10 June 2024
Alexandre Haslin
Back to the articles

[TESTIMONY] “For the first time, I felt that I was speaking with someone who understood.”

Sophie* is mother to three children. Among them, Thomas*, a brilliant teen but with a fragile self-esteem. Subject to high anxiety, the health crisis of 2020 contributed to his isolation from an already small and fragile social circle. His refuge: YouTube. Hours and hours of screen time every day and a growing discomfort gave way to dark thoughts. Faced with this situation, Sophie seeked help and finally found it at Gambling: Help and Referral and the Together program, developed to provide help to loved ones of those with an addiction.

Today, Thomas is doing better, as is his family. The fight isn’t over though: the path to rehabilitation is long and uncertain. But already, Sophie can attest to her son’s progress and how Bianka, Counselor for the Together program, brought her to entirely rethink her relationship with her son’s addiction and to equip herself to better help him. Here is her story.

“I have known since Thomas was little that screens have a different impact on him. I have two other kids that don’t react the same way to screens. Already back then, he would react when I turned off the TV. Because of his Giftedness diagnosis, he needs a lot of stimuli. But he also has a negative view of himself, a feeling that he is not popular. The pandemic exacerbated all that right in the middle of secondary 3, 4 and 5, a key period in our development, when we have experiences, do things… When he arrived in Cegep, he had a few friends but despite that, screens were very present in his life.

“In the beginning, our strategy was one of control.”

In the beginning, our strategy was one of control: we forced him to go out, to play sports… this worked well with our other children, but I think he needed something else, and we had a hard time understanding.

In 2023, while I was on a trip with my partner, it got very difficult for Thomas to the point of him having dark thoughts. I had left food in the refrigerator that was barely touched. He had huge dark circles under his eyes and ended up telling us he was not well and had even thought of suicide. Meanwhile I had noticed that he spent 7, 8 or 9 hours in front of the computer.


“His only relationships were with his family.

His only social circle was us.”

Thankfully, he easily confides in us. We have a great relationship with him and even during that time we would come into our room to talk. But that was also the problem: his only relationships were with his family. His only social circle was us.

He was unable to find a job: to him, bringing a CV was a huge undertaking, his anxiety was through the roof. He was unable to do that, so his refuge was YouTube. He did try though. Regularly he would say “ok tomorrow I will wake up and I will do this and do that…” But his anxiety was too strong, so he would turn on a video and stay in. Since he is very anxious, he would not seek help, he felt unable to.

“Every time I went to get help, I felt very misunderstood.”

For me, I went to get help from different places starting with my employee assistance program. But every time I went to get help, I felt very misunderstood, I felt like they didn’t understand the situation, something wasn’t working.

At one point, he really wasn’t doing well so we spoke to our psychologist friends who said “ok, you have to do an intervention: he either sees a psychologist or his doctor. He must commit to something tonight, or you will bring him to the emergency room.” It didn’t necessarily hinder anything but didn’t help in the long run. He started taking the steps but didn’t follow through.

“I called [Gambling: Help and Referral] for the first time and the person I got was very pertinent.”

At one point I called Tel-Jeunes, and I explained that I was unable to find a resource for addiction, because I realized that was an issue as well as anxiety. They gave me lots of referrals including Gambling: Help and Referral. I called for the first time, it lasted awhile, and the person I got was very pertinent. She made me realise things, helped me to move forward. It started with basic stuff but that I had never thought of. A simple example, when she asked me “What do you think is the opposite of addiction?” Well, it’s freedom, but at that time I didn’t even have that word in mind. She then spoke to me about the Together project.

“For the first time I felt that I was speaking with someone who truly understood the issues and, especially someone who was not trying to impose their own strategies.”

I first had one or two telephone appointments of about one hour during which Bianka, the counselor, began by really understanding the situation, the issues and my son’s needs, as well as my own. She then presented me with tools and for the first time I felt that I was speaking with someone who truly understood the issues and, especially someone who was not trying to impose their own strategies. Sometimes I would tell her “Listen, that will not work with Thomas” and that was okay. She did not try and fit me into a mold, we tried other things. I felt like I was in a partnership with her. This allowed me to be open, transparent and especially not be judged, so we could do some real work.

She offered an in-depth explanation of what addiction was, and she guided me until I understood that the heart of the problem was not addiction, it was anxiety, and that Thomas was using screens to deal with his anxiety. It completely changed my outlook. She allowed me to understand what addiction is and to change my paradigm about it. At every session, I had my weekly material and questions and Bianka guided me, helped me think, equipped me. She also came to our appointments with new elements brought about by her discussions with her supervisor. Both of us worked on this between sessions.



“She guided me until I understood that the heart of the problem was not addiction, it was anxiety”

One of the priorities was to help Thomas reconnect with activities other than YouTube. To do so, she even sent me a list of one hundred activities! She also helped me understand that it was not me that should manage his screen time, but him. That seemed difficult to do, so we found a middle ground with Thomas. I told him “You decide on your maximum screen time per day, and I will respect that, but you cannot renegotiate later on.” Of course, his answer was “Ok, I want 24 hours!” I said “If you want 24 hours, I will give them to you. I don’t think it’s right, but I’m letting you decide.” He finally asked for 4 hours on his own. Little by little, I checked his screen time less and I noticed that I often needed to control when I was feeling negative emotions. So, I also found other tools such as meditation or sports to deal with my own emotions.

We also established a rule: he could use the computer in the kitchen or living room for schoolwork, but for entertainment, he must go to his room. Bianka really helped me establish rules, certain expectations in my house with a young adult his age but also with my other two children. It’s important to have rules that apply to everyone.

He himself established new habits. During university, he asked me to increase his screen time because he had a lot of work to do, so we increased from 4 to 7 hours. After the semester, he told me he didn’t need that much time and that we could lower it. That is priceless for a parent.

Some things changed with less screen time. He started going on walks. And he told me that when he was feeling anxious, he went for a walk instead of turning on the computer, and that when he came back, his head was clearer. We spend a lot of time together as a family, but above all, he found a job, or rather, he created his own job: he developed a recreational activity and proposed it to a centre. They accepted it and hired him to implement it. It was renewed in February and will be renewed again in the fall. He is very proud of that and so are we!

“We must talk to people who really understand what addiction is.”

What I wish to tell other parents in this situation is to obviously contact Gambling: Help and Referral. I received a lot more answers than anywhere else. We must talk to people who really understand what addiction is. And many people, professionals included, don’t really know what it is. I, myself studied psychology and many in this field bring everything back to parenting, self-esteem… But addiction is a subject in and of itself and we really need the tools to change the paradigm and our connection to our youth and what they are going through.  And to also be equipped to take care of ourselves.”

*the names have been changed


Ce contenu a été traduit grâce au soutien du Secrétariat aux relations avec les Québécois d’expression anglaise.

Lire d'autres articles