May 15, 2008

Mutations, Confusion, and Transitions Part Three

Written By Cary Schmidt

Helping Your Teen Through Some of Life’s Toughest Years

In the past two articles we have begun discussing the radical changes that teenagers experience, and how parents and spiritual leaders should respond to those changes. In the last edition, we focused primarily on external physical changes—which are many. In these next few paragraphs we will explore the radical changes primarily associated with the teenage brain. I know, you’re already thinking, “well that’s obvious… teenagers don’t have brains!” And believe it or not, you’re pretty close to truth on that one. Until recent years, there wasn’t much medical evidence to explain what happens to a teenager’s brain between the ages of 12 and 20. But recent studies have provided some very conclusive and insightful findings.

Before we talk about the findings, I remind you that there is no excuse for “bad behavior.” I am not sharing these things that you might “reason away” a bad attitude, but rather that you might better understand how to apply biblical wisdom to this critical time of life. That said, let’s explore the process of growth that every teenage brain is experiencing!

Reason and Judgment Suspended—Emotions Take Up Slack: Have you ever heard of your “frontal lobe”? It’s what helps you have reason and judgment—to be able to weigh consequences and to control impulses. Well, the medical fact is that your teen’s frontal lobe is only now developing, which means teens tend to rely upon emotions and they tend to much more quickly and easily give in to impulses. This is why teens tend to take greater risks with little thought of the consequences—like driving fast or engaging in extreme sports stunts.

It is for this reason that your teen needs your help in decision-making and your efforts to help them turn away from dangerous impulses. For all practical purposes, you are your teenager’s “frontal lobe” until theirs is done developing after the teen years! No wonder Satan attacks our kids and tries so hard to break down parent relationships during these years—they are more vulnerable because their brains are undercooked!

Brain Under Construction—Thinking Skills Temporarily Out of Service: The Boston Globe reported November 10, 2005, “Teenagers’ brains aren’t getting bigger as they grow: The brain cells, called neurons, are simply rearranging, making new connections, and pruning unnecessary ones to speed and reroute the flow of thought. Other studies have recently reported that every single brain cell is literally recreated and rewired between the ages of 12 and 20! Think about that for a moment. What an astounding statistic! And all these years we’ve made such a big deal about losing baby-teeth and growing adult ones—even to the point of getting money from the “Tooth-Fairy!” If a kid can collect a couple bucks for losing a tooth, how should we celebrate “growing a new brain?!”

All this is to say that the teen years literally are a time of “temporary insanity.” Again, we are not to excuse bad behavior, but we must realize how desperately our teens need us during these years and how vulnerable they are without us! Do you remember being so diligent to keep your toddler from killing himself between the ages of 12 months and 4 years? If so, then welcome back to “survival-parenting” on a whole new level!

It is a medical, scientific fact that teenagers are undergoing radical mental reconstruction, and this should call parents, pastors, teachers, and spiritual leaders to a new level of spiritual awareness and oversight.

The Biblical Connection that Medicine Doesn’t Make: Long before these medical studies were released, God’s Word commanded us to engage in spiritual training during these years. Deuteronomy 6:7-9 teaches, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” Proverbs 22:6 teaches, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Here’s where medical research falls short! This is BIG so don’t miss it! What better time to ingrain Bible Truth than during the very years when new brain cells are being developed and rewired? What better time to install “new software” than on a fresh hard drive? What better time to develop new habits, new life patterns, and a strong foundation of biblical wisdom and understanding? Truly, the teenage years are formational and foundational. They are the best years to increase spiritual development and to get God’s Word into that newly forming brain!

The danger is obvious—as our kids become teens we are tempted to disengage in their lives and to believe that our work as parents is coming to an end. Nothing could be farther from the truth! These years are when they are the most vulnerable—but also they are the most receptive and impressionable. There is no better time to impress them with God’s Word and His truth. Rather than disengage, we should capitalize on fresh brain cells! We should implant the Word of God diligently, passionately, and constantly.

Yes it is important to protect our kids from the vulnerabilities of bad decisions when their brains are rewiring, but that is only half the task. It is even more important that we fill those new brain cells with truth and life-long biblical understanding—and we only have a short window of time to do so.
May God grant you His grace and wisdom as you work to develop the young brains that are reformatting themselves in your home!