Like most parents, we didn't want to accept that our daughter had a problem.
Her addiction started out innocently enough. Just experimenting, we told ourselves. That's what kids do these days. This distraction would soon end and she'd be on to something more productive.
Then we noticed a distinct change. "Just experimenting" turned into dependence. She lost focus and became consumed with how to get her fix. Her mood swings were volatile, a certain listlessness took over as our sweet, engaging 15 year-old daughter turned into someone we hardly recognized. This star student who skipped first grade was now struggling to write cogent sentences. Her grades started to suffer.
We tried talking to her. We tried reasoning with her, letting her know the addiction could threaten her future if she let it worsen. We gave her the space to police herself. We punished her.
But it became clear we needed to do something now, something drastic before she was at the point of no return. So we did what we had to do to stop the source of her addiction.
We deleted Snapchat from her phone.
Like most addicts, she went ballistic. Crying, begging for another chance, promising she could control herself. She was angry, making threats about how we would regret this. But as hard as it was to see her pain, we knew it was the right decision. And just to prove that we were serious this time, we went a step further - we deleted Twitter, too.
While some of this is obviously tongue-in-cheek - and I don't mean to diminish families who deal with very serious addiction problems - I know our story resonates with millions of parents of teen daughters. (Yes, daughters. My own informal survey of moms lucky enough to have teen boys don't have the same problem.) Some of this may sound funny, but trust me, it is no laughing matter.
When you buy your child a smart phone, you lose part of them to the world.
This now ranks alongside potty-training, kindergarten, car keys and dorm rooms as a seminal moment in parenting when your baby takes a major step away from mommy and daddy. Like any modern luxury, it has its upsides and risks. We could communicate whenever we needed to and she could listen to Drake with her earbuds rather than torturing me with his "music" in my car.
But of course we were worried. We were vigilant about her phone use, checking texts, taking it away at night before bed. I even had her Instagram feed on my phone to make sure no boob pictures showed up.
That all seems like kids play before Snapchat entered our lives. This seemingly harmless app with a cute ghost logo might as well have come with syringe. Even though you don't snort it, shoot it, smoke it or drink it, it's dangerous in a whole different way. It turned my lovely girl into a selfie-taking monster.
For those of you who don't know what Snapchat is, here's the deal. When it first started, Snapchat enabled the smart phone user to take a picture that was sent to one person and disappear as soon as it was viewed. This created a whole bunch of problems as soon as boys figured out that the disappearing boob picture could be screenshotted and texted to every other boy in the 8th grade.
Then Snapchat got more sophisticated and developed "group" Snapchats. And now you can record a Snapchat story (video) and blast it to 157 of your closest friends. Her life - and ours - became a daylong series of pointless photos and videos. (I see all the moms nodding with me.) Literally, from the moment she woke up in the morning until bedtime, she was taking pictures to send on Snapchat. Suddenly, the most basic human needs - eating, sleeping, going to Starbucks - became fodder for photos. This was only interrupted when she paused to look at other people's Snapchat stories.
We became unwitting characters in her nonstop documentary. She'd send photos of my driving her to school or videos of me making breakfast or yelling at the dogs. She particularly enjoyed provoking her younger sister so she could get some good video of her swearing or slamming a door. Fun stuff.
I talked to Gary Gilles, a family counselor and private practitioner in Palatine, IL. He writes about overreliance on social media and - while he hesitated to equate overuse as an addition - he did acknowledge that it engages the same parts of the brain that addicted substances do. "It takes on a life of its own," he said. "Kids are desperate to stay connected. They're afraid to be left out, that they will miss something. This leads to a constant feeling of needing to be 'on'."
Clearly, we aren't the only family facing this relatively new phenomenon. A Pew Research Survey last year showed 92% of all teens are online daily and 24% admit they are online almost constantly. Nearly three-quarters of the teens say they use more than one social media platform including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Vine. Gilles says this is his biggest concern: "There is now a lack of face-to-face relationships. Kids are not getting that practice to build interpersonal relationship skills."
I know we are not the first generation of parents to deal with the challenges of new technology. Remember, we were all supposed to become mass murders and go deaf from listening to Quiet Riot on our Walkmans. But somehow, this seems different. And parents feel like they few options (a few moms said I was brave for deleting the app and asked how to do it.)
For now, we are taking it day by day. After a short-term withdrawal period, she adjusted to life without Snapchat. She started talking to me, even making eye contact.
And I no longer worry how I look driving her to school.