Digital Detox Summer Camp for Youth Expands to Canada

Photo of People Engaged on their Phones - addicted to technology

Written by: Guest Contributor

Published: Feb 24, 2023

Michael Jacobus hopes the summer camp program he founded six years ago, (to help youth addicted to technology) will cease to exist, soon.

“I’ll always start by saying, I don’t want your kid at my camp,” says Jacobus sharing what he often tells parents. “I want you to get a head of this right now.”

Instead, Reset Summer Camp is set to expand, slated to be offered north of the border for the first time in its almost six-year history —- at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec — beginning July 2023.

Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a child development professional, whose particular focus is on youth formation and leadership training. Michael Jacobus is also an author, a trainer, and an outdoor education specialist. He has spent more than 30 years working with camps from administrator to facilitator. He is the executive director of reset summer camp, and in person clinical program, supporting teens and young adults with technology or gaming addictions. Michael Jacobus is also a father of three. And he joins us today from Orange County, California. Thank you so much for being here.

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Michael, you founded reset summer camp back in 2018. And it was really born from your own lived experience. Can you take us through what you encountered with your own family?
Well, my son who is 30 Now, when he was between 13 and 15, he became very gaming addicted, his particular game of choice was World of Warcraft. And it his mom, and I didn’t know really what to do, we had never experienced anything like that before. I use the term white knuckled because we really had to white knuckle him through high school to get him off his gaming addiction. That gaming addiction lasted all through high school. And it was a real daily challenge to get him to complete his his high school education.

It’s interesting, because we’re talking more than 15 years ago now, right? So where did you turn to for help, and was anything helpful for you and your wife at that time?

We didn’t turn anywhere because there was nothing available? You know, I was a summer camp director. So every summer I would go and run a camp. But those programs are filled with kids who want to be there, and who come for the experience. And they come back next year, and they invite their friends. So there was no apart from like a wilderness program or a therapeutic boarding school. And he wasn’t that far gone. But it was it was still a real challenge. And it was really just daily setting limits, having him break those limits. And, you know, trying to reinforce every day, the importance of doing homework and family and her involvement, and a good night’s sleep. Because he would play until midnight, one two in the morning sometimes. And we would wonder why he’s so sleepy when it’s time to go to school. So it was it was a daily battle.

You talk about it, white knuckling it through that time. For him and for you. I wonder what other emotions were you encountering? Because it does sound like a bit of a helpless feeling when you don’t have really any support system to turn to have note. And you’ve got, you know, presumably other members of the family to consider as well. So what were some of the emotions that you were feeling?

Well, much like the parents idea without reset, we were feeling very helpless, that we had failed, as parents very ashamed and embarrassed that we allowed this situation to get like this. We had two other kids in the house and they weren’t addicted to games. And so it was it was very odd. And, and, and a helpless feeling to be in that situation.

When you look back on it now, what, if anything, could you or would you have done differently do you think?

We would have regulated gaming activity and you know, the smartphones weren’t such a thing when my kids were young. But you know, he had a gaming console in his room. And when I talked to parent groups all the time, I strictly warn against that. You know, because he’s in his room, and it’s quiet, and you think he’s doing his homework and everything’s great. And that’s not what’s going on what’s going on is he’s got his earphones in, and he’s playing a video game and you can’t hear anything because his earphones are on. And he’s not getting anything done. And they always sneaking food, which is you know, snack food and junk food, which is why he’s not hungry for dinner. And then he’ll say goodnight and go to sleep and we’ll go to sleep and then he’ll get up and turn his computer back on and be gaming again. So the strongest recommendation I always make is to room remove gaming from the bedroom.

It’s so interesting to hear you describe it, something that happened, you know, that long ago and knowing what you do now, what kind of goes through your mind as you reflect back on that time, armed with all the knowledge and information that you now have to address that very issue.

Well, I tell you, I just see things getting worse, quite honestly, anytime I’m in a restaurant and I see a child in a stroller with a rubber covered iPad, you know, very often you look at the table next to and everybody is on a device, mom and dad and the kids and grandparent everybody is elsewhere, they’re not in the conversation with the people that they are there with. They’re checking their social medias, checking their emails, you know, making an Amazon order. They’re doing anything but social interaction. So it’s, you know, I would love to say, I see a light at the end of the tunnel, but I don’t at the moment.

