Refueling In Flight: For Teens, a Soft Landing Isn’t Always Enough


As moms, we know how to provide a soft landing. But are we prepared to teach our kids the value of refueling in flight?


the silhouette of a boy with a toy airplane raised high as the sun sets behind him


As a mom, I worry. I worry about my kids’ physical health, as well as their mental, emotional, social, and academic health. I worry … it’s what I do. And COVID has given me so much to worry about. 


My husband overheard me talking to our 17-year-old the other night. Between COVID, the state of the political world, and the turmoil our country has been facing, my son vents to me. A lot.  As we wrapped up this particular venting session, I headed to bed, where my husband was waiting.


“You’re not making this any easier on him, you know,” my husband pointed out.


“Excuse me?” I asked, sure that I heard him wrong.


“You’re making it worse. He stores up all of this emotion and angst, he shares it with you, and you validate it. Over and over.”


Of course I do. That’s WHAT I do. I give him a place to unload. I listen. I let him know that he isn’t the only one feeling that way. My husband’s lack of understanding completely ticked me off.  And, hello … COVID … we all have good reason to be emotional and in need of extra support right now.


“What do you mean I’m making it worse?” I demanded. Yup, demanded.


“Has it been helping?” he asked.


Has it? Surely, it must be helping. After taking a few seconds to reassure myself in my head, I replied, “I’m the soft landing. When the kids are scared, or confused, or just need to talk, I’m there. I give them a safe place to open up and be heard. It’s not about having answers. It’s about listening.”


Smug in my response, his follow-up caught me off guard, “You are their soft landing. They know it. That’s not what they need right now. They need more. We’re in the middle of the hardest time that we, as a country, have faced in their lives. We need to prepare them. Hopefully, they won’t ever need the skills to endure something like this again, but they do now. And if they ever need them in the future, we have to equip them. 


It’s not about soft landings. It’s about refueling in flight. 


an airplane up in the sky as it is refueling in flight with three smaller planes behind it








We can’t just coddle them right now. How about we give them tools instead? When they come to us upset, we listen, and come up with solutions.


  • What are the small things they can do to impact or change the way they are feeling?
  • What are the steps they can take toward changing what’s bothering them?
  • Teach them to focus on the things they can control but to let the rest go.

It does them no good to stay up all night worrying about something they have no way to impact. These are the tools we need to be giving them. They know they have a safe place to land. Now is the time to prepare them to fly.”




He’s right.


I had been all fired up, ready to tear his theory apart, but instead, I stared at the ceiling as tears slid down my cheeks, soaking my pillow. A million thoughts ran through my head at once, every single one of them having to do with the fact that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. 


But guess what … this isn’t about me.  


Nothing about COVID is easy. Nothing about quarantining is easy. Nothing about virtual learning is easy. What is easy is getting sucked into a spiral, feeling helpless and hopeless. When we start to feel that way, we need a way out. For teens, this is especially tough given everything they are going through developmentally.


Equipping our kids means giving them tools, and expecting them to use them. Expecting them to take what they have, and make the most of it. We need to give them the confidence, will, determination, and skills to succeed and achieve.


Does that mean we no longer sit and listen when they need to talk things out? Of course not. And if talking to us isn’t enough, many therapists are offering tele-therapy at this time. But whether they talk to us or to a therapist, the goal is the same. Listening alone is not enough. Listening and empowering, listening and equipping, listening and encouraging them to find actions to take … that’s our role as the parents of teens.


And, as parents of teens, we know that in the blink of an eye, they are grown. Let’s be sure we empower and equip them before we blink again.