Disclaimer: The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for psychotherapy, nor does it constitute a client/therapist relationship. If you are in crisis, call the crisis hotline at 600-273-TALK.
Teen Privacy vs. Safety
Q. From Bethany in Katy
Where is the balance between giving your teen privacy vs keeping them safe? Asking as a mom who sometimes reads the text threads but also feels a little guilty about it.
A: Hey Bethany, what a great question! I fully support your instinct to check in with your teen and what they are viewing or how they are communicating with their friends. With the advancement in technology moving so quickly, we have no one who has gone before us with years of experience navigating this terrain. We cannot look back on our teen years and remember how our parents handled things and it makes the “right” way to handle it very ambiguous and daunting.
Navigating the pressures of phones is a monumental task for our teens and I believe they need some help navigating it from their parents. I suggest this become a topic of conversation with your teen. Talk to them about your concerns and how you are wanting to support them. If they feel you are on their team, helping to create a safe environment, looking at their phones is no longer as threatening. This is best started at a young age. We discussed the risky parts of phone usage when our kids first got phones and they had to sign contracts agreeing to our rules. As they age; however, we loosen the controls and help as appropriate, demonstrating to them that we understand our goal is for them to be independent and able to navigate it on their own one day. We communicate, often, that our goal is not punitive; our goal is to help them; for their good.
If you do decide to tell your kids that your goal is to help and not to punish, keep in mind that you and your husband need to make good on this promise. If there are things found on the phone that you feel are harmful to your kids, try to discuss it with grace and kindness. You may have to put more restrictions on the devices or create better boundaries but you should try to NEVER get angry or react in a way that would cause them to feel that they are in trouble; that will usually cause them to hide. Look at it like you and your teen are a team, and navigating phones is a team effort. Open communication and clear boundaries will go a long way to helping.
Best wishes on your continued pursuit of helping your teen and their safety on their phone!
Q: From Jennifer in Houston
How do I take time for myself, away from my children, without feeling guilty?
A: What a great question, Jennifer. As moms, we want to meet all the needs and juggle all the things but we also need time to rest and have time alone. This is a difficult thing to fight for at times.
I have a couple of thoughts as I think through this question. One is for you and the other for your kiddos. First, I’m wondering where this guilt is coming from. What kinds of messages are you telling yourself when you consider taking some time to recharge? Get to the root of these messages. Sometimes we have some feelings like: I don’t deserve this, other mom’s seem to do everything and don’t need time to themselves, I should be able to do all the things! All of these messages are usually some inner voice that is telling us: YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH! We run from this and work to prove it isn’t true, but it looms. Notice if this is happening to you and take a minute to feel where you feel that in your body (meaning: does your stomach sink, does your chest burn, etc). Then, place your hand on that part of your body as a way of showing some kindness and tell yourself something positive about yourself. I AM ENOUGH, DANG IT! I’M A DANG GOOD MOM. If these feelings are persistent for you, I would suggest talking to a therapist. Sometimes those messages are deeply embedded in our stories and we need some help navigating them with another person who can help us untangle them from our thoughts.
Second, maybe your kids need to be let in on how the body functions and what we need as people to thrive. I have always told my kids that I love them and love the time I have with them and sometimes I need to refuel by myself. It is like running a long distance and then getting a giant drink of water; our bodies need rest and time alone at times to replenish. The other day, my middle son said to me: “Mom, I think you should go rest. I miss my mom (meaning his kind, fun mom because I was being cranky!).” They recognize now that a rested and refueled mom is better for them too!
I’m hopeful you find ways to prioritize yourself this week!
Kids and Anxiety
Q: From Anonymous
My preteen daughter struggles with anxiety. It’s mostly about health and even death (thanks Covid) but she refuses to go to therapy. Should I force her? Or if not, what can I do to help her?
A: Thank you for your question. I am sure there are other moms out there that can identify with this battle. One thing you can try is asking your daughter if she would consider going to counseling if you were a part of it with her. Many therapists would be willing to do family sessions (even if it is just mom and daughter) until the child feels comfortable alone. Doing this may help her feel more at ease. Also, keep in mind that even as we battle to end the stigma on mental health issues, the stigma still exists. Not many of her friends are confessing to her that they are in counseling even though many of them probably are. If you and/or your husband have ever experienced counseling, that may be a good place to start. When we were encouraging our son to try it, we told him that Mom and Dad have both been in counseling and benefited greatly from it. This normalizes things and helps her to not feel you are wanting her to go because there is something “wrong” with her (this is probably a fear of hers).
As far as helping her at home, there is an exercise I do with clients that may help. You can have a “Worry Journal” for her. This is just any journal that you want to use but its purpose is to hold all of her worries. Sometimes it helps to have a box you keep it in that shuts and latches. Explain to her that we all have big worries and sometimes they feel overwhelming. Tell her that you are going to let her pick a time of day where she can allow herself to worry. At that time of day, she opens the box and grabs the journal and then writes all the worries she can think of for 15-30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, she shuts the journal and puts it in the box. Tell her that during the day, when a worry pops in her head, she can tell herself that she will wait and worry about that later. She won’t be perfect at this and it is an exercise only for her; not to be mandated by parents, but you are free to ask her about it and remind her to put off worrying until her assigned “worry time.” This is often a helpful cognitive exercise to help those types of anxiety.
I wish you the best and hope your girl softens her heart to counseling!
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