So what led then to the formation of reset summer camp, you go through this experience in your own household. And then in 2018, you decide to start up a camp that at the time, I guess, was the first of its kind, what led to that?

Well, I had been working with teenagers, mostly and younger children pretty much my entire career. So over 30 years, and I noticed the advent of fortnight, I would say fortnight was really kind of the catalyst. Because when I played video games as a kid, and we’re talking, you know, Pac Man and Space Invaders and things like that, you would see on the screen the words game over, either you lost or you won, it didn’t really matter, you finish the game. Well, now there’s no end to games, there is no ending, there’s no game over, there’s a constant quest, with the exception of when fortnight came out. And when fortnight came out, there was this urgency to win. And, you know, it’s a Last Man Standing shooter game. And if you lost, you would go into the lobby and sign in again. And there was no, there was no way a teenage brain who you know, is prone to gaming addiction could could handle that. And that was also about the same time the World Health Organization declared gaming disorder to be a diagnosable mental health condition. So it’s like the world was starting to take notice that this was an issue. And in 30 years of running summer camps, like I said, kids have always wanted to attend my summer camps. So I decided to sort of combine a summer camp program with a therapeutic residential program. We have a whole lot more staff. After than a regular summer camp would have, we ran a three or four to one ratio of campers to staff, we have a clinician, who’s a working practicing therapist, be on site at our camp 24/7 The entire time the kids are there. So they’ll run group therapy and individual therapy all day, every day. So it’s funny because as as a summer camp, we’re a pretty expensive program, as a therapeutic residential facility were the cheapest game in town. So like I said, there was nothing to send my son to. And he wasn’t really a candidate for wilderness program were therapeutic boarding school, he would have been perfect for a reset program. But there wasn’t any at that time.

Take us through some of the other unique attributes of reset summer camp, you talked about the professionals that are part of your staff. What can campers experience during their time there?

Well, reset is a four week program. And it’s housed on university campuses. So we marketed as a digital detox program, but also a life skills program. And especially with the advent of COVID, than the worldwide pandemic, and all the kids being shut in and going to school online, that didn’t help things. And a lot of their social skills deteriorated during that time. So, you know, the first week of camp, you know, like I said, nobody is excited to be there. Most kids feel they’re being punished or being sent there. And the first week is kind of tough. And I even tell my staff during the staff training week that that you’re not gonna get a lot of sleep the first week, because the kids who arrive at camp are used to being up till two or three in the morning, their eating habits are horrible, their sleeping habits are horrible. So the first week in addition to the group and the individual therapy, which isn’t very deep the first week, we get them on a regular schedule, you know, they we have lights out at 930 at night, now they don’t go to sleep. But then they can talk to their roommate. They’re in college dorms, and they have roommates. And we do that on purpose to give them a feel for what college life might be like or living in an apartment outside that after they move out at home might be like, and then we wake them up at 630 in the morning because we gather at seven and go to breakfast and nobody wants to get up at 630 in the morning, especially that first week. But by the by the second or third week. They’re kind of on, you know, a much healthier eating and sleeping habit and it’s really amazing how quickly they kind of revert to who they were before they got wrapped up in their technology and it’s not just for gaming addiction. We have social media addicts, we have streaming addicts, and they’re not all addicts, you know that that’s such an negative connotations word but, you know, it’s unhealthy overuse in excessive of sleeping and schoolwork and family type.

Can you paint a picture for us of what you’re seeing in terms of the types of kids coming to this camp and the time that it has run? Are there certain trends that you’re noticing of interest?

