Dipping, Dabbing and Dubbing are potentially alarming behaviors that I learned about recently from teens in therapy. I make no claim to being an expert in these matters. What I do know is that when they come up, we have to define our terms. As part of therapy, kids are exposed to so much information they can hardly sort it out. Texting and sexting in digital real time means there’s no down time to pause unless you break your phone.
A more common discomfort is good old fashioned being left out from the crowd.
- excluded from the group chat
- excluded from the sweet 16
- excluded from the party
- excluded from the conversation
- excluded by your very best friends
- “ghosted” by your boyfriend or girlfriend
Girls seem to give each other so much power to control social status that they lose themselves in the process. When Rosalind Wiseman first published Queen Bees & Wannabes in 2002, she fundamentally changed the way adults look at girls’ friendships and conflicts–from how they choose their best friends, how they express their anger, and their boundaries with boys, to their relationships with their parents. Wiseman showed how girls of every background are profoundly influenced by their interactions with one another.
I find that these kids experience 24-hour confusion and conflict. Their parents don’t know what to do about it. It’s either take their phones and lock them in their rooms, or throw up your hands and hope they’re smart enough to handle whatever comes their way. Neither of these approaches seem very effective.
In therapy I listen, validate, refrain from judgment and call parents as necessary. Of course, once they know I’ve talked with their parents, I’ve blown my cover and the trust is gone. So I ask them if they’re ready to call in their parents. Only after years of experience, training and a careful history can a therapist discern the differences between a red flag, a cry for help, a psychotic break with reality, a family conflict or a nascent addiction. Sometimes, all of the above are in play.
In these situations a therapist may look like he or she is just passively sitting there, chatting, playing an instrument, petting a dog, or writing a note. But engaging teens is no small matter. You do whatever it takes to earn their comfort level and keep them talking. After all, therapy is supposed to be the “talking cure.” Not enough to keep talking, but also getting into the areas of confusion long enough to gently remind them:
- It’s okay, it’s normal, it’s not your fault, take a time out, take a walk, take a break, don’t put so much pressure on yourself, stay calm, shut the screens, reset, find your voice, stay with the feeling, all of which help teens learn the self-soothing they somehow missed at a simpler age.
The dipping is a problem they can find help for. The dabbing is potentially a dangerous mixture. And the dubbing, well, that’s a whole other conversation. If teens have some self-confidence and self-esteem – something they do that makes them feel loved/important/accomplished/proud/seen/heard or helped – then they can withstand being dumped or worse, ignored completely. But if they don’t have the necessary social skills, what then? Time to practice. Just like learning to swim, patience, self-control and quieting the mind all take time. The experts say it takes 30 days to change a habit. You can learn to handle emotional pain just the same. Take your time and do it every day. You’ll soon feel as strong as the weight-lifter at the circus!