What were you thinking?


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Session 1 of the class taught at Colonial Church to help parents understand adolescent brain development.

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  • Hello! Let’s share our names. Name/grade/gender of our teenager and a quick awkward memory from when you were a teenager.

    My degree and background is in this stuff, but I’ve just naturally processed it so long I’ve forgotten technical terms. This won’t be whiz-bang, but pretty anecdotal. We’ll cover lots today then I’ll let you vote on what next week’s topics are.
  • This says it all. The first two years of adolescence offer change that is second only to the first two years of life. Physical changes are what’s most recognizable but the big deal are the changes to the mind during adolescence.

    Think about the most significant change you've had and the stress involved, multiply it by 100, and you've got an adolescent stress level. But while's ours is primarily external - change of job, etc. - theirs is internal and they don't have the experience to deal with it.
  • Stephen Glenn in the 70’s.

  • Babies put everything in their mouths. The world is a big sampler platter. They are reaching, their eyes dart around....
  • Campbell is just over two and pretty deep into her Testing phase. What do you think some signs are?
    Pushing boundaries.
    testing different approaches to get what she wants.
    Jumping on everything
  • Ask a 10 year old to give you input on a complex societal issue - such as racism or foreign trade - and, if she understands the question, she;ll have a solution. What you will not hear is, “Well, that’s complex, and I’m not sure I have a solution...” Waht you will hear is something that starts with, “They should just...” Of course, it won’t likely be a workable solution, although 10 year olds can be remarkably insightful (since they don’t get bogged down in the hip deep mud of complexities).
  • Tsunami - puberty comes like a tidal wave and wipes out all that hard work of sampling, testing and concluding, then the three step process starts all over again.
  • Real example from a 6th grade guys small group. Talking about what it means to be “manly” that turned to bragging about sexual experience. The guys were split right down the middle. 3 got very nervous to even talk about the subject. They wouldn’t make eye contact, gave parent-approved answers, etc. Three guys were nuts! They’d say things like, “When am I NOT having sex!” doing little hip thrusts and giggling maniacally.

    Three boys were very much in the concluding stage of upper elementary. And the other 3 boys were clearly experimenting with information gathering. They were “sampling” the responses of the other guys, sampling the responses of the leaders, sampling what it mens to talk about sex in over the top ways.

    What do you think are some implications of this?
  • Does this describe my two year old daughter or an 8th grade boy?

  • Piaget.
    Case study: Charlotte got invited to a party. Not sure how to act in this setting, she ended up having some alcoholic drinks. Now Charlotte has tons of guilt. She feels like Jesus could never forgive her and she must not be a Christian anymore.
    “I’d tell her that alcohol is stupid.”
    “Jesus still loves you but too bad you aren’t a Christian anymore.”
    “I’d tell her that my name is Charlotte too!”
    “I’d tell her that Jesus forgives her.”
    A combination of innocence and a willingness to verbalize any thought.
  • preteens and politicians

    Story: At camp there is a climbing tower and you can do a “faith leap” “I have a problem. I think I want to become what was talked about - a follower of Jesus, but I’m too scared to jump off that tower. Do I really have to jump off the tower if I want to become a Christian?” Explained it to her, then took her and threw her off the tower.
  • Around the time of puberty, the brain begins a transition in how it processes information.
    God: I love you, and I’m proud of you! As a gift, I’m going to change your world by giving you the gift of abstract thoguht. Happy puberty!

    Story: “Tell the story about the time you did all those great things on the mission trip.” “Brian wanted me to tell you ....but what really happened was that God did a bunch of great stuff through me.”
  • Back and forth
    Slip in and out
    But every parent thinks their kid is head of the class
  • 3rd person perspective
    nuance and gray areas
    speculation and inference

    Most of us adults have been utilizing abstract thinking for so long that it’s easy to forget what it’s like not to have this ability or not to have it function well
  • Do you understand the consequences?!?! No, they don’t.
  • “making an informed decision”
  • mission trips - kids will feel deep sympathy and want to help
    adolescents will being to imagine or “feel” what life is like for an impoverished child
  • absolutely essential to faith development!!
  • emotions are abstract
    next week I want to really tackle emotions

  • Normalize their experience. With all these changes it’s no doubt that teens spend so much time feeling abnormal.

    Story about Liesl and Marko: Casually asks about homework.
    Escalate. “I need you to go to your room. When you’ve calmed down we can talk about this.” Wait three minutes.
    Door opens and she’s sobbing. “Daddy, I’m sorry!”
    “Would it be OK if I tried to explain what just happened? Do you feel like your emotions are out of control? Do you sometimes feel depressed and you don’t know why? Do you sometimes get excited and don’t know where it comes form?”
    “When you were a kid you had a few emotions, now that your brain is changing, you have so many more, but they are new and you aren’t used to them.”
    John 10:10 Jesus promises a full life! You are going throug hthe change go intended for you, it’s tough, but ti’s part of God’s love for you.
    Always work a “it’s normal”, “it’s OK.”
  • “Imaginary audience”
    Teenagers are notoriously bad at this. They often incorrectly perceive how others see them and assume everyone is “checking them out.”
  • Identity formation begins from day one, but teens take charge during adolescence.

    They begin speculating about who they want to be, not only careers, but also what kinds of people they want to be and how they want others to identify them as being.
    We wrestle with this ad nauseum at youth group.