Well, the typical camper who comes to our program is a 14 or 15 year old boy who is into gaming, so not so much on their phones, but on their computers set up at home. That isn’t to say, we don’t get girls who are gamers or girls who are into social media, and other kids that are into other unhealthy tech addictions. But are typical campers, a boy, and they have very low self esteem, they’re usually not in really great shape, because they if they did play a sport, they haven’t played in a couple of years, because they got lost in technology. And all of them have caused their parents to reach kind of a breaking point, kind of the white knuckle point that I mentioned earlier, that they don’t really know what to do. And they are unable to digitally detox these kids at home, because the parents can’t be everywhere. 24/7. And they all have different environments and different other siblings. So we run the four week program. And it’s funny, because parents will ask me sometimes is this program guaranteed? And I’ll say, Absolutely not. I can guarantee the detox your kid, because they’re going to be with me for four weeks and not have a device. But then we’re going to send them home to the environment where the problem started. So during the camp, we will send emails to the parents updates with how their kid is doing, but also recommendations that they take a look at their own lives and their own relationship with technology, the example they’re setting, we recommend that they go digital free for a weekend, whether they can do it or not as another story. And then they read, we recommend they change the home environment. Like I said, Hold the electronics out of their kid’s room. We close the camp with family workshop weekend. So a parent, at least one parent has to show up on Friday and stay till Sunday. And I’ll I’ll hold up a Walmart alarm clock. And I’ll say use this instead of your phone, you know, charge the phone in a neutral location, perhaps under lock and key if you need to. But get the technology out of the bedroom so they can concentrate on getting a good night’s sleep.

So you’ve got them in a different environment away from home, there’s a, you know, a strict structured schedule. What else do you think that they’re learning at this camp, that they’re not getting it home?

Well, in addition to the therapy that I talked about, we do a lot of life skills. So we’ll do a cooking class, and it’s twice a week, every week that they’re there, we’ll have them do their own laundry, and many of them have never done their own laundry. So we take them through exactly how a washing machine works, and how you know, a dryer works and when the lint screen is and how much soap to use. And and that’s kind of embarrassing for some of the kids to not know. But if you’ve never been taught you don’t know. So in addition to regular how to live your life, we’ll have classes on exactly what big tech wants from them. And it’s not their enjoyment of playing the game or being on social media, it’s their their time and their money and their friends time. We’ll have a What’s your financial footprint class? And we talked to them about exactly what it costs for them to live. In their current situation, you know, how often do they go to Starbucks? How many streaming services did they subscribe to, you know, what is rent in their neighborhood, because they’re all going to be adults sooner or later, mostly sooner. And they’re going to have to be out on their own. And some of them are going to have to deal with these expenses. So we talked about, you know, when the kids are right, we tell them, we’re not here to tell you never to play games again, or never to be on social media again. We’re just here to teach you how to get what you want in life and watching YouTube for 20 hours a day isn’t the way to do it. So we try to get them to understand a healthy balance and the importance of social interaction, the importance of good grades, so they have some college choices. The reason we hold the program at College campus is so they get a feel for what college life is like. We changed their roommate assignments every week because it’s uncomfortable. Because life is uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes you get a great roommate, sometimes you get a roommate you don’t get along with so well. And dealing with that situation is part of learning how to be an adult.

So if I’m a parent listening to you talk about your own experience, this camp, the structure, the fact that you know there’s also advice provided for parents on looking at themselves as well. Like how, when I’m listening to you, how do I, as a parent, try to incorporate some of what you have just described that you do at camp in my own home? And will that work? Or does it need to get to the end of the line or become a dire situation in order for the child to get the appropriate help that they need?

Well, it all depends on where they are on the journey with their kid. And what’s funny is, every kid is different. You know, we talked to parents all the time, we have one kid who’s really addicted to the internet, or gaming or whatever. And they might have two or three siblings that don’t have an issue. So it’s not necessarily the family or the home environment, it could just be that one kid and their psychological makeup that makes, you know, technology more attractive or addictive to them. When I talk to, I’ll do talks sometimes with grammar school parents, and I’ll explain what my camp is and what my program is. And I’ll always start by saying, I don’t want your kid at my camp. I want you to get a head of this right now. Monitor their screen time, monitor who they’re chatting with online, play the game with them, if that’s what they want to do, even if you don’t want to, I mean, the more parent involvement in the kids lives on a day to day basis, the less likely or to need my program.

Michael, how would you describe what healthy self moderated use of video gaming, social media, streaming, excetera, looks like to you?

