Jun 23, 2023

My Teen Is In Europe and All I Get are One-Word Texts. Here's Why That's Ok.

My Teen Is In Europe and All I Get are One-Word Texts. Here's Why That's Ok.

Last week, we put our 15-year-old on an airplane by himself to go visit grandparents living abroad.

It isn’t his first international trip, but it does mark his first time flying solo. And by the time he comes home, it will also be the longest time we’ve ever been apart from each other.

Parenting is bittersweet. It’s cliche to say “the days are long, but the years are short.” But it’s also true. The towheaded baby I once held in my arms now towers six inches over me.

Before he departed, Ben and I fussed around him, taking him shopping for nicer clothes (he’d outgrown all his pants), making copies of his passport, reminding him to take his allergy meds, asking him to use good etiquette around phone use. He grew increasingly irritated, rightfully so. We were definitely being Those Parents.

By the morning of his departure, we had asked so many questions and given so many reminders about not losing his passport…I think he was relieved to go.

Max can be hard to read sometimes. He appears calm, cool, and collected, but it’s hard to tell what other emotions he is masking. From our perspective, he didn’t appear very anxious or concerned about his travels. Really, it was Ben and me. We were the ones worrying. Max was ready to go.

With a nine-hour time difference, we knew our ability to communicate would be tricky. We asked Ben’s mom to help him unpack and hang up his nice new pants, to remind him to use his bands on his braces at night, to take those allergy pills. We knew he was in great hands.

And we have been able to text and facetime directly with Max, which is really pretty remarkable when you consider that just a couple decades ago we depended on calling cards, pay phones, or internet cafes. 

Texting with Max has been an exercise in minimalism and tolerance (for us). 

He gives us virtually no details. 

He replies to our questions with single word answers: “Good,” “Fine,” and “Yep” seem to be the rotation.

When we try to facetime, we seem to catch him in the evenings (his time), after returning to the house for the day. And for his downtime before dinner, he heads to play…video games. So when we call, he is “multi-tasking”-- playing the game and “talking” to us. 

It’s…frustrating. He is sort of listening. But sometimes he has headphones on one ear. I know he’s not really listening. And he props his phone up in such a way that this is a typical view:

At first, I found this incredibly frustrating. We weren’t asking for a lot– why couldn’t he just engage and reflect with us a little!?

But I had to remind myself that Max is barely 15. And that what I know about Max is that he can be very communicative– when he feels ready. Not when we’ve pushed him to “tell us everything”! He’s not emotionally effusive (like our 12-year-old). He doesn’t fixate on the details. He soaks things in, lets them simmer, and then later, eventually, he shares his thoughts.

And far more important than texting us details of his day, I realized, was that he was showing up and engaging with the people around him. Not those of us back home, on the phone or via the computer.

Thankfully, my awesome mother-in-law is very good about sharing with us the details that Max neglects to tell us. The boring stuff, like Did he eat? How is the jetlag? Did he know what clothes to wear for that special event? How is he engaging with other people? Is he on his phone too much?

She sends us descriptions of his day and photos of Max participating in the work and volunteer opportunities she has coordinated, the dinners with friends and colleagues. Her texts are full of the details Max leaves out. 

Even more, she tells us that he is engaging with kids his own age. That he is an “amazing host” when people come to dinner. How “mature” he is. The feedback that makes our parent hearts sing.

And at the end of the day, despite my frustration at the single-word messages or lack of detailed descriptions about his day, I have to ask myself: What do we really want?

We want him to experience new things in new places. We want him to focus on the people in the room, not his parents on the phone. We want him to spend time with his grandparents, who tell us how much they are loving having him and how engaged he has been. 

Do I wish he would text us with more details or call us without being on a different screen? Of course. But at the end of the day, this isn’t about us. This is about allowing Max to figure things out on his own, to test out his time management skills, his communication habits, and his manners around others. And the feedback he– and we– are getting from his grandparents, at least, is that he is rising to the challenge. 

Letting go is hard. I want to scoop up my towheaded baby again and snuggle him against my chest. But I also wouldn’t trade this moment for that one. Because while he will always be my firstborn, it’s his time to expand his borders and figure out what kind of person he is going to be.

In fact, I can reframe the sparsity of his texts and the brevity of his calls to say that it in fact is an indication of his growing independence and confidence.

And isn’t that what we want?

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Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.