My Freak-Out Over Internet Safety -- C.U.E. #7
Last week, when my 14 year old Jake interrupted me in the kitchen with, “Just have a look at what this person messaged me on Facebook," I let slip a golden opportunity to help him grow.
Why? Because I panicked.
Someone -- apparently she had ten friends in common with Jake -- had contacted him saying, after seeing photos, she wanted to book him for some modeling.
My hands full with dinner prep, I only skimmed the interaction. The exchange was pretty lengthy; she had even asked whether his mother knew.
“What do you think I should do?” Jake asked me.
As in all the C.U.E. posts, I will detail this Consciously Unskilled Episode (I was aware of my mistakes almost contemporaneously!); how I made things better; and learnings for all of us who aspire to make P.E.T. second nature.
I immediately pulled out my bag of Roadblocks:
“First of all, ask her how she saw you and can she prove she is really legit.” (Ordering, Solutioning)
“Jake, do you realize she might not even be a woman? This could be a guy who wants to molest you.” (Admonishing, Warning)
“You can say, 'This conversation is over,' and tell her that you are reporting her to the police.” (Ordering, Solutioning)
“When did this start? How long have you been in contact?” (Interrogating, Probing)
“Usually models aren’t approached like this. They have to go find the work, except in those rare cases of people discovering the next supermodel.” (Arguing, Logic)
I was sure acting like I had all the answers; I barely paused for his replies.
“Ok, Mom. Gosh. Just stop. I get it.” Jake finally said.
I was actually gentler than it sounds written out but the result was that now he felt a bit silly.
About four seconds after my tirade, I had my P.E.T. "Doh!" moment and decided that the least I could do was to give him space to execute some sort of solution on his own.
I checked back a few days later. Jake told me he had searched the woman up and couldn't find any information. Then he asked her directly to prove that she was for real. She replied saying she couldn't but shared a picture of a "private" shoot: the photo showed a male dressed in female garb.
My son blocked her from further contacting him.
I apologized for losing my marbles, "I just got so nervous and scared and Roadblocked you galore. I missed a chance to help you solve your own problem because I was acting like it was mine!"
He was totally fine at that point and agreed that other parents might benefit from my sharing the experience in my blog.
So Cath-er-ine . . .you know the routine . . . next time, pull out the Behavior Window, deep-breathe and ask, Who owns the problem?
Here, my son did. Although Jake was flattered and intrigued, he was also puzzled and cautious. I guess he needed clarity -- yet while I have important information and life wisdom, that can come after first helping him to delve further into the issues.
He also wanted understanding and connection; I mean, this was exciting news!
Next time, I can do any number of the following:
I can wash my hands, read the entire exchange he is showing me and give him my full attention. (I read somewhere that, when a teen comes to talk to you, drop everything like a hot potato!)
I can let him talk as much as necessary to express his dilemma and get to the core of what is bothering him (and be inwardly grateful that he has the sense to suspect something is amiss!).
I can encourage more of his own exploration by just letting him know I am indeed tuned in: “I see.” “Okay, yup.”
I can ask and -- radical thought -- wait and hear his response to: “Want to tell me what's making you uncomfortable?” “What do you think you would like to do and what’s holding you back?”
I can keep reflecting back his words and emotions for him to clarify that that is indeed his experience. If I'm wrong, he can correct me.
This leads not only to the emotional relief of Someone understands my situation! but also to deeper awareness and moving toward his own resolution.
Maybe it would go something like this:
Me: "So, it seems like you are hopeful yet doubtful at the same time."
Jake: "Yeah, I mean, how can I tell?"
Me: "You don’t know how to make sure she not pulling one over on you." (Remember, you don’t always have to answer their questions!)
Jake: "She might really just want models. Look what she says here!"
Me: "Yeah, that would be really exciting! It feels good to be acknowledged as handsome AND you could make some money."
Jake: "But, then again, who knows."
Me: "Umm." (Acknowledgment)
Jake: "What should I do?"
At some point, Active Listening can segue into Problem-Solving or Consulting. When is that point? When, in place of upset or unease, there is a sense of catharsis, a shift in energy and/or a move to resolve the original problem. Here, I might sense that Jake was ready to hear my opinion.
Me: "Jake, to be honest, I’m not sure what all the markers are of online stalkers. I do know that usually models have to actively look for work (except for those rare 15 year old supermodels who are found on the street). So I have REAL doubts."
Perhaps Jake would move on to say, “I’m going to read up on signs to watch out for.”
And add, “And then I’ll know what to do.”
So, yet again, the Behavior Window could have helped me respond, not react.
The way I handled things blocked more communication because Jake felt exposed as a sucker and bombarded with orders. I'm lucky that our relationship is now stronger and there are no other lingering resentments such that he let me back in.
There was a time I feared we would suffer the severed ties that Dr. Gordon describes early on in his book:
In those families, the parents were most likely trying to be helpful and loving; it's just sometimes shockingly hard. Remember, parents are not systematically offered training or support and parenting brings up a host of unresolved issues from our own childhood.
I mean, even with training, I muffed up! My amygdala went into overdrive because I wanted to protect my baby.
P.E.T. is important precisely because it helps us to respond with our empathic and reasoning forebrain rather than the knee-jerk, survival-mode hindbrain.
Operating from this place of clarity can allow us to maintain strong connections with our children and nurture their growing capacity as problem-solvers.
It's a heck of a retraining, alright. I'm ever hopeful, though, that we can all get there.
Thanks for reading.
Do you want to share any nerve-wracking internet stories where you felt P.E.T. did or could have helped? It's a brave new world out there but these brilliant, tried and true skills always apply.
Oh yeah, every once in a while I want to mention that I use pseudonyms for my children. I also blur facts and details to protect the privacy of people involved wherever possible.
Wishing you peace in parenting,
Credits: Man on laptop (http://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/1/590x/ALAMY-STalking-484880.jpg)