Well, health, healthy self moderation means that it’s not a primary focus in your life. So if you’re getting good sleep, if you’re doing well in school, if you’re interacting with your family, you know, some so many families do, they don’t have a family dinner, not even once a week, everyone’s just winging it. So, and again, like I said, different kids react different ways. I had one mother that wanted to sign her kid up for camp. And she said that she was unhappy with his video gaming. But he was also on the basketball team, on the debate team had a part time job and got straight A’s. And I’m like, I don’t think he would be a good fit for our program. Because it sounds like he’s regulating, you might not be happy with the time the spending. And that can be something communication wise, you can talk to your son about. But you can’t just sign your kid up for our program, you fill out an application, and it gets screened by your clinical director who will then call the parent back and discuss the answers to the questions on the application. And mostly we’re trying to screen out anger management kids, or sexual deviation kids or substance abuse kids, because we’re not a we’re not a detox for marijuana or alcohol. We’re not that kind of program. And we had one mother call and say she wanted to sign her daughter up who had come at her with a knife when she turned the Wi Fi off. And the police had already been to the house twice this month. And we’re like, yeah, that’s not our program. That’s an anger management issue. It could also be an unhealthy gaming, addiction. But there’s more to it. So we’re trying we try to screen the kids as best we can to make sure everyone can actually benefit from the program.

Is there a story in particular an anecdote that you’ve heard over the years that really still strikes you in terms of somebody that reached out for help potentially attended the camp and then was able to completely change their behavior as a result of it?

We actually have many stories like that. One of my favorite is a kid who was getting D’s and F’s in school. He came to the camp didn’t want to be there very unpredictable story the first week like most of them are, but ended up you know, getting in the groove getting some good sleep, got detox from his his social media and his gaming and gut when he was done. You know, we we have a bunch of regular summer camp activities. We’ll go to the beach, we’ll play basketball and volleyball and we have an improv class. And he really got into the improv class. And he ended up joining his high school drama team. And I actually went to his one of his plays, and he was really good. And then he went out for the football team, and now he’s a student at Ole Miss on the football team and in the drama program. So and his parents totally credit the camp for that, because they didn’t know what to do. They were white knuckling. You know, just to get through the day with him. And, you know, to us, it’s really to detox them, get them off their screens, and open their eyes to some new possibilities.

Given what we know today and what we see in the news, the headlines. You know, you mentioned the World Health Organization, officially recognizing gaming just Order a few years ago, the global epidemic of youth mental health as it currently stands, do you believe that the average parent is taking technology and device addiction and, you know, social media attachment, all these things seriously enough?

Absolutely not. And I wish I had a better answer, because the parents are just as addicted, but they’re addicted in different ways. You know, technology was supposed to make our lives easier. But it’s really just caused things to be quicker and faster. And you know, we’re, we’re doing this zoom call on a Saturday, you know, 10 years ago, we would never schedule an appointment on a weekend. But it’s available, and we have the time, so we’re doing it. But you and I have, you know, a healthy relationship with tech, and it doesn’t dominate our lives. So, so much. Some of the stories in the news today, our kids are getting drugs, through Snapchat or something. And then the drugs are laced with fentanyl, and the kid dies and things like that. And the parents want to know what to do about it. And, you know, sadly, I think it starts with your kids access to social media platforms, and not knowing what your kid is up to. You know, when I talk to parent groups, I’ll be asked to speak sometimes on the dangers of social media or something like that. And, and I’ll talk about five or six different platforms. And when I’m done, I’ll say now you can forget everything I just said. Because while I’ve been talking, six new platforms have been launched, and two new apps and three new games. And, you know, there just is no way a parent can keep up with everything their child is being bombarded with, other than communicating with their child, and having their child’s show them on their device, what they’re doing, who they’re chatting with. And for parents to reach out. I’ve often said, I’ve asked kids at camp, how many of you have online friends, you’ve never met in person? And everyone raises their hands? And I’ll say, how do you know that that person is who they say they are? And then I’ll get different answers, you know, well, this person goes to the neighboring school, and they’re friends with this person that I do know, and that’s all fine. But if you truly don’t know somebody that you’re chatting with, I recommend that you open up a FaceTime or a zoom call with them. And they really want to make your parents happy. Have your parents and their parents have the roof. So you can actually meet in person, even though it’s via zoom. So you can tell if the person is who they say they are. And if the person rejects, you know, that invitation, then that should be a red flag. But I’ve even had parents say, you know, I’ve recommended parents, you know, reach out to the parents of the kids that, that their child is playing online with, you know, mostly to kind of schedule for lack of a better term playdates. You know, if your kid is playing a game, say it’s world Warcraft online with three of their school friends, then all the parents should be talking and decide that from four to six, that’s what they’re going to do. And then at six, we turn it off. So there’s no complaining that Oh, I just got on and or my friend just got on, why do I have to go off? And I even get pushback from parents on that recommendation. I had one mother say, Well, my son’s best friend is Asian and his parents only speak Mandarin. And I don’t know how to communicate with them. And I opened up Google Translate on my phone, I said, I spent the month in China, I don’t speak Mandarin. Try Google Trends. I mean, make the effort. And there’s so many parents and today and it’s not just parents, it’s just how the world is we’re, it’s becoming so much smaller, and so much easier just to stay in your little bubble, and not reach out and not socialize with anybody. That like I said, I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

