Archive for Friday, December 1, 2000

Adolescence voyage usually has safe landing

December 1, 2000

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I hear so much about communicating with our children and making sure we stay on the same wavelength. How can I do that during the teen years?

You can expect communication to be very difficult for several years. I have said that adolescence is sometimes like a tornado. Let me give you a better analogy. This time of life reminds me in some ways of the early space probes that blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. I remember my excitement when John Glenn and the other astronauts embarked on their perilous journeys into space. It was a thrilling time to be an American.

People who lived through those years will recall that a period of maximum danger occurred as each spacecraft was re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. The astronaut inside was entirely dependent on the heat shield on the bottom of the capsule to protect him from temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If the craft descended at the wrong angle, the astronaut would be burned to cinders. At that precise moment of anxiety, negative ions would accumulate around the capsule and prevent all communication with the Earth for approximately seven minutes.

The world waited breathlessly for news of the astronaut's safety. Presently, the reassuring voice would break in to say, "This is Mission Control. We have made contact with Friendship Seven. Everything is A-OK. Splashdown is imminent." Cheers and prayers went up in restaurants, banks, airports and millions of homes across the country. Even CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite seemed relieved.

The application to the teen years should be apparent. After the training and preparation of childhood are over, a pubescent youngster marches out to the launching pad. His parents watch apprehensively as he climbs aboard a capsule called adolescence and waits for his rockets to fire. His father and mother wish they could go with him, but there is room for just one person in the spacecraft. Besides, nobody invited them. Without warning, the mighty rocket engines begin to roar and the "umbilical cord" falls away. "Liftoff! We have liftoff!" screams the boy's father.

Junior, who was a baby only yesterday, is on his way to the edge of the universe. A few weeks later, his parents go through the scariest experience of their lives: They suddenly lose all contact with the capsule. "Negative ions" have interfered with communication at a time when they most want to be assured of their son's safety. Why won't he talk to them?

This period of silence lasts much longer than a few minutes, as it did with John Glenn and friends. It may continue for years. The same kid who used to talk a mile a minute and ask a million questions has now reduced his vocabulary to nine monosyllabic phrases. They are "I dunno," "Maybe," "I forget," "Huh?" "No!" "Nope," "Yeah," "Who, me?" and "He did it." Otherwise, only "static" comes through the receivers: groans, grunts, growls and gripes. What an apprehensive time it is for those who wait on the ground!

Years later, when Mission Control fears the spacecraft has been lost, a few scratchy signals are picked up unexpectedly from a distant transmitter. The parents are jubilant as they hover near their radio. Was that really his voice? It is deeper and more mature than they remembered. There it is again. This time the intent is unmistakable. Their spacey son has made a deliberate effort to correspond with them! He was 14 years old when he blasted into space and now he is nearly 20. Could it be that the negative environment has been swept away and communication is again possible?

Yes. For most families, that is precisely what happens. After years of quiet anxiety, parents learn to their great relief that everything is A-OK on board the spacecraft. The "splashdown" occurring during the early 20s can then be a wonderful time of life for both generations.

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