So, life is just cruising along. You’ve done a good job being a Father so far, making it to all the games and events. You’ve helped them with their homework. You’ve bandaged wounded knees, and encouraged them through Elementary School. And then, all of the sudden, as if there’s no real warning, you wake up and you have a teenager in the house. You think to yourself, Where did time go? It seems like just yesterday we were signed up for the YMCA soccer league.
She starts retreating to her room with the door locked.
She’s more interested in her appearance and what others think of her.
And the cost of being a kid in the family just sky-rocketed.
There’s the sports teams, the academic pressure, the social environment, and then she wants an iPhone. GEEZ, what happened to the little girl who used to jump up in your lap and be satisfied with a simple game of SORRY or CHUTES AND LADDERS?
It can be an overwhelming transformation from a family of kids to a family of young adults.
For the last 20 years, I’ve been working with Teenagers and their Families all over the world. I’ve got five kids of my own, and we’re halfway into the teenage world under our own roof. I’ve certainly been able to coach and counsel from afar, but now it’s real. All those parents who said, There’s just no book that addresses what we’re dealing with..Well, they were right. There’s no real manual for raising teenagers in the house. So for the next few Blogs, I’m going to let you into my world. It’s a world where nearly 1Million Teenagers have heard some of my theory, or lived out here at our Teenage Resort in Colorado called KIVU.
I know this isn’t going to be comprehensive, but I’ll try my best to unlock a few secrets I’ve learned about Teenagers that parents are concerned with.
You can’t ignore physiology
It seems like it should be understood, Teenagers are changing. They’re bodies are changing. They’re physical chemicals are changing. Boys are becoming men, and Girls are becoming Women. That’s the Obvious.
But what often goes un-reported are the basic physiological changes happening inside the teenage brain.
As a student enters into puberty, the brain jump starts again just like a new born. Synapses begin to connect at a rapid rate, and those connections provide the groundwork for personality, habit, and identity. You might have heard someone say, The choices you make as a young person will stick with you for life. Well, that’s actually at least partly true.
The Synaptic Connections a student begins to use as a student form long lasting habits in the brain. Much like a weight lifter would work on their biceps or pectorals muscles, the brain is working diligently to grow and form connections. The connections we practice over and over again become strong inside the brain, and make up much of what we’re good at. For example, if you play an instrument, and you practice over and over again, those synapses form a strong bond that only weaken when you stop practicing. Another way to say it is, If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Teenagers are forming those synoptical habits every single day.
The activities they practice form parts of the brain they’ll use consistently.
If they don’t use them, the brain has a unique way of atrophy in the synapse that creates room for the areas we practice.
In other words, the teenage brain is constantly connecting and retracting to form who a person is going to be.
Emotions are King
We also know now, thanks to the neurologists and the 3-D MRI technology, that the teenage brain makes decisions centric to the emotional parts of the brain. The Amygdala is the central command center of the teenage brain which is also responsible for the Emotions. So when people say, Their hormones are starting to kick in. They are referring to the idea that all the decision making of a post puberty student happens through emotions.
What they wear is largely a decision based on how they feel.
Where they go is tied to feeling.
Who they hang out with is directly related to how their friends make them feel in the moment.
EVERY DECISION passes through the emotional center.
It’s not until the fully formed frontal cortex, or logical command center, is fully formed; that a teenager can make logical decisions. It doesn’t mean that teenagers can’t make logical decisions before this time, but you’ll see that many of their actions are based on feeling, until they have the ability to think logically.
In my work that makes it really difficult.
For years, faith groups have reported that a person is more likely to follow Jesus if they have the chance before they’re 18. Well that makes sense, if following Jesus is an emotional driven center. Go to many of our youth programs today and you’ll see worship music that is highly emotional, youth pastors who are extremely extroverted, and high energy programming that call students to an emotional decision. Then when they reach 18 they can think logically about those things.
So if you see a large movement of students who respond to an emotional message when they’re 15, and then you present the same message at 19, your statistics will obviously be different.
I’ve come to call that FRAUD.
It doesn’t mean that we need to stop providing the programming we do, but we need to make sure that we’re being honest in our faith work. We need not prey on the emotional centers that teenagers are biologically pre-disposed to.
My advice to recognizing the physiological changes in the teenage brain is to understand they have certain tools they operate out of, and they don’t have others. Often we are expecting our teenagers to respond the way we respond to life, when they just don’t have the same decision making processes that we do. They’re growing up. They’re in a place where certain things are important because of the way they feel, while we might see some logical difference. That doesn’t make sense when you are communicating to your student.
They long for a voice in the group.
They want to participate.
But when they feel like we who are parents simply aren’t hearing what they’re saying, they become disillusioned and retreat.
They’re fighting for a place where they can be known.
As a parent myself, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to listen to my kids well.
I try to give them the floor when I can.
I provide an environment where their feelings can be shared without negative responses.
And I try to employ the physiology where I can.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t rules and boundaries in our house. But it does mean, we recognize the changes in their bodies, and my wife and I try to meet them where they are instead of trying to impose our physiology on them.
I hope this helps.