  • For hundreds of years, the medical community assumed the human brain was fully developed in childhood because they studied physical brains. It must be “all there.” Real time 3D scans of live brains changed all that.

    In short, the brain isn’t fully formed until the mid twenties. Everyone just assumed it was lack of experience that was the cause of questionable judgment.
  • Right behind your forehead. Often called the “executive office” of the brain or the “decision-making center.”

  • Behind the temples. Responsible for emotional interpretation.
    Teenagers have a physiological reason for not always understanding their own emotions and for being notoriously deficient at interpreting other people’s emotions.

    Which gender to you think is worse? Yup. Guys. There is an additional cultural reason for guys.
  • Neural pathways. Superhighways of thought.
    Myelin - MS - 200x increase with myelin.
    In the couple years before puberty the brain develops millions and millions of additional neurons - more thn will be needed or even exist in the adult brain. At puberty the process reverses itself and there is a winnowing effect.
    Those neurons and neural pathways that are well used in early adolescence remain. Those that are underused are eliminated. My mid-adolescence a teenage brain is “hard-wired” for the way it will function throughout the rest of life. “Use it or lose it.”
    It’s essential that the teen years are about learning how to think. Process, “What if?” and “Why?” are all critical.

    Lots of sleep, good diet and exercise, living with consequences of their choices
  • Hello! Let’s share our names. Name/grade/gender of our teenager and a quick awkward memory from when you were a teenager.

    My degree and background is in this stuff, but I’ve just naturally processed it so long I’ve forgotten technical terms. This won’t be whiz-bang, but pretty anecdotal. We’ll cover lots today then I’ll let you vote on what next week’s topics are.
  • What were you thinking?

    1. 1. CHANGE
    2. 2. Sampling
    3. 3. Testing
    4. 4. Concluding
    5. 5. PUBERTY
    6. 6. Sampling What kinds of clothes do kids my age wear so we don’t look like little kids? How am I supposed to interact with my parents and friends? What sports and other hobbies might I be interested in doing or good at doing? Which subgrouping of youth culture might be the right fit for me?
    7. 7. Testing Pushing boundaries and rules. Testing different approaches to getting things (“Now I’m demanding what I want” and “Now I’m the sweet kid, charming you into compliance”). Making gregarious, exclamatory comments to see how people respond. Jumping on everything, knocking things together, pulling things apart.
    8. 8. Concluding
    9. 9. Middle school is not this. And middle school is not this. Instead, middle school is this.
    10. 10. Teens are just little adults. EXTREMES Teens are just oversized children.
    11. 11. Mind Warp Cognitive Development
    12. 12. Cognitive Development CONCRETE THINKING results in a rigid, black- and-white understanding of the world. A world without nuance or paradox.
    13. 13. Cognitive Development ABSTRACT THINKING is God’s “puberty gift” to young teens.
    14. 14. Middle school is not this. And middle school is not this. Instead, middle school is this.
    15. 15. Cognitive Development ABSTRACT THOUGHT described in a simple way, is thinking about thinking.
    16. 16. ABSTRACT THINKING HYPOTHESIZING allows teenagers to create multiple scenarios - real or imaginary - of “what might be.”
    17. 17. ABSTRACT THINKING SPECULATING is directly tied to decision making and is the practice of thinking through likely outcomes.
    18. 18. ABSTRACT THINKING EMPATHIZING is the ability to assume a third person perspective that outside themselves.
    19. 19. ABSTRACT THINKING DOUBTING occurs when we internally question our beliefs.
    20. 20. ABSTRACT THINKING EMOTING goes from simple to complex emotions.
    21. 21. ABSTRACT THINKING SELF-PERCEIVING the ability to think about oneself and to speculatively perceive oneself from another’s perspective.
    22. 22. ABSTRACT THINKING IDENTITY FORMATION they begin to make choices and see the implications of who they are and who they are becoming.
    24. 24. FRONTAL LOBE
    25. 25. FRONTAL LOBE FOCUS Teenagers have a hard time focusing on things and not being distracted by everything else in the room
    26. 26. FRONTAL LOBE FORETHOUGHT Teenagers find it difficult to predict consequences to real or potential behavioral choices.
    27. 27. FRONTAL LOBE IMPULSE CONTROL Teenagers don’t have a developed “governor” to help moderate their impulses.
    28. 28. FRONTAL LOBE ORGANIZATION Teenagers often do poorly at organizing tasks, time, relationships, and really just about anything.
    29. 29. FRONTAL LOBE PLANNING Without this, we live in the here-and-now. It’s hard for teens to make decisions based on what’s coming in the future and the need to plan for it.
    30. 30. FRONTAL LOBE JUDGMENT It’s challenging for teenagers to discern the best choice in a particular situation, as they don’t possess a fully developed ability to make good judgment calls.
    31. 31. FRONTAL LOBE EMPATHY Teenagers struggle to see how their choices might impact others, as well as seeing something from another person’s point of view (a distinctly abstract thinking ability).
    32. 32. FRONTAL LOBE INSIGHT Teenagers have difficulty speculating about other peoples’ behaviors and motivations and often draw wrong conclusions (as if this is something we adults have all worked out).
    33. 33. FRONTAL LOBE EMOTIONAL CONTROL Closely related to impulse control, teenagers will often act out a negative emotion instead of controlling the emotion.
    36. 36. • More on emotions • Spiritual Development • Youth Culture • Friendships • Sex? • Blended Families