Many teens and young adults come to therapy about “failed” relationships or ones in which the other partner “ghosted” (or disappeared) on them. Through our little devices, we have lost the art of communication, some argue.
I think that it’s not all the phone’s fault.
People still need to make an effort, phone or not. I’m sorry to single out boys but when did it become okay to not answer? This is basic common courtesy. I have girls in my office beyond exasperated from this behavior. The biggest problem in “talking” to someone is when they don’t respond. Often times, the girl will say they’re “talking” – even “dating” but what this means is simply texting and sexting. No problem. But the devastation when it ends is disproportionate to the shallowness of the relationship. How can we teach girls/young adults that talking to someone does not guarantee intimacy even though it appears/feels like it does…?
- First off, define “talking” – you will get a WIDE RANGE of responses.
- Consider the age of your client – developmentally the depth and maturity of a relationship will be far different with a 14 year old than with an 18 year old.
- Put the teen in the driver’s seat and include parents in family therapy as she will tolerate. Teens will feel empowered when you give them a little control.
- Examine expectations – if the boyfriend is not responding, is he not a phone person, is he busy, is he a good student, play a sport? What would be his legitimate reasons for not responding? On the other hand, do you expect an instantaneous reply? Why can’t you wait? Learning to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty, change, disappointment and confusion is an unfortunate but necessary step in growing up.
- Help guide them as to why “talking” is not the same as actually getting to know someone. We tend to condescend on this subject from the generation who relied on more traditional methods of communicating. But it’s real to them. Adults and therapists should share and empathize with the person’s loss, however trivial it might seem to us.
- Teach them not to accept bad behavior. Young adults in relationships tend to have the following exchanges: “Want to meet up later? Sure, what time and where? I don’t know I’ll hit you up later.” Then at 11p they hear from their date, “I’m at the local bar, want to meet me?” The girl has essentially been waiting for a time and a place for 6 hours now. Is that fair under any conditions? If a date is not capable of understanding that your time is valuable, forget him. If not, your self-esteem continues to plummet while his goes up a notch (he is able to get a girl without doing ANY work…)
This is a brave new world of instant communication, and teens are not necessarily prepared for the onslaught. If you’re a high functioning young adult you can perhaps differentiate a deep love from a casual fling. But if you’re an immature and possibly struggling teen you may suddenly find yourself in a world that feels foreign and frightening. Taking a step back to safety and security, without judgment, is a good place to start.