Signaling Trust

The other morning, as I was drinking my coffee and reading the news, I came across an article describing how many parents are now monitoring, and yes controlling, their college kids’ movements via the app Life360.  I was somewhat horrified reading the article, but could understand the pull.

I lean OC and began to learn RO DBT as my son entered his teenage years.  We tend to get in fixed mind (which is a threatened mind) about the things we care about most – which for many of us is our kids’ safety and their success.  And our modern life has given us tools (which thank god my mother didn’t have when I was an 18 year old freshman going clubbing in NYC), which allow us to check on our kids and relieve our anxieties – for the moment.  But what are we signaling to our kids when we are constantly monitoring and checking?

Level 6 validation (which we teach in Lesson 19) communicates trust – “I believe in you”.  I believe in your competence. I trust you to find a solution to your problem without outside (often meaning my) interference.  One of my younger clients, who is now in her early 20s, shared recently that she is angry with her parents for never allowing her to experience “anything hard,” or to figure things out on her own.  Her father would even do her homework for her, and she now feels incompetent and has trouble taking risks.

When my son entered high school, I had access to a “lovely” app called ParentVue, which allowed me to track his academic progress and whether or not assignments were turned in.  It also led to a lot of checking and nagging on my part, which, quite frankly, drove him crazy and was not level 6 validation.  It was not bringing us closer and was definitely not how I would have wanted to be treated when I was a teen.  I eventually listened, and worked on backing off, and by his senior year I hardly looked at ParentVue and he did just fine.  He told me over the summer that, especially compared to some of his friends’ parents who tracked them and went through their rooms, he appreciated how we respected his privacy and believed in him.

That is not to say that I still don’t have a strong pull to interfere.  Lochlan is now a freshman at UPS in Tacoma, WA.  He decided to stay on campus over fall break to go to a JPEGMAFIA show up in Seattle (an approximately 45 minute drive away).  Neither he nor the friend he went with have a car and I found myself worrying about how they would get home in the early hours of the morning, picturing my baby (who is in reality a 6’4” man), being stuck in a strange city.  I had to urge surf hard paying for an Uber, finding and texting him ways to get back to Tacoma, checking on him during the concert with a hail of texts.  What I did communicate was, “That sounds like a blast honey, and I can’t wait to hear about it.  I’m aware of feeling a little anxious about your getting home afterwards, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.“  It turns out he did.  They found a bus that went back to Tacoma after the concert that charges students only $1.50.  His only concern was not dropping the hoodie he bought pre-show in the mosh pit while he danced.

About the author: Kirsten McAteer, LPC

Kirsten is a therapist and co-founder of Abri Radically Open DBT in Portland, Oregon.  She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and other conditions of over control.  While passionate about her work, she tries to make time for travel, learning new things and fun.