We call it “dead-face.” It is commonly seen displayed by teenagers hoping to communicate a lack of interest in the topic at hand. An empty stare. Flat affect. Silence. Dead-face. And it is not allowed in our home.
Even when my children were very young, we talked about what was to come. When life was simpler and they thought that we were perfect, we set standards for what would work in our home as they grew. We encouraged communication and disciplined consistently and worked and worked with an eye on the days when life would become dicier than we knew it to be. From the time my children were young, we knew the teen years were coming.
But we also knew (or deeply hoped) that the span of time that others dread did not have to be horrible and hard. And dead-face did not need to be allowed.
In 5th grade, we noticed a verbal change. An argumentative and sarcastic nature arose, and we named and called it out. We talked about the difference between talking to friends on a playground and speaking to parents at home. We expected respect and fought to find it. We believed it was possible and so we persisted.
In middle school, our kids changed again. They became aware of what they knew, and they were pretty sure it was more than we knew. We smiled at the knowledge they were attaining and helped them to use it to see God’s world and not to put others in their place. As independence blossomed, my husband and I loved seeing our kids grow up.
When the teen years began, things changed again and each of our children tried dead-face at home. And, without fail, we called them on it and ended that trend on the day it began. Because the truth is it is disrespectful and the truth is it is a lie. I know these children. I know they care. I know they are interested, and I know that I do not want their face to send a message that is not true.
The world is programmed to dislike them. The world says that teens are slovenly, slothful and surly. But I am not buying a word of it. These teens are bigger versions of the babies I loved. And my work as a momma is not done. I can teach them, gently, how to navigate this phase so that they can be who are they are as they become who they’ll be. I can love them and discipline them and refuse to give up when the days are hard or trouble arises or choices are made that I wish were not.
And I can embrace them as they seek to become who God has created them to be. Even when, often when, this beautiful person is drastically different from the person I believed they’d become. All of this happens within the structure of expectations that are placed in love to guide my kids through this tumultuous time.