Adolescence (Teenagers)

Teenagers are not a problem to be solved, but a wonder to behold.


What comes to mind when you think of teenagers? 99.9% of people see teenagers as problems to be solved. We think, “teens are broken; they need to be fixed; we should isolate them”. Treating them as children is counter-productive to their development in every way, particularly their spiritual formation. God sees kids and teens as a wonder to behold.


You are doing your child a huge disservice if you have this type of subconscious, negative mindset towards teenagers. Adolescence does not have to be a cringeworthy age range full of stress and awkward moments that are to be avoided. The teenage years are not a phase to merely endure. On the contrary, these are formative years when you can help your child own their faith and solidify their identity.


At 11 years old, the brain turns to mush. Biologically, it looks like a 2-year old brain on an MRI. It’s completely re-wiring itself, and that has huge implications to their behaviors.


Understanding what’s going on in the brains of children impacts everything we do in leading them. The teenage brain is NOT done developing. Their external bodies might appear more adult-like, but their brains are far from it.


There are two significantly under-developed parts of their brain make it very difficult for teenagers to function in a mature manner:

  1. Pre-frontal cortex: The brain’s executive office. It regulates critical thinking, impulse control, wisdom, prioritization, risk-analysis, decision making, empathy, focus, and so much more.

  2. Temporal lobes: used for emotional understanding and interpretation


Parents need to understand that the behavior we see in these age ranges is normal, healthy, and good. Your wonderful child isn’t rejecting everything you’ve taught them, but rather their testing is a normal phase of development. The parent’s role isn’t to expect perfection and maturity, but to assist the teenager wherever they are.


Practical tips:

1. Prepare for this phase. Reacting cannot be your primary parental strategy. Instead of reacting to what your teenager says and does, proactively understand what’s going on in their bodies and lives to know what to expect.


2. When they lean away, you must lean in. When a teenager is in stress, often the behaviors and attitudes they exhibit externally are the opposite of what they are going through internally. They might be confident, hateful, and rebellious externally while, on the inside, they feel insecure, afraid, and they need you now more than ever. When they try to push you away, it’s a sign that you need to lean in more than ever.


3. Exercise curiosity. Regularly remind yourself to question why your child might be doing what they’re doing. Are they experiencing some sort of stress that you’re not fully aware of? What’s going on inside their body? What are they really trying to communicate (go beyond the words they’re saying)? In times of correction, before flexing your authoritarian muscle, look for opportunities to extend grace and use the situation as a circumstance for improvement.


4. Encourage spiritual practices. The pre-frontal cortex is at odds with our amygdala (fear center of the brain). Often, the amygdala overrides the pre-frontal cortex. There are certain spiritual practices that can help a teen overcome their emotional impulsive and ground them to great decision making. Encourage your teen to engage in regular prayer, meditation, and spiritual singing will take advantage of their psychological development to help them thrive.


5. Create a safe place for doubts and questions. A faith wrestled with is a faith owned. Many parents fear questions. They are scary and we don’t always know the answers ourselves. Yet, processing doubts is required for a deepening faith. Many kids mentally check out of the faith because they don’t have a safe place to process their questions. You don’t want to give childhood answers for adult questions about faith.


Resources:

1. Axis is an online resource that “connects parents, teens & Jesus in a disconnected world

2. Caught in Between by Dan Scott

  • subtitle: Engage your preteen before they check out

3. The Teenage Brain by Frances E. Jensen

4. iGen: by Jean M. Twenge, PhD

  • subtitle: Why today’s super-connected kids are growing up more rebellious, more tolerant, less happy - and completely unprepared for adulthood - and what that means for the rest of us

5. Article: 10 resources every Christian teen needs to know about

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