MySpace, YourSpace, Give Me Space: When Too Much Connecting Turns from Soother to Spiral

Recently The New York Times ran an article entitled: “Girl Talk Has Its Limits.”


Ironic that a shrink whose living is obtained through others ‘talking’, ponders this issue as well.


But this article speaks to something I think about as I try to help my patients, as well as myself, know the difference when talking turns the corner from a seeking of comfort, soothing, and becomes an obsessional spiral.


We have all had those moments when it clicks:  “I am spinning, this thought process is not helping me feel better, it is making me feel worse.”


So when does connection for comfort and talking, turn into that double edged sword?


There are researchers looking at teens and positing that too much ‘connecting’ and talking, is leading to increased anxiety and depression.  This does not surprise me.


The current world and our kids’ world certainly, is chock full.   Facebook, MySpace, Texting; the list goes on and on.  Do our girls who are raised in this world of instant connect, have any mechanisms to figure out how to take their own space?  To figure out how to sit alone, in the face of all this connection, and figure out what they feel separate from anyone else, and how to develop their judgement and problem solving skills, while incorporating the input from all of their friends, and whomever they choose to ‘connect’ with?


I don’t think I had really stopped long enough to realize how differently my teenage girls’ social worlds are from mine, which was devoid of  cell phones and computers.  (Okay, now I know I am dating myself!)  Now we always had the telephone, but certainly couldn’t connect, text, and messenger, all day long, incessantly.  We had some breaks.  That gave you ‘space’ whether you wanted it or not!


I know from studying development and human psychology, particularly female psychology, that we have competing instincts.  The instinct to connect, which is hardwired into our brains biologically, and the instinct toward competition.

A great book by Louann Brizendine, M.D., called ‘The Female Brain’, (Broadway Books), sums it  up beautifully.


So in the face of all of this input and bombardment of the connect, along with the surge and need to connect that not only teenage girls feel to allay anxiety, but the very basic need most women have for their close female friends, how do we make sure that our daughters have or take enough space, so that they know how to tell when the comfort and reassurance turns into an obsessive spiral?


For me, it all comes down to a job that starts early on.  When our kids whine:  “I’m bored”, and instead of letting them ‘sit’ with it, we jump to fill the gap.  I think as parents we often get overly involved and think we need to solve our kids’ problems.  That this is our responsibility.


I remember one day when my oldest daughter was in the third grade, and she refused to go to a birthday party.  I didn’t know if I should push her to go, (not that I could push this very strong willed kid to do much,) but I really questioned what my job as a parent was.


I asked my mother and I will never forget what she said:  “Think of what you want for your kids, “ she said,  “You want them to be able to make decisions for themselves.  She knows she doesn’t want to go and you need to leave her alone.”


Now some might argue that point, but it resonated for me, along with letting me off the hook.  I realized that the space I left my daughter was necessary for her to ‘feel through’ the consequence of her decision.  It was her social life, after all.


Obviously as parents, we don’t leave room for our kids to make all of their decisions, or the space to ‘feel through’ certain things.  But it is an interesting idea, this one of space.


Maybe part of our job is to help our daughters particularly, know how to take space.  Not just from us, but from their friends.  So that they can know for themselves, the red flags of ‘spin’ I call it.  Or the simple fact of chemistry:  That talking with one friend can soothe, while with another, agitates you further.


So like everything, there is no ‘one’ or ‘perfect’ answer.  Texting and FaceBook are here to stay, and the female need to connect, is not changing in the near future.


But maybe we can teach our daughters how to remove themselves.  To take time out and breathe.  Sleep, and eat.  How to be alone.  While you are trying that, you might want to rub their back.  Brush their hair, if they let you.  Just that simple physical act, is soothing and calming.  (Decreases the firing of the neurons in the brain that signal the fight or flight response.  Something I learned while having to pick lice out of three girsl’ heads of hair for three weeks one nightmarish school seasons!)


Then they can get back online.


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