Rob Gent Of Embark Behavioral Health On Raising Children With Healthy Social Media & Digital Media Habits

An Interview With Maria Angelova


Set out boundaries for what is healthy and unhealthy social media content and usage.

Young people today are growing up in an era where screen time is a given from a very young age. Unfortunately, studies show that large amounts of screen time can be damaging, and social media can be even worse. Our children are facing enormous challenges before their brains and bodies have had a chance to develop fully. Social media can potentially keep kids from developing social cues and lead to increased mental health challenges, bullying, and much more. So what can parents do to create healthier habits around social media? How can kids be taught to use social media in a healthy way that causes as little damage as possible? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, and mental health professionals, about Raising Children With Healthy Social Media and Digital Media Habits. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rob Gent.

Rob Gent has been with Embark Behavioral Health for 15 years and has led the organization’s clinical development and played a key role in growing numerous programs. He is the lead developer of the proprietary CASA Developmental Framework, a prescriptive approach to creating therapeutic relationships that is used throughout Embark’s programs. Through his dedication to advancing clinical development, practice, and research, Rob has become a nationally recognized expert in the field. His specialization in clinical development is enhanced by his therapeutic expertise and has yielded accomplishments such as the development of the CASA Developmental Framework, Vive’s family intensive program, Calo Preteens (a canine attachment therapy-transferable attachment program), and other specialized programs. Rob’s dedication has led him to pursue his doctorate in psychology, with an emphasis on development and attachment. He remains passionate about neurological, psychological, and physiological development and continues to focus on advancing research and the effectiveness of therapeutic treatments.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I like to say that I was given the gift of shame and the relationships and resources to resolve that shame throughout my life and it has produced a purpose in joining others to heal their shame. The cycle of emotional and developmental distress was evident in my life as a child and yet I had enough resiliency to be focused on learning and being analytical to try and “figure it out” how to resolve some of my own profound insecurity, depression, and self-doubt. That analytical drive and being fortunate to have a few secure mentors in my life allowed me to attend college and eventually be successful in graduate school with a focus on developmental healing, family systems, trauma integration, and self-identity formation. I have since had an incredible career learning from mentors, doing therapy, seeing healing happen (in others and my own life), and formulating a proprietary relational model called CASA which guides families in how to provide secure attachment and self-worth formation.

Can you share the most interesting story that has happened since you started your career?

I started in residential treatment many years ago and treated an adopted girl who had severe developmental trauma and struggled with severe maladaptive coping and her adoptive family felt as though they were unable to help her. Through many therapy sessions and research on the side, I learned how trauma had affected her functioning and how she was in flight or flight (sympathetic reaction) most of her existence. The tricky part was that she was very smart and could be the model child at times and confuse most people. Over the course of many months I saw that creating therapeutic experiences with her (engaging with canines, doing sensory activities, following through with safety boundaries, and many times refraining from the familiarity of dialogue and talking, was the most effective approach I could take. Though there were initial struggles and practice needed when she went home, she is now a successful college student, a mother, and capable of trusting others and herself in relationships. Just an absolutely amazing transformation. It has guided my research and approach to understanding neurobiological development and how to effectively create change.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently have been working with Dr. Scott Miller to integrate his four decades of research on therapeutic outcomes for clients and implementing a sound method of using outcomes to view actual long-term effectiveness of therapy for individuals and families. The empirically validated measures he has developed have and will help clients have a voice and push the therapist to focus on the qualities of therapeutic alliance which has been shown to be the biggest predictor of client therapeutic outcomes. I am all about looking objectively at what actually makes a difference in creating long-term change for clients.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Parenting From the Inside Out by Dr. Dan Siegel has been one of the books that have made the most significant impact on my career and understanding of relationships and human development. It was early on in my career that I focused on attachment and the neurophysiology of interpersonal interaction on development and was given the book Parenting From the Inside Out by Dr. Dan Siegel. It was readable for the average person and provide an explanation for the term neurobiological and explained how to be effective with developing children. I quickly learned what a valuable resource this was to give to parents and saw them immediately ask questions in therapy and engage their children in a much more empathetic and attuned manner. It profoundly changed the way I supported parents and facilitated much more attuned and developmentally appropriate therapy.

Fantastic. Let’s now turn to the main part of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about why you are an authority on how to help children develop healthy social media habits?

