Thursday 18 January 2018

Swayed by mum's fears

Smiling happy teenage girl sitting in front of her parents
Smiling happy teenage girl sitting in front of her parents

Stella O'Malley

swayed by mum's fears

Kate is a likeable teenager from Mayo, who came to me for counselling when panic attacks started to control her life.

At nine years old, Kate was given her first mobile phone for her parents to be able to reach her when necessary.

Now 18 years old, until recently Kate texted her mother as often as 12 times a day during school hours. Whenever she was out with her friends, and felt a moment of insecurity, she immediately texted either Mum or Dad.

Although Kate admitted to texting her parents simply as something to do when bored, she also demanded that they answer within five minutes, so Kate didn't "look like Billy No Mates".

When challenged that the instantaneous gratification that her parents were providing Kate with merely encouraged unrealistic expectations, and failed to teach Kate the benefits of decision-making, goal-setting and planning, her mother, Joan, replied that she is happy with this arrangement. "At least I know where my daughter is," she said, "and I know how she is feeling because we use communication technology."

"I would never have given my parents this level of detail in my day", Joan readily admitted, but she felt that times have changed. Both Kate and Joan believe that Kate is naturally indecisive, and Kate prefers her parents to make her decisions for her. Often, she would text in a jokey manner, asking whether she should buy "tuna or ham?" in the school canteen. Joan laughed this off as simply a bit of fun, but many experts believe that the struggle for this generation of children to learn to think independently will impact on society for years to come.

As counselling progressed with Kate, it became evident that it would be beneficial if Joan was invited into the process as she had such a high level of impact upon Kate's behaviour.

It soon emerged that Joan is an overprotective parent who worried about her children every minute of the day. Joan's worries had influenced Kate's thinking, and Kate believed that danger lurked in every corner. A culture of fear had grown up in the household, where unanswered texts signified horrific car crashes, and time spent alone was dangerous and not encouraged.

Kate learnt a psychotherapeutic technique called "self-monitoring", whereby she began to note her responses to different situations, and, later, within the safe environment of the counselling session, Kate began to reflect upon her behaviour.

By undergoing a slow process of change, Kate went on a slow diet of delayed gratification, and began to wean herself off the need for instant gratification, making herself wait five minutes every time she felt the need to use her phone. It was slow progress.

Kate realised that she had lost the ability to be on her own, with her own thoughts. She had lost her sense of self, and so she began the deliberate process of finding out who she is, what she likes and how she wants to live her life.

Certain names and details have been changed

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

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