Michael, can you take us through a little bit about of the therapy and the clinical aspect of the camp? What exactly is the type of help that a camper is going to get it within that space?

Well, the group therapy, like I said, happens twice a week. For everybody know, everybody, they’re broken down, and depends how many kids are in our program at any given time. But the therapists will break them down into groups of say, six, and there will be group therapy, which is all about why they were sent here, what addiction means, you know what healthy balance looks like things like that. But then interspersed with all the group therapy is individual therapy, and the individual therapy. What I like about our program, and the camp in general, is the individual therapy doesn’t happen, you know, Thursday at 430 for 45 minutes. It’s not a scheduled thing, because the therapists are members of the staff and they’re there. 24/7 the therapy happens on the walk to lunch, or sitting at the beach, or in a walk after dinner. You know, the therapist that we use in California, we’re very fortunate because she brings her husband and he is also a therapist, and she brings her dog. So, you know, I’ve seen her take her dog on 100 walks with 100 different kids, and they can be 10 minutes, that can be an hour. And that’s where she breaks down the individual details of what is going on in that child’s actual life. And, you know, we’ve had things from, you know, very minor issues with disagreeing with parents discipline procedures, to, you know, reporting of abusive behaviors, and, and every kid is different. And some kids, you know, really need to be there and really need our program and really need to understand what’s going on. And some kids don’t really have that bigger problem. It’s more the family dynamic and the parents that have an issue. But we don’t know that until the kid gets into the program.
So along those lines, then how does a parent determine if their child does need something like reset summer camp does need something like digital rehab?
Well, we’ll talk to parents and we’ll say if you know, the typical camper that comes to our program, their grades are falling like sharply, they’re almost flunking out of school. The home situation is horrible. You know, they’re, they’re locked in their rooms they’re playing the video games are not engaging in family activities. They’re not coming down from meals, if they call mom a bitch, when she says it’s time for dinner, turn off the game. That that’s pretty much our kit. You know, if they’re coming at mom with a knife when she says we’re turning off the Wi Fi, that’s, that’s a little beyond the line. But But parents really kind of know, you know, that, that their efforts are falling on deaf ears. And you know, when they feel like they’ve reached the end of their rope, and they don’t know what to do, and they’re white knuckling that, like I told you in the beginning, that that’s when they need to send their kid to a detox, which is what our program is primarily.

In the summer of 2023. Reset summer camp is going to enter Canada. I wonder what made you decide to come to Canada, it’ll be at Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, we should mention. So what decided what made you decide to create a Canadian version of this camp? And why was this particular location chosen?

