We call it “dead-face.” It is commonly displayed by teenagers hoping to communicate a lack of interest in the topic at hand. An empty stare. A 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 disrespect 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 made respect the family standard and we worked to require it from every member of the family. We believed it was possible, and so we persisted to make it a reality.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it(Hebrews 12:11).
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. They were growing and exploring the limits of their world.
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. We did not look the other way and ignore the bad behavior recognizing that God called us to lovingly discipline our children.
Proverbs 3:12 says, "For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights."
The truth is that the eye roll and bad attitude 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. As their parent it is my role to correct bad behavior and show them a better way.
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. Despite what our culture says, these children have a lot to offer the world. Paul wrote to Timothy and encouraged him saying, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." We don't dismiss our children because they are young, instead we guide them to live out their faith in their actions.
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.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster