think a lot of parents get really hung up on is they don't like that mindset, like I don't like that my kid is kind of constantly arguing with me, but that's developmentally appropriate. Kids are supposed to do that at that age because you don't want your kid to grow up to be the person that just believes everything everybody tells them. You want them to be the person who critically weighs things and asks the what if questions and does that. That's not the same thing as necessarily "questioning authority" because we don't want them to follow you, but that's developmentally appropriate for them to do that.

    And so again, you can encourage this by saying, "I'm glad that you're thinking this through. I'm glad that it's obvious you've given this a lot of thought and it's obvious that you want to be treated like an adult and I appreciate the fact that you're engaging around this topic and that you're learning how to do this. That's awesome. And I'm the grownup. And so it's still going to be my house, my rules, but I'm so glad that you're developing this because that's good. And when you're an adult, and when you're in a situation where you can make all those decisions for yourself, Man, I'm so glad that you're going to be making thoughtful, well thought out ones. I'm still the adult right now."

    Tiffany: Yeah. This is my house and kind of my kingdom. And when you move out, you create your own kingdom. You know, the other thing is, parents, if your kids are fighting you on a boundary you're setting, then give yourself a pat on the back and know that you are setting the correct boundary.

    If there's a big fight, it means you are on the right path. So instead of veering away from that, because there is a fight, move forward into it, buckle your seatbelt, put on your helmet, and stand your ground.

    Matt: We have a joke oftentimes at Oxbow, that often gets passed around with the staff members where, particularly female staff, because I think a lot of times, probably because of the way porn does objectify and demean women, a lot of our kids really have a hard time with strong willed women who tell them no.

    Tiffany: Which, we don't have any of those at Oxbow. [laughs]

    Matt: And it's really fun to talk to some of our staff members, because they'll say, I won't say the word, but a certain five letter word that begins with a B. When a student calls you that, that's when you say, "Good, good. That means that I'm being clear here and that I'm doing my job right. Because if you think I'm a certain five letter B word, that means that I'm holding the boundaries with you that I should be holding.” So it's actually an opportunity to say, "okay, good, I'm doing my job right."

    Tiffany: Yeah. And that's the same. Like you said, it's developmentally appropriate for kids to fight things and boundaries and it also helps you know that you're on the right path when they start really pushing against it.

    Last couple of things before we move on. Okay, these are all great externally, but how do we move internally? But please educate your kids on online safety. Let them know that when someone's on the other side of things and saying they're a 14 year old girl that they may not be a 14 year old girl and why there might be certain people setting up traps or why there might be people bullying on the other side, like help them understand what's okay and what's not okay, especially if your kids on the spectrum

    Matt: And I think part of the challenge for that, and maybe I'll throw this last piece in, because this is a challenge that I think I especially run into with a lot of the autistic kids cause they're very rule bound and so when they see something that doesn't make sense to them, they're like, "why does this work?"

    So the example I always like to give on this is sexting, right? And then sending nude pictures and stuff like that. And so you'll sit down with this kid and you'll say, “Okay, well, here's the principles of consent," and they'll say, "Okay, but wait a minute. So I'm 16, and my girlfriend's 16, and if we're in the privacy of her own room, and she decides to show her breasts to me, that's not illegal?"

    "Well, probably not, you know. If all things being equal, there is true consent, all pieces of the consent bridge are in place." They say, "Then why can't she send me a picture of her breasts?" Well, because sexting, which in many cases, as I understand it, is a federal crime. Because you never know exactly what jurisdiction the victim is in and which jurisdiction the perpetrator's in. So as I understand it, when you run into those kinds of issues, usually it's the FBI knocking down your door, not local police.

    Tiffany: Well, the other thing is that picture may not stay with that one person.

    Matt: Yeah, exactly.

    Tiffany: Helping them understand that when you send that out there, someone may use that as blackmail against you or send it to everybody.

    Matt: But the minute you create an image of yourself or another person that is under the age of 18, my understanding is that that could be construed as possession and or distribution of child pornography and kids get into a lot of trouble for that. And I think they just don't get it. They don't realize. These are big boy consequences potentially for some of these things. And they don't get why it’s such a big deal.

    Tiffany: Or the other one might be, they want to meet up with someone they met online and that person isn't who they are and their intention isn't what they say it is. I mean, that's another scary one that I think a lot of parents are worried about.
    So the last two things are, parents, educate yourself ultimately on technology. And if you need help, there's resources and people you can reach out to to help you. It's funny, my dad always used to come to me because I grew up in the era of computers and he would always be like, "Tiffany, I can't figure out this one thing."

    And I'd be at the computer and on the phone with technical support and figure it out. And he was like, "How'd you do that?" So there's people out there who are really good at this, someone in IT who could help you. But there's privacy settings on social media accounts on Apple phones. There's ways to set up screen time limits. And then lastly, monitor your child's gaming activity. Just because they're playing a game and maybe engaging with teens for fun doesn't necessarily mean it's always appropriate. If they can chat with other people about gaming there might be inappropriate things going on. Bullying. I mean, there's so much that could happen. It's just, the more you know, the safer your kids are going to be.

    Matt: I think one general rule that probably ought to be in place anytime you have any kind of a social media platform should probably be, "you don't get this account unless you friend me on it."

    And unless I have access to it, because I need to be able to monitor that and you may not like it. I'm going to try to be in the background as much as possible. I'm not going to come and embarrass you in front of your friends, but I need to know what's being communicated because I need to know if I need to tell you to kind of pull it back.

    Tiffany: Think about it this way. You wouldn't just open up your house and invite anyone to come in and talk to your kids and tell them whatever they want and start whispering to them and having all these conversations. But that's what you're doing when you hand them any tech device that has access to the wifi and other people and text messages. And you, you need to know what kind of conversations they're having, what's going on for so many reasons.

    Okay. Let's shift gears. That's all external.

    Matt: That's all external. And for a lot of parents, that's the situation that they're in. And the reality is these external supports are important because, let's just say hypothetically you do have a situation where one of your kids gets involved and you now have a CPS report on your hands because one of your children is abused or touched or there might be some suspicion they might have touched one of your younger kids.

    CPS is going to come in and they're going to ask questions like, are you putting alarms on doors? Are you putting cameras up? You know, what are you doing to kind of ensure continued safety? And so these external supports are important and it's important to have those as kind of a catch all, but, like we said, they're imperfect.

    Internal Motivation and Value

    Matt: And so that's where it gets into the other barriers. We want to create compelling reasons for our kids to get up in the morning. We want to give them things that they can do that show that they have value and worth, and we want them to be. We want to put a lot of attention into that because if I don't feel like I have a compelling thing to do with my life, then the fallback is I'm just going to do whatever I can to entertain myself. And so that's a big piece.

    Tiffany: So technology isn't the driving force for that.

    Matt: We want them to know that they have value and that they have something they can contribute. And again, this is especially the case with autistic kids. They need to know that they have that value. We talked about the internal barriers, and this is where a lot of parents struggle under the challenges. It's like, I'm constantly putting out fires to try to stop him from doing these things. But he isn't doing anything to stop it himself, right?

    Tiffany: Yeah, that's when I talk to parents. I'm like, if you're the one playing this cat and mouse game then that should be a red flag to you if your child isn't helping you set up these barriers and it's more of a game for them to get around them.

    Matt: Right. And so, you know, there's lots of things that you can do in those areas. I think one of the big things is don't engage in justification, calling kids out on their stuff and being really clear about this is why it's not okay. Don't use thinking errors yourselves.

    Tiffany: And by the way, if you don't know what thinking errors are, go look them up. If you have teenagers, any type of teenager, they will help you immensely with parenting.

    Matt: And not using them yourself. Right. There's that saying, you know, "teach your children and if necessary use words" or whatever, because they're most likely going to follow your example.

    So if you yourself have, I remember the Brock Turner a couple of years ago where he was sitting there in court and he's on trial for sexually assaulting somebody who was drunk and they're interviewing his dad and his dad says, "Isn't it so terrible that my son's having his life ruined for 30 seconds of action."

    And it's like, okay, well now we know where the problem came from. If that's your opinion about sexual assault as a father, as a man, that the person that your son's supposed to look up to, well, now mystery solved, right. And so we have to ourselves set the example of the kinds of things that are acceptable and we have to be consistent with those things because kids are going to look for your hypocrisy and they're going to find it because all parents are hypocrites to some extent.

    Tiffany: But if you're justifying a lot, using excuses, black or white thinking, like they're going to follow in your footsteps with all of that.

    Increasing Sensitivity and Empathy

    Matt: Yeah, yeah. So kind of helping them build that internal motivation. Then as far as victim resistance, again, just trying to generally increase the amount of sensitivity in their lives. There's great resources for this.

    There used to be a activity that we would take the boys to at the UVU campus here in Orem, Utah, and the Clothesline Project, where essentially you go and there's this just open auditorium area with all these shirts and basically what the shirts are is they are expressions from various victims or family members of victims of various different forms of abuse. And you go in there and you'll see the colors matter, right? Certain colors stand for certain things.

    Tiffany: And they write stuff on them.

    Matt: They write things on them. And so you'll see a variety of things. You'll see everything from walking down and something says, "I effing hate you because you ruined my life. I hope you burn in hell." Right. You know, to something to the effect of, "I now get it. I get why you felt like you had to do this and I want you to know that I'm a survivor and I forgive you."

    Right. And I think that exposure is like the raw experience of people who are victims of these things. That can help with that sensitization to start to say, "Wow, look at the harm that this does," because there's so much out there in the world that is trying to convince them that what they're doing is only affecting themselves.

    Tiffany: Well, Brene Bowen often says something to the effect of, "it's hard to hate someone up close." So the more we can get our kids to look at people as people, to humanize them, to realize and have empathy and understanding like, Oh, they're scared and you're scared. And especially kids on the spectrum making that connection, the less they're motivated to continue to act out in the ways they are, especially sexually.

    Matt: Yeah. Now, granted, having said that, I can see a lot of kids being like, "Oh my gosh, another teaching moment. What are we doing?" You know? And that goes back to , the best way that we can do that is in those impromptu moments when they come up rather than sit down and have an organized lecture about sexual assault. One of the best things you can do is kind of when the moment comes up and you see something, you watch something in a movie and it's obvious a character is traumatized, what do you think's going on with that person right there? Yeah. How do you think they're experiencing right now? Those are the kinds of moments that helped the most.

    Tiffany: Oh, can I jump in? There's a great one. Like I've had with my kids a lot where, I have a little baby and the two older girls and they've been helping me with the baby and they're like, "Oh mom, she's exhausting. She doesn't listen to me." And I go, "Oh, really? Interesting. How do you think I feel some days that you don't listen to me?"

    And you can see the light bulb go on like, "Oh yeah, I get it now." So even something as simple as that with your kids, the more you can help make that connection.

    Matt: Right. Because the bottom line is when they become adults, it won't be the external barriers that's going to keep them out of trouble. It will be the connections they've developed, their relationships, and it will be their own internal sense of what's right and wrong. And so that, and I'm not saying just rely on that and just, Oh, well, my kid says he's learned his lesson and had a “come to Jesus moment” and seeing the light and I'm not going to ever do this again. As Ronald Regan used to say, "trust but verify," and that's where the external and the internal kind of are supposed to interweave with each other.

    And again, with autism, bear in mind that just because they may not be emoting a particular way doesn't necessarily mean they're not feeling something. A lot of times if they're shut down, they probably are feeling something too much, and they probably are feeling the heavy weight of that shame so much so that they just literally, they can't even get words out.

    And so try to be really cautious about assuming that if they're not emoting a certain way, that means they're not feeling something. That's not often the case.

    Working Together with Teens

    Tiffany: Oh, that makes sense. To wrap this up, I think it's important that, yes, we need external boundaries to keep our kids safe, especially initially. The sooner you can set them around technology, the better and then the less fights you'll have around it. And then ultimately helping them internalize and, like you said, realizing that life is more than technology. There's other things to get excited about rather than playing a video game, right? Which can be hard to do in the middle of summer when your kids are home all day. But getting them involved and then most importantly, connection and self worth and all those important things.

    And if you're struggling with that, get help with a therapist. Ultimately, and parents, if you're the one, like I said, playing that cat and mouse or cops and robbers, then you're not in the right spot and you need help and support to have your kid work with you.

    They should be working as hard as you are working in this area. And if they're not, that's a big red flag that there's more going on and that you're going to exhaust yourself and burn out and then become resentful towards your teen, which is not where we want to be. We want you working together in tandem with them to overcome this, not to catch them in it, right? Not to hold their feet to the fire and catch them in their mistakes. But them realizing that there's importance to what is going on around these boundaries and there's a need for them

    Matt: And model them yourself. Model yourself when you yourself have done something you shouldn't have done. Take ownership of it. Don't use justifications for your own stuff because your kids are going to pick up on that.

    Tiffany: Do the best you can do, and I make mistakes all the time with my kids. I had moments yesterday morning trying to get my kids out the door, to go back and say, "You know what? I was not acting like an adult should, and I'm sorry. Let me try that again."

    And the more I can do that for my kids, the more they realize things like, "Oh, I don't have to be perfect and I can try again when I mess up." And that's really what our kids need.

    Matt: Yeah. I keep one of those little movie clicker things in my office, and I'll sometimes have to pull that down when a kid's being belligerent or inappropriate and I'll have to say, "Okay, do you want to try that again? Should we take two, right? See how that goes." And the more that you can kind of model that with your kids, don't automatically become reactive because they're reactive. Take a breath. Take a step back and say, "Okay, should we try that again? Let's see if we can do that better this time."

    Because a lot of times if you give their brain a chance to kind of catch up with them, you're gonna get a better response for them and they're gonna say what it is they actually think and what it is that they are wanting to do. And then they don't have to feel like they're on pins and needles all the time. Like, I can't tell my parents if I've made a mistake because they're going to shame me for it.

    Seeking Further Help

    Tiffany: Well, we also want to acknowledge before we end that this topic can be a hot topic for parents who are struggling with kids on the spectrum, who are struggling with sexually acting out or pornography use. This can be such a pain point for parents and fights. And so while we're talking about all these things and saying, "Oh yeah, just do this and that and it's so simple." We want to acknowledge that it's not.

    Matt: And a lot of you probably are doing all these things.

    Tiffany: And know that you're not alone and there's help. And so we're actually on the next episode going to talk about, say you're doing all these things, say your child's in therapy and it's still not making a difference and you're setting all these boundaries with technology and it's not making a difference.

    Matt: They're getting kicked out of school because they're getting into porn, you're burning bridges with people and you're just running out of options.

    Tiffany: And maybe they haven't acted out with someone younger or inappropriately but you're worried they might, what's the next step? How can I keep my child safe? So we're going to talk about what options are to help your child at that point. And specifically talk more about what places like Oxbow Academy can offer and help parents in that situation.

    So thanks. Join us for our last episode in this series.

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    Contact us if you need help with treatment for sexual addiction, sexual abuse, pornography abuse, and other compulsive behavior issues.