When he was six years old, he would come home from school and share every detail of his day. He talked about the turtles in the terrarium; the book the librarian read to the class; what his friend ate at lunch; the game they played at recess; the girl in his class who had the measles.
When he was sixteen, he hardly said a word. When asked about his day, he’d grunt, “It was fine.” No details. No stories. No elaboration. It was like a communication blackout. Sound familiar?
This isn’t a story about either of my sons (although it could be). This was me…with my parents! I was the sixteen-year-old who shut them out of my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I had really good parents. I wasn’t shutting them out of my life because I didn’t like them. Rather, in my search for identity and my innate need for independence I began to separate from my parents. I needed to figure out how to create an identity of my own. I needed privacy. I needed control. I needed autonomy. I needed time to process all that was happening to me and around me. I needed to grow up.
Are you experiencing a communication blackout with your teen? If so, you are in good company.
When we as parents feel shut out from our teen’s life it can feel like we’ve lost control. Every parent and every child will go through this to a varying degree. It could last just a few months or several years. Sometimes kids will try on identities that are frightening for their parents.
So how do get through this period? How can we help our kids survive when we feel like we’ve lost both control and influence?
It has helps me to think about the space shuttle. Stay with me here.
When I was a sophomore in college, I vividly remember sitting with some friends in our dorm lounge watching the very first space shuttle Columbia reenter earth’s atmosphere and land in a dried up lake bed in California.
I came to learn that the most worrisome part of space flight was the reentry. As the space shuttle reentered the atmosphere it was travelling at over 17 thousand miles per hour. At that speed, the air in front of it became extremely hot, reaching temperatures of nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The aluminum on the space shuttle begins to melt at 350 degrees.
During this time, all communication between Columbia and Mission Control was interrupted. For nearly four minutes of reentry, they were completely out of touch.
When the shuttle finally got through the upper layers of the atmosphere, we could hear the crackling transmission begin to be reestablished to the relief of everyone.
I remember watching astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen as they disembarked following their successful landing of Colombia. After shaking a few hands, they quickly walked under the ship and looked up. They wanted to see how the heat shield held up.
The only thing protecting the astronauts and the space shuttle from burning up during reentry was the heat shield made from over 3,000 lightweight silica tiles. Those simple tiles protected the shuttle from being destroyed.
Our fear as parents is not so much about the lack of communication during adolescence, but rather what is happening to our kids that we have no knowledge or control over. We wonder if there is anything that we can do to keep them safe as they go through this natural, yet frightening period.
I believe that God has provided us with special gifts that act as a heat shield, protecting our kids as they go through this period of transition.
These tiles that shield our kids are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. They include those special gifts that God gives including faith, wisdom, holiness, knowledge, and understanding. They include the values that we pass on to our children such as humility, integrity, compassion, commitment, justice, loyalty, purity, patience, contentment, and steadfastness to name a few.
If your child is young, work to instill these values and gifts into them. Model them as parents.
If you are in the middle of a communication blackout, trust what you have given to your kids. When you feel your teen pulling away, try not to take it personally. Although it’s hard to believe, they are doing their job.
The primary task of an adolescent is to become an adult. The primary task of a parent is to let them.
A friend once reminded me of an old adage that says, “At some point your child will fire you as a parent, but they will rehire you as a consultant.” That was refreshing advice.
Behold, I am with you and will watch over you
wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.
I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
How are you surviving your teen’s communication blackout?