Stalking your boyfriend or girlfriend gets you what exactly? When I talk to adolescents and young adults in therapy they often want to show me their texts that they’re saving (for what?) as “proof” that their boyfriend or girlfriend has betrayed them. What is gained by this? Adults also save stalking texts of ex’s and etc. presumably for the judge (?) in a divorce case. Sometimes they want to spend the whole session reading it. That’s ok. But why? To what end? For one thing, I’m no lawyer but I’m pretty sure that many states have what’s called “no-fault divorce” so it’s not necessary to provide proof of cheating. For another thing, why spend your session this way? And lastly, people who have had their phones grabbed for scrutiny by their significant others say the following: If she thinks I’m such a big cheater, I might as well be. That’s the kind of logic that backfires every time. It’s a guaranteed poison in a relationship not to have trust. It’s not like maybe reading my partner’s phone will put the relationship in jeopardy; it definitely will put the relationship in jeopardy.
If you read the psychologists from the early 20th century there was a lot of talk about “attachment.” And now the big talk for couples continues in this vein. If your attachment isn’t or wasn’t secure with your parents (mother), you will continue to feel insecure and lost throughout your life, pushing your partner away just when you need him or her most. The good news is you can work on making your partner feel more secure. Before you try to sneak onto his social media, hit the pause button and ask yourself why? If you don’t trust him or her then say so. Ask for the reassurance that you need. Or be honest and say, We are young, let’s not be exclusive. Looking for clues like a case on SVU is like looking for love in all the wrong places. It drives people away. Focus your energy on sharing some fun instead of always worrying what comes next.
For catching a partner sexting or texting other women, what are you to do? Is it human nature to stray? Is sexting equal to cheating? Working with teens we must make it explicit that a picture is worth a thousand words. Once that picture is sent, there is no telling where it may wind up. I have had several patients who unwittingly shared a nude picture only to find it floating into the ether, nevermind the whole school. One of these kids ended up in the hospital she was so devastated by the consequences of humiliation. So in a culture where shame is being “called out” as crippling for self-esteem, teens are inviting it by thoughtlessly sharing “dick pix” or worse. Impulsivity runs rampant during adolescence so each click is more fuel for potential ridicule. It’s almost impossible to tell them to stop or to take away their phones.
So rather than drive them into secrecy, have a frank talk about slowing down their desires and devices. It might just save your child from himself.