My expertise comes from a continual career of researching and implementing attachment and development theory, research, and best practice into a pre-teen, adolescent, and family-focused therapeutic practice. I was a co-founder in treating children and families with developmental difficulties and sought consultation and mentorship from leaders in the attachment and developmental field to construct a proprietary approach to secure attachment, self-identity formation, and trauma integration. This study, practice, and innovation have led me to become the Chief Clinical Officer of one of the nation’s premier behavioral health companies and continually reflects the drive to integrate research and innovate with evidenced-based practices to objectively evaluate best treatment practices. This career trajectory has allowed me to include social media use as a tool to gauge healthy development and help parents identify and navigate healthy boundaries and require relational interactions outside of social media.

From your experience or research, can you help articulate some of the downsides of children having access to social media? Is there an amount of time, or certain content, that is just too much?

The body, emotional system, cortical system (executive functioning), and social system require contextual learning and using a social media device in place of actual relational interaction, robs the brain of contextual learning and makes it abnormally linear, one-sided, and lacks the social/relational feedback necessary for healthy development. Recent studies show that children under the age of 12 should have minimal exposure to social media and those who are older should limit their use to one to two hours per day. The difficulty is separating social media from screen time. The essential aspect is that parents set limits and model putting phones and screens away when eating meals, having one on one time, going to bed, during sleep hours, and ensuring that those devices aren’t the first things picked up in the morning. Parents need to ensure that content is monitored for developmentally inappropriate material is just one intentional or unintentional click away. Social media is especially difficult developmentally due to the projection of life being so “Wonderful” as portrayed in Facebook, Instagram, etc. The bombardment of these messages becomes internalized and body image, activities, sexual expectations, and numerous other developmental phases become distorted and are a recipe for insecurity, shame, depression, anxiety, withdrawal, etc.

Is there a positive side too? Can children gain and grow from social media?

Social media can provide updates on family members and friends and should be an activating agent to reach out and make direct contact with people to enhance robust relationships. If social media is facilitating this process and productively incorporating parents, then it can be beneficial, but this is often the exception rather than the rule.

Social media is an accepted part of life today. We know that along with all of the good comes a lot of challenges. From your experience or research, what five steps can we take to raise children with healthy social media and digital media habits?

  • Set out boundaries for what is healthy and unhealthy social media content and usage.
  • Clearly state the times of social media usage and the process of openly discussing the content with the child.
  • Model the behavior of not prioritizing screen time and social media use.
  • Designate mealtimes, homework, family time, activities and hobbies, and certain events as no screen time and no social media.
  • Set aside time to discuss what is happening in society and help children accept that their development is so important that their limited social media time may feel different than other friends and empathize with how difficult that is to feel abnormal.

How do you effectively respond to the constant refrain of “but all my friends to this!”?

As stated in the previous question, they will feel that it is unfair to have more limitations and restrictions on social media, but making sure that parents are establishing and following through with healthy boundaries will allow the child to accept when a parent is empathic and can verbalize that doing things differently can feel awful and unfair. The key is that they have experiences of fully engaging in activities, family time, hobbies, sports, etc. where they enjoy life without social media.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a parent or educator who would like to learn more about this?

There are numerous scholarly reviewed articles on the American Psychological Association website and resources through Google Scholar which can provide up to date research on the Effects of Social Media on Children. I would also look into the work of Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Louis Cozolino on neurobiological development and interpersonal neurobiology to provide sound context into what children need for healthy development.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

My life lesson quote has often been, “It’s not your fault but you are responsible”. This has been most helpful in providing therapy and recognizing that most of us have adverse early childhood experiences that were NOT our fault but we profoundly feel the consequences of our self-blame and shame. The saying has allowed me to accept that those experiences in my own life were not my fault but now I am responsible to alter how I emotionally process those experiences and can change the way I react and behave. This saying has helped me shift away from being the victim and has empowered me to seek out relationships and activities which allow me to make alternative and more healthy decisions.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would start a movement on integrative health and how interpersonal relationships are the most effective mechanism for neurological, physiological, and psychological health. When there is security and intimacy within a trusted relationship, then the nervous system is calmed down and everything from gut health to immune health is bolstered. I have always been amazed by the literature, research, and testimony of families who incorporate nutritional health into their lives and see integrative and holistic health, including mental health, and begin to flourish.

What is the best way our readers can continue to follow your work online?

They can go onto the Embark Behavioral Health website ( and read the articles and watch or listen to the podcasts that are available. One of the podcasts called “Sessions” is specifically me being the host and talking with individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of therapy, mental health, and functional health.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at To schedule a free consultation, click here.



Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.
Authority Magazine

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.