Have You Lost Your Child to the Internet?

Coaching strategies to help get your family back

Posted Feb 23, 2016

Gloria DeGaetano, used with permission
Source: Gloria DeGaetano, used with permission

Texting, facebook, TV, video games—today’s teens spend up to nine hours a day connected to screens (Commonsense Media). Busy and exhausted, too many moms and dads miss their children, the innocent young faces replaced by sullen automatons, too busy texting and clicking to connect with their parents or themselves.

“Many parents see the child as the problem,” says Gloria DeGaetano, founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute (PCI) (www.thepci.org) in Seattle, explaining how families get locked into a power struggle. “It becomes a control issue when the child, especially the teen, pushes back from the parents” and the frustrated parent “keeps on pushing.”

DeGaetano, who founded the PCI in response to the Columbine tragedy in 1999, sees parent coaching as a way to help parents break through the power struggle, reclaim their parenting identity (DeGaetano, 2004), and “bring the three dimensional life back” to their families. The challenge, she says, “is for parents to make life as fulfilling as a video game”--no easy task when games and Internet sites are designed to activate our brain’s reward centers, providing instant gratification and the desire for constant stimulation.

PCI coaches, trained through DeGaetano’s Parent Coach Certification® Program, help parents understand their child’s developing brain, promoting self-regulation and meta-level thinking. Three key strategies are:

  1. Restoring the Bond between parent and child, drawing upon the latest research in brain development. While there’s lots of information out there about the overuse of screen technology, DeGaetano says,  what parents really need are effective strategies. Her PCI coaches help them schedule “regular one-on-one time” with their child “nurturing the authentic connection” too often missing in our busy society. “We need to put boundaries around screen technology,” for both parents and children to make time for human connection, she says. Coaches can help by asking clarifying questions, helping parents identify priorities and focus on what’s really important to them.
  2. Identifying Strengths, applying work in Appreciative Inquiry (Whitney & Trosten-Bloom, 2003) and research in positive psychology (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). “Really connecting with their child can help parents see what they do well,” says DeGaetano. Then the parent can mirror back the child’s strengths with careful listening and reframing, building the young person’s confidence and sense of self.  One parent had a 15-year-old boy who was gaming all the time.  Part of his satisfaction was the strategy involved. Coaching helped this parent reinforce her son’s strategic thinking, helping him discover more ways to express it--in his geometry class and the school chess club, which increased his intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Her son began to develop greater confidence, finding significance and meaning in his own life, beyond the attraction of screens.
  3. Changing “Shoulds” to “Wants.”  Faced with a child’s screen addiction, parents often feel “guilty and shameful, like they’re failures,” DeGaetano says, noting the tremendous pressure on parents these days when “we live in unprecedented times.” Parents face peer pressure from other parents that pushes them to do more, to fill up their children’s lives with activities--extra classes, tutoring, music lessons, soccer practice, and community service to build their résumés when what they really need is more human connection. Parent coaches can help parents stop following the tyranny of “shoulds” to ask “What do I really want?”

With a change in perspective, parents can stop focusing on “the problem,” and focus instead on their child’s unique talents, desires, ongoing development, and the nurturing bond of love that connects them. Then screens and digital devices can be used in the service of a fulfilling life and the entire family flourishes.


CommonSense Media Survey https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/the-common-sense-census-media-use-by-tweens-and-teens

Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

DeGaetano, G. (2004). Parenting Well in a Media Age. Fawnskin, CA: Personhood Press.

DeGaetano, G. Personal communication, February 17, 2016.

Parent Coaching Institute. Many teachers, therapists, and school counselors have become parent coaches. For more information on working with a coach or becoming one yourself, see www.ThePCI.org or http://www.parentcoachinginternational.com.

Peterson, C.  & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

Whitney, D. and Trosten-Bloom, A. (2003). The Power of Appreciative Inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web sites at  http://www.northstarpersonalcoaching.com/

and www.dianedreher.com