What has happened to your sweet child? Your once funny, happy go lucky, and confident kid has turned into something else. Did he get brainwashed or hypnotized by an evil scientist? Was she replaced by aliens? Sorry mom and dad, your sweet child is turning into a teenager and you will now have to face a difficult task.
Learning to Communicate with the Teenage Brain
No your child has not been brainwashed by an evil scientist or been replaced by aliens, they are just undergoing the second most intense period of brain growth and transformation of their lives. Actually the master mind behind this plan is the Creator Himself. You must be thinking…”What was He thinking?” I assure you it is all apart of His perfect plan.
What is Happening in the Teenage Brain?
The brain in all of its complexity develops from the front to the back.
By the time your child reaches the age of 10, he or she has pretty much mastered walking, talking, and other fine motor skills. Although some emotional development has already occurred, the emotional center of the brain is fully turned on during the teen age years. This area of the brain is called the Limbic System, also sometimes referred to as the reward center of the brain. At this point, the Limbic system is strong and in control of things. Sitting in the drivers seat of the Limbic System is a little powerful piece called the amygdala. Another name you may have heard would be the seat of emotions.
The amygdala is the place where information is received from other parts of the body and decisions are made as to how to respond. The amygdala controls the hormone levels that produce fear, anxiety, anger, pleasure, and the storing of memories. During adolescents it is like a light switch gets turned on and all these emotions and feelings are operating at full capacity. Sound familiar?
Hang on, ’cause there is more…
Not only are your child’s emotions running the show, the fluctuating hormone levels are also spurring on physical development and changes. Have you noticed mood swings or extreme highs and lows? This is caused by the levels of dopamine.
Dopamine is the chemical that causes the sensation of pleasure.
Because adolescents have so many neuro connections more dopamine is required to achieve pleasure. This causes a few things to happen:
- The teenage brain needs large doses of dopamine at a time. This is sometimes achieved by risk taking or thrill seeking behavior.
- The bigger the rise the harder the fall. Adolescents have the same amount of dopamine as adults, it is just that in adults it is released in a more constant and even state. When an adolescent has super big doses of dopamine at one time, that means other times they will be super low. This accounts for some of the mood swings as well.
- Teens like drama and fascinating stories. The are drawn to horror films, blow relationship disputes out of proportion, and have a tendency to hold grudges or take sides.
And as if that were not enough …
The part of our brains that controls reason, logic, and impulse control is in the very front of the brain. Remember that the brain develops from back to front and it is not fully developed until the age of 25 in most. This means that your teens are out there with unstable emotions running the show and all sorts of risk taking possibilities with very little logic, reasoning, or impulse control to guide them.
Now that we have set the stage with all of the chaos, what was God thinking?
There are some really cool things about the teenage brain if you look at it from God’s perspective. Everything that teens are searching for they can find within a relationship with Jesus Christ.
God tells us in His Word that our identity as believers is found in Christ Jesus. We are His children, joint heirs to the Kingdom of God, called for a purpose, seated with Him in heavenly places, rulers over the Earth, and don’t forget salt and light to a lost world.
God tells us in His Word that we are accepted and loved by Him. When the Father looks at us (those who belong to the family of God), He sees our works as the works of Jesus. We are called righteous. holy, and blameless. We are accepted, loved, desired, wanted, and sought after.
God tells us in His Word that we were made for adventure. He longs to show us the mysteries of His nature, and invites us on a supernatural journey to see the sick healed, the lost found, and even the dead raised. I don’t know about you but I would much rather see the dead come to life than to be obsessed with the living dead (zombies).
The devil preys on our youth to seek out counterfeit supernatural things. It is our job to point the to the real thing!
The Teenage Brain Also Has Super Power!
What is this power? It is the power to learn anything they set their mind to do. During the teenage years, the brain undergoes something call pruning. Others have called it the use it or lose it stage. What happens is that any neuro-connection in the brain that is used is strengthened so that the person becomes stronger in this area. With all the connections still active this is the best time for your child to learn a language, play an instrument, hone writing skills, start a new hobby or sport, or memorize Scripture. Remember if they use it that connection will gain in strength.
Just like any superpower, however, there are pros and cons to how it is used and accessed. If certain connections are ignored, then they wither. It is possible to revived them in the future but that is where the phrase teaching old dogs new tricks comes from. It ain’t easy!
The other challenge to this superpower is that teens lack self-motivation. Often because of the extra energy they expend just growing, they are tired and uninspired.
So that leads us back to our original question:
How do we learn to communicate with the teenage brain?
During this season of your child’s life, parenting looks a lot like coaching. Your teen wants to be independent and yet dependent at the same time. Our job then is to try to find that balance. Empower your teens with the knowledge of what is happening in their brains so they will not be taken by total surprise. This talk could go hand in hand with the birds and the bees conversation (which you should also have in the preteen years).
Become an emotional coach. Emotional coaching is the process of being your child’s frontal lobe. Remember theirs isn’t working yet and they need your guidance to guide their logic, reasoning, and impulse control. This must be done gently, however, not in an I told you so or its my way or the highway manner.
When your child experiences a strong emotion help walk the through it.
- Validate their emotions with understanding and empathy (i’m sure you have experienced the same emotions before).
- Listen more than you talk.
- Ask questions such as what could you have done differently.
As you walk them through problem solving steps, guess what? They are using the problem solving connections in their brains. Therefore their problem solving skills are growing stronger. They are learning without knowing they are learning. Shhh! That is our secret.
Introduce them to Jesus. Its not that they have forgotten who He is, but it is time that they begin to develop a new relationship with Him. Teens are capable of much more than knowing that Jesus loves and provides for them. It is time that they begin to know Him more intimately and start to determine the direction of their lives.
Help them to see the supernatural side of God. If you haven’t already started sharing this side of God with your kids, there is no time like the present. Look up strange and weird stories in the Bible (It is full of them!). Or challenge the to find the weirdest Bible account and then discuss it together. Encourage them in their identity as a Child of God or introduce them to Him first if necessary. Help them to discover purpose and believe in the miraculous together.
All the things that I suggest to do with little kids to show them God’s power will work with teens as well.
You might want to tweek them just a bit. You can find some of those in the form below. It is a FREE gift for those who want to or have already signed up for free email updates:)
So check it out! And make sure to leave me a comment on how your communicating is going!