Parenting in the Control Tower

control tower

I’m a former private pilot and have been in Tampa International Airport’s control tower with my son, Marky. It’s a busy place…no time for a nap. But a number of air traffic controllers have been caught sleeping on the job, according to recent news reports.

The job of an air traffic controller is to keep a watchful eye on takeoffs, landings, and to vector or direct the planes through often congested air space surrounding the airport. But in recent years, fatigue has become a major issue for the nation’s air traffic system and for your safety.

Parental fatigue has become a big issue too, and it’s affecting our kids’ physical and emotional safety. But we can’t fall asleep in the control tower of our children’s lives. Too much is at stake. During those years when our kids are at home, we must say no to anything and everything we can that takes time away from our most important job. We may even need a few cups of coffee to ensure we’re wide awake in the tower.

Every time our children leave the house, we need to be alert and ready in the control tower. There are 4 things that you, as a parent, must control.

Flight plan

Just like a pilot has to file a flight plan before he takes off, our kids need to file a flight plan with you anytime they leave the house. Before they’re cleared for takeoff, they need to tell us where they’re going, who they’re going with, what they’ll being doing, and when they’ll be home.


As they’re taking off, be sure to give them any final instructions…such bring your lunch money, call me when you get there, or no texting while driving. And, of course, always give them a hug and tell them I love you because you never know…


Once they’ve taken off, your kids will sometimes call the control tower and want to change their vector or direction 180 degrees. When they do, you’ll need to ask them to give you a new flight plan. You might quickly approve a minor change. But if it’s a major change, you’ll want to know exactly why they want to change the plan. If you don’t know the kids they’re going to be with or if there is a potential danger of serious turbulence—drinking, inappropriate movie, bad company—you may decide it’s too risky to approve the plan. If they’re already experiencing turbulence where they are, they may need your wisdom on how to vector them out of the situation.


When your children touch down at home, make sure you’re awake. Greet them and ask them about their evening. Don’t lecture, just listen. Ask open-ended questions such as What was the best part of your day? or Tell me about the event. It may be a 30-second discussion or your child may open up to you and want to talk longer.  Either way, just be available.

What have you experienced while in the control tower of your child’s life? Share your comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Sandy

    How do you do this is your child is 1) adopted and experienced other things before coming to you and 2) he is so rebellious he is out of control and keeps running off overnight?  My younger children are seeing this and I am afraid they will start rebelling too.  Any helpful tips out there?

  • Tampa Tower

    Excellent analogy. We started getting an influx of flight plan “change requests” last summer when our oldest hit 13. It sure would have been easy to fall asleep on the job. Before long, we figured out that there was one friend at the root of all the unplanned, last-minute stuff. We clearly communicated to his parents that we make plans in advance, and just can’t consider the frequent changes in plan anymore. We never discouraged our son from hanging around that particular friend. Over time, our 13-year-old decided on his own to put some distance between his erratic co-pilot.

  • Good work, Tampa Tower!

  • Edward

    Excellent stuff. I’m a single dad. 

    Though we’ve eased up on this as she’s now 16, I did get peace of mind and minimal grumblings by using a simple info. sheet my daughter filled out before outings. It allowed me to location info., parent’s info. and “co-horts” info. I explained to her that I would keep the current one in my wallet in case of emergency. She understood and complied (mostly).They’re here if anyone wants one:

  • Mark

    Thanks so much for this one as well, Mark.  Your write ups so often parallel events in my life.  We just had a great sermon in our Church talking about parenting with a purpose, and it coincides with the ideas you laid out here very well.

    It is our jobs as parents to raise and nurture self disciplined children.  This takes our time, efforts and attention in that that we need to prepare our children to be able to handle situations and themselves in whatever they may face.  We need to explain the why and the ways to make decisions for the right reasons.  There’s no way we can prepare them for every possible specific situation, but if they understand how and why to make the right call, even if it is sometimes the tough call, they have a better chance of success. 

    Your last point is crucial, no matter what the child’s age.  We need to ask those open ended questions with our girls (4 and 6) and most importantly, be available, approachable and open to them at all times.  Showing them we trust them and they are important to us now and going forward will further the efforts of keeping that line of communication open as they get older.

  • Parents often ignore their kid when they are too busy with their own lives, this
    leads to a point where children get vulnerable and expose themselves to drug
    abuse, sexual harassment, misuse of technology like downloading or watching
    inappropriate stuff on the internet, or end up sitting with wrong people. If you
    keep parental control on your kid’s activities using mobile spy software, you
    can protect your child by keeping an eye on all their activities. I myself am a
    working lady so it’s equally difficult for me to tackle job and my kid at the
    same time. So I have installed mobile spy software in my kid’s mobile phone and
    since then I’m spying his each move and he can never find out about this because
    this software is 100 percent undetectable.

  • Paul Jennings

    My son is only six years old, however, this analogy hold true in that my wife and I are providing initial flight training.  Michael is learning the principles that we can always return to when he might deviate off course or be tempted fly his own flight plan without clearance!  It is my prayer that Michael will effectively apply the lessons learned today in our family’s flight manual of life to avoid remedial flight training and counseling while grounded in the future. Lastly, before my son is cleared for takeoff, that he believes that the attitude of his heart will determine is altitude.

  • Sarah

    Wow, this doesn’t seem like an ad at all! The scare tactics and then the hard sell… amazing. I wouldn’t be setting a good example of trust if I did this to my kids without them knowing. And they’d never have to know about it, because I’d never stoop so low as to jeopardize the trust of my children in me.

  • Barry Rowland

    My Dad was a professional pilot….I never thought that what my wife and I are doing, especially with our 17 yr old son, was exactly like flying! It is spot on, and worth the effort, to keep them flying right! Thanks for posting this!

  • Barry, you are so welcome!