Well, we get kids from all over the country. And from some internationals we’ve we’ve had kids from Canada that every year we’ve done this program. So we’ve gotten a lot of parent requests for when are you going to open a program in Canada, and also being at bishops university that’s very close to the Vermont border, which is kind of the extreme east coast. So parents who don’t want to travel to California for our program, they have an option, even if they’re in the US, they have an option to maybe just go north of the border over there. So that is a licensed program. A friend of mine who has been a camp director almost as long as I have, it has mostly worked with special needs camping is the licensee that’s running that program. And he chose Bishop’s University because it’s very similar to Westmont College where the California Program is located. It’s a small university, it’s in a quiet town. And like I said, we do a cooking program. So there had to be, you know, a facility to teach kids how to cook and there had to be laundry, so kids can learn how to do laundry. But the dorm situation is very similar to ours in California, where kids can be housed with roommates, but everyone can be kind of centrally located. And the program can kind of stand alone while being on that campus.

I guess a question many parents watching or listening to this interview may have is how does the efforts of the therapists of everyone involved in my son or daughter going to that camp? How can we ensure that that then sticks? How do you respond to that?

Well, we we like I said, we close the program with a family workshop weekend. During that weekend, there is a family therapy session where everything that child has revealed other than anything that should be kept confidential, is shared with the parents. And everything we talked to the parents about is kind of reinforcing everything. We’ve emailed them the whole four weeks. So you know, and part of our intake process is you know, you have to agree to attend the family workshop to participate in the therapy and participate in the aftercare and the aftercare is eight weeks of communication after the kid goes home. Really just to make sure that things are sticking, that the parents are sticking to their guns that the kids are cooperating and doing the things that they learned at camp and that you know, they’re they’re having a healthier relation. ship with technology. And then if and then if further intervention is needed, our therapist will recommend a family therapy in the hometown of whoever the the camper is.

And how often is that the case?

How about 20% of the time, there’s a recommendation to continue with therapy. But a lot of that plays into the dynamic of the family, too. You know, the first year we did our family workshop, we had one set of parents sitting in the back of the room, and they were both on their phone the whole time. And I can tell you exactly how that was gonna go. And so we’ve gotten a lot better at it in the six years that we’ve run this program, about a screening the kids and their family members, and be running the workshop where everyone’s engaged and involved in understanding what what it is we’re doing.

You’ve been very candid, in this interview, Michael, about describing the problem, as you know, in your view, probably getting worse before it gets better. In many respects. This camp started a couple of years before the pandemic, presumably, the pandemic has just exacerbated the issue in many households. So what? So when you look at the big picture, what concerns you most? And in the same token, what gives you hope?

Well, what concerns me most is the gaming companies and social media companies are, are pretty much unchecked. Now, I know there was like a class action lawsuit against I think it’s Epic Games of the maker and fortnight, and epic lost. And it was like a half a billion dollar, it was a big settlement. But when you know, after that was done, they just keep doing what they’re doing. So they’re making so much money, that a half a billion dollar penalty didn’t really affect them. So that that really worries me. And every every action the parent group or government takes to restrain or control can be bypassed by a savvy kid, to get more time on that app, or more time in that social media platform or more time on that game. You know, I tell parents all the time, have your child show you their Instagram account. And if they have to log into it, it’s not their Instagram account. Which basically means there are actually apps you can have on your phone that will mask your Instagram account. So it looks like you’re signing in to Instagram. So if it ever comes up, you can show you know bunnies and unicorns and balloons and have a happy little Instagram account, which has nothing to do with your actual online presence. So that’s why I tell parents, you can’t keep up other than communicating with your kids. The hopefulness I do see is like what the story of the football player I told you about. You know, we’re we’re the only program I know of that does what we do in a summer camp kind of environment. But there are wilderness programs, there’s therapeutic boarding schools that there is help out there. And the kids who go through these programs usually come out with a better understanding of why they got addicted in the first place and some healthy self regulation tools to not let it happen in the future. So it’s not all doom and gloom, but But it’s pretty stormy.

We are talking for the kids who are enrolled and allowed to enter your camp, we’re talking about a month, then there’s 11 months of the year that has to go on at home and things have to go on, as per usual. So what can you say to parents who really might be struggling with this in ways that they’re not even fully aware of yet about what else they can do to ensure that they don’t end up having to take their kid to a camp like yours?

Well, we talked about this at Camp sleep is the most important thing. Above everything else. If you don’t get enough sleep in life, you will not be successful in school gaming, in social interactions with your family with your job. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re kind of in a bad position. So the very first thing I recommend is to remove the tech from the bedrooms. And a lot of parents will take our advice and put a power strip for example in their master bedroom closet. And they’ll have a log off time. Nine o’clock at night, every night. Every device gets put on the charger in the master bedroom closet and some parents have had to put a padlock on that door. So you can’t get at it. Other parents will turn off the Wi Fi or have certain passwords that turn off the Wi Fi. There just has to be a way to say you know, it’s at 9pm seems to be a good time. But this is when we’re turning off our devices so our brains can come down the melatonin can start working in our systems noticing it’s dark. So by 10 o’clock if that’s your bedtime, that’s when we’re getting ready to go to bed and actually go to sleep. We’re not communicating with anybody be online on the phone in a chat box you know nothing electronic when we should be sleeping so that’s the best the best recommendation
thank you so much for your time and your insight today

My pleasure

Founded by Jacobus in 2018, Reset offers a clinical camp program in a university campus setting for teens and youth who are addicted to technology — gaming, social media, streaming, screens, etc.

“The typical camper who comes to our program is a 14 or 15 year old boy who is into gaming, not so much on their phones, but on their computers set up at home,” Jacobus told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk.

Just like his own son, years ago.

“When he was between 13 and 15, he became very gaming addicted,” recounts the father of five, including 2 step-children.

It’s been more than 15 years and his son is now 30, but the memories stream back sharply and with a sting.

“His particular game of choice was World of Warcraft,” continues the author, speaker and entrepreneur. “His mom and I didn’t know really what to do. We had never experienced anything like that before. I use the term white-knuckled because we really had to white knuckle him through high school to get him off his gaming addiction.”

During that harrowing time, the family had little support, and two younger children to tend to.

A Person Playing a Video Game in a Computer Fast forward more than a decade and now Jacobus regularly sees parts of his story in other parents — most often much worse. He knows now what he would have done differently then to address his son’s obsession.

“He had a gaming console in his room, and when I talk to parent groups all the time, I strictly warn against that,” he says. “Because he’s in his room, and it’s quiet, you think he’s doing his homework and everything’s great. And that’s not what’s going on. What’s going on is he’s got his earphones in, and he’s playing a video game and you can’t hear anything because his earphones are on. And he’s not getting anything done.”

Then came Fortnite in 2017. The online video game quite literally was game-changing for Jacobus, propelling him to start Reset.

“When I played video games as a kid, and we’re talking PacMan and Space Invaders and things like that, you would see on the screen the words ‘game over’ —- either you lost or you won, it didn’t really matter, you finished the game,” he says. “Well now there’s no end to games, there’s no game over, there’s a constant quest, with the exception of when Fortnite came out. And when Fortnite came out, there was this urgency to win.”

The pandemic has only made an already alarming situation of increased exposure to screens and digital devices, along with skyrocketing youth mental health issues — worse. Jacobus believes parents must take the reality of addiction far more seriously. “…the parents are just as addicted, but they’re addicted in different ways,” he says.

At Reset Summer Camp, participants are evaluated in order to take part. Individual and group therapy highlight four weeks of a structured scheduled coupled with less formal activities. The cost is $11,000 Canadian. And, there is also a family component.

Woman in Red T-shirt Looking at Her Laptop - addicted to technology

“I can guarantee to detox your kid, because they’re going to be with me for four weeks and not have a device,” says Jacobus. “But then we’re going to send them home to the environment where the problem started. So during the camp, we will send emails to the parents updates with how their kid is doing, but also recommendations that they take a look at their own lives and their own relationship with technology, the example they’re setting.”

During his interview with Where Parents Talk, Michael Jacobus of Reset Summer Camp also discuses:

  • What healthy, self-moderation with digital technology entails
  • Recent trends and demographics of camp participants
  • Camp programming
  • Strategies for parents and families to avoid a deepening dependence on digital devices
  • Symptoms of addiction
  • Feedback from parents


Related stories:

On the Brink: What a Family Learned About the Signs, Symptoms and Coping Strategies for Video Gaming Addiction

How Social Media and Digital Technology Impacts Kids

Strategies to Help Youth Intervene Against Online Hate and Casual Prejudice: National Survey Findings

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