Last Thursday, Dr. Alok Banga, Medical Director of Sierra Vista Hospital, delivered a presentation about Mentalization Based Thereapy (MBT) to therapists and counselors, at Sierra Vista Hospital in Sacramento. His explanation of mentalization as “a form of imaginative mental activity about others or oneself,” is instructive for the modern parent challenged with engaging hearts and minds of youth in a world where we are all continually distracted with devices and apps. In short, it is cultivating the capacity to share naked thoughts with another person. It is an intimacy enabled by trust.
One of the most powerful expressions of mentalization is that it is a care giving state of mind: “contingently responsive mentalizing on the part of the caregiver promotes the development of mentalizing in the child.” In short, it is the inherent capacity to clear your own heart and mind so as to be receptive to the other person’s perspective, reaction or point of view. It is an essential skill to be a trustworthy parent, friend or therapist, and it is learned behavior.
The premise of engaging in in a secure mental state with another person is that you are in a relationship characterized by security (Attachment Theory). Accordingly, parents who seek to really connect with their tech-savvy child might want to consider the following characteristics of being in a stance that facilitates “mentalization” presented by Banga (in bold) along with my interpretation of how this translates for parenting.
- Inquisitiveness, curiosity, and open mindedness. Get genuinely interested in who your child is, their experiences, interests, concerns, opinions, and feelings without prejudice and condemnation.
- Uncertainty, not knowing, and interest in understanding better. Do not presume that you know what your child is experiencing or going through in their childhood or teenagehood. Treat your child as the expert in their own life experience. Be open to learning from them, and then they will want to know what you know.
- Consistent focus on the mind of the child. Attention is the scarcity of our time. In a world where devices and apps inspire divided attention, children are seeking undivided attention. Giving your child undivided, unconditional attention is how they feel loved.
- Orientation toward generating alternative perspectives. When you are open to receiving your child’s perspective, without judging or condemning, it is then possible to impart your wisdom. Not your opinion (which is limited understanding); your wisdom, the eternal truths that come from your chosen faith.
- Authenticity. Being authentic requires setting aside fear-based thoughts to control and manipulate the thinking and behavior of another, and focus on the thoughts that bring about peace and empower others. A fundamental example is the mustard seed of faith that makes a free society possible: that every child has the God-given capacity and responsibility to choose their own thoughts and actions. That is power that can never be taken but is easily surrendered. When we respect this truth for our children, it is possible to set aside desires to be in control of the child. Controlling and manipulative desires and actions are hostile, and inauthentic.
(Note: The parenting perspective expressed in this article belongs to this examiner.)