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Mar
08

Teenagers – the brain thang

By

Brad Washburn, Do the Dad Thing bloggerWhen my kids were little, we used to make fun of the disrespectful, lazy, reprobate teenagers that frequented the neighborhood. We’d see them riding their bike the wrong way in traffic, saying bad words, or damaging property. I’d look at my boys, shake my head disapprovingly, and say, “Teenagers.”

Soon they started doing it too. When a group of drunk teens tried to pull an alligator out of the sewer in front of our house (hey, it was Florida), one of my kids looked and me and said, “teenagers, right dad?”

Right.

Except now I have two teenagers.

We live in West Virginia now, so there are less alligators, but there is still property to damage, bad decisions to make, and lots and lots of drugs (drugs are West Virginia’s state bird).

My wife and I commiserate a lot about our two teens. “How did this happen?” we frequently ask each other. We are good parents. I even write a parenting blog.

There are many factors involved in teenagers turning into teenagers. We might explore some of them in a future article. But today I’m going to share one fact that helps my wife and I deal with the times when we see our kids making immature or poorly conceived decisions:

Their brains are not done developing.

I’ve heard about it on TV before, how teens make impulsive decisions because of their prefrontal cortex still developing. On a CSI drama, one character remarked that they don’t finish brain development until age 25ish.

25? Is that really true!?!

Yes, in this case television didn’t let us down. The front of teenagers’ brains, the part where they make logical, informed decisions, is still developing. So instead of using it, they default to the part of the brain called the amygdala (try spelling that for a spelling bee). The amygdala is the part of the brain that reacts with instinct, aggression, and emotion. So teenagers are primarily using a brain that has them make poorly conceived, emotional decisions; usually impulsively.

So, my wife and I have to enjoy this state of unformed brain development for a few more years. Sometimes we talk about the Bible and how teenagers were already living on their own, frequently married, and working in full-time occupations. We lament that times have changed. Just trying to imagine our boys out living in their own house, being responsible for a wife or finances, and holding down a job, is a thought that is both scary and pleasant.

We’d love it if they faced some of the challenges that they think they can manage. But at the same time we don’t want them to make life-altering disaster decisions. But also at the same time we are tired of their attitude.

We can see why teenage kids of Bible times were out on their own; because they knew everything!

Sometimes when i feel like a bad parent, I read the parable of the Prodigal Son from the Bible. Here is a clip from it in case you are unfamiliar.

(Luke 15:11 – 24 NIV Bible) “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Reading this story gives me hope. My teens will probably make bad decisions, but I will watch out for them and provide a forgiving and accepting home base and family for them when they start to think reasonably again.

Or, in other words, they are going to make dumb decisions while they are teens and their brains are still developing. We dads will be there for them when they start using their developed brains.

This also gives me two pieces of advice that I think apply to all parents, especially Dads:

Don’t judge harshly: the Prodigal Son parable above is a metaphor for us (the kid in the story) and God (the father in the story) — if God is the BEST parent and unruly teenage kids (us) still make bad decisions . .

Which means don’t be too hard on yourself
Which also means don’t be too hard on other parents either — I’ve seen way too many parents with kids that used to ‘walk on water’ when they were younger and now have turned into little demon harlots. It’s sad when parents feel that they are all alone because they don’t want to admit that their kid isn’t perfect.
Give them grace through relationship: I