My Mother's Constant Monitoring And Why I Am Forever Grateful

May 10, 2015 BY danariely

Troy Campbell writes a personal piece about his mother and the psychology of monitoring. 

It’s great to have someone who will be there when you ask for help; it’s even better to have someone paying attention to your needs and providing help before you ask for it. My mom is a shining example of this, and excels at what psychologists call “monitoring.”

In high school, I was often overwhelmed and sadden by a combination of gotta-get-into-Berkeley stress, a lack of dating, health problems and general teenage woes. But I was a boy, and boys do not cry — even teenage boys who listened to the whiniest emo music like me. This meant that no one really knew how I felt, except for my mom. Without her, I would have been lost.

For instance, one afternoon in late 2001, my mother was monitoring and noticed my sadness just by how I laid my backpack down. Immediately, she prepared me a delicious snack, suggested we go to my favorite In-N-Out Burger before she taught night classes, and made plans for the family to see Lord of the Rings later in the week. In seconds I went from stressed to smiling.

Having a monitor is important in everyone’s life. This is because all of us, not just boys, don’t often signal that we need help. Sometimes this is out of pride, but sometimes it is because we don’t even have the clarity of mind to know we need help.

When people are stressed or sad, they need two types of support that psychologists call “emotional support,” provided through empathy, encouragement and love, and “instrumental support,” provided through functional help such with homework, planning or finances. People, in general, are willing to provide these types of support to those they love. But many fail to monitor and check in on their loved ones, so they never detect problems.

To my mom, being a good person is not just doing what people ask of you, but going beyond that and constantly searching for those unasked questions. In the end, this means she winds up giving people what they truly need, not just what they ask for.

Now, it is true that some parents look out for their children too much. They coddle them, and this prevents them from developing into self-sufficient adults. Many argue that monitoring-like parenting practices are like always fishing for others instead of teaching them to fish.

However, sometimes you actually can catch a fish for a someone and teach that someone to fish at the same time. Many times, when my mom helped me deal with my allergies and immune deficiencies, she would give me mini lectures on how I could better practically and consciously care for the traits I had inherited from her. Though I was born with significant biological disadvantages, today I am quite healthy as I apply all the lessons my mom taught me about relaxation and food planning. There’s no doubt that monitoring alone is not enough. Any parental monitoring must be accompanied with other good parenting techniques

Monitoring might also strike some as annoying, or even prying. To combat this, you can learn to communicate with your mom to let her know when you need it and don’t. But all in all, this is a side effect that you just need to accept for the medicine’s fantastic benefits. Further, you need to realize that sometimes mom knows better than we do and it is in on average in our best interest for her to keep monitoring away.

Today, I am not the sad emo boy I was, nor am I the kid struggling with health problems. I am not the same, but fortunately my mom is. Even though I live 2,500 miles away from her, she’s still always monitoring. The only difference is that, when I’m stressed, she sends me the grown-up version of an after school snack and Lord of the Rings movie ticket: A surprise email gift certificate to a nice dinner and a show (which, for me, to this day, is still a ticket to a movie like Lord of the Rings, though my food tastes have matured greatly from a singular focus on In-N-Out Burger).

When I am a parent, I hope I will be the best monitoring parent around. I’ll have some stiff competition. As a social psychologist, I will be amongst a lot of older psychologists who will have many more years of reading and training on me. But I’ll have one advantage — first-hand experience with a true intuitive monitoring expert that has been teaching me for over 28 years and doesn’t show any signs of ever stopping.

Read Troy’s piece about Making More From Mother’s Day from last year here.

@TroyHCampbell studies marketing as it relates to identity, beliefs, and enjoyment here at the Center for Advanced Hindsight and the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. In Fall 2015 he will begin as an assistant professor at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business.