Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Dark Side of the Moon

Teenagers are remarkable creatures. During these developmental years, they double in size, physically mature, lose all sense of reason (and then begin to regain it), question everything, think they know everything, and believe themselves to be alternately all-knowing and totally inept. Most adults I know would not choose those teen years as the best time of their lives. Many have said they would never wish return to that time in their lives.

I observed in myself (after the fact, of course) and my sons a tendency to go to the dark side of the moon during some of the teen years. You remember when the Apollo space capsules went around the moon there was that period of radio silence as the moon was between them and the earth. I’ve watched each of my teenage boys go through that period of radio silence in their lives. (My daughters have flirted with a similar condition, but not nearly in the same way as my boys.)

While they are on the dark side of the moon, teenage boys seem to forget that they have parents or siblings or responsibility or consequences for their actions. Some find themselves making terrible and long-lasting mistakes during this period that have long-reaching consequences. Others are just dumb and insensitive. I figured in my own case I was really lucky that I wasn’t good friends with anyone who drank or did drugs (that I knew about anyway – or maybe I was just too clueless to know) during that phase of my life, so I avoided those snares. But I had plenty of ways to be stupid nonetheless.

As a parent I’ve thought a lot about how to get through to a kid who is on the dark side of the moon. The fact is, if he’s really on the dark side of the moon and out of radio contact, you just can’t get through to him. And that’s frightening as a parent.

What I came to realize instead is that as a parent I need to do everything I can before my kid enters radio silence to get as much of me into his head as I can. A friend of mine talked about filling our kids’ wells, and she suggests that parents need to fill their teenagers’ wells with the parents’ goodness so that as the teens encounter the evil that is in the world, the good in their wells can counterbalance it. (Her well-filling lesson was very specific: fill the well with good things, positive encouragement, love and comfort, not nagging or lecturing or correcting.)

I think my folks did that with me. I can’t count the number of times I thought of doing something incredibly stupid as a kid and then having an image of my mom come to mind, and imagine myself trying to explain myself. That image of my mom and the fear of having to explain myself kept me out of a lot of trouble. (Not all trouble, of course. I was still stupid and I made plenty of mistakes.)

Something else my kids have taught me, and I think it’s supported in gospel teaching, is that each of our kids comes as an individual. In some families, all the kids look alike (my siblings and I are that way, for instance – everyone can tell instantly upon seeing us that we’re related), but that doesn’t mean they think alike. My kids don’t look a lot like each other (well, some do, but we’re not a cookie cutter family like mine was), and they don’t really think like each other, either. They all grew up in the same home, but each one has a different approach to life, to the gospel, to problems and to me as a parent. As a result, I’ve had to try to figure out how to reach each one in a language he or she can understand. Now that Number Six and Number Seven are the only ones still at home, I’m getting better at it. (Thanks for the lessons, Older Kids!)

The times my boys have been on the dark side of the moon have been the white-knuckle periods of my parenting. For a dad who loves to have predictable outcomes, it’s been particularly tough to know that they are out there making their own choices and there’s not a thing I can do about it. (Well, it’s not completely true I can do nothing, of course. I can pray as Alma the Elder did for his son, and I can create consequences where necessary. But I cannot make choices for them, and I cannot force them to choose what I want them to.)

I reflect on my Father in Heaven and how white his knuckles must be. Of course, he has the advantage of knowing how things will turn out in the end, but I imagine he’s shaken his head at me and wondered if I’ll ever come around from the dark side of the moon. Even at age 50-something I know I still go into periods of radio-silence with him, and I know that’s my doing and not his.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about how to communicate when your kids are on the dark side of the moon, or how to prepare them for that period. I’ll share some specific things I’ve learned in subsequent posts over the next little while.


  1. As a parent and a rehab counselor at one of my city's prescription drug rehabs, I can definitely relate to your fears for you teens as they enter those turbulent, transformative years...I love the "filling their well" analogy; I hope that I've managed to do some of this as a Mom.
    Best wishes to you and let's await the day when they emerge as strong, independent, resilient adults!

  2. Anon, thanks for your comment. I have great empathy for parents whose children wander into addiction. Very scary stuff, to be sure.

    Fortunately, there is no limit to the power of the atonement for parents and their teens. Timing is often not as quick as we might hope for, but peace and healing can come.

  3. I feel really lucky. I have had 4 teenagers, 2 boys and 2 girls. They did not go into addictions and they stayed with the LDS church. I was really strict is some areas but compared to many of the families around me, I was liberal. By the time they were teenagers they were pretty much running their own lives as long as they fulfilled their responsibilities and didn't worry their mother overmuch.

  4. MyDaddy'sDaughterMay 17, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    I'm 62 now, a child of the 60s Revolution. But even today, I can hear my Dad's voice of warning. Not once, but many times I heard his clear explanations and warnings. I acted like I wasn't listening. I was. I'm so glad I did.

  5. Galpha, those kids who make good choices are great gifts, aren't they? I long ago abandoned taking any credit for the good choices some of my kids make since I also distance myself from the bad choices that others have made.

    But even the ones who have made bad choices along the way (and maybe especially those) have taught me a great deal about the atonement (even if that wasn't their purpose).

    MDD -- the voice of our parents is a strong force. I remember asking one of my BIL's (who is nearly a decade younger than me) how he stayed "good" during high school and he said he kept hearing his Grandma "D" in his head... Thank goodness for those voices and those that have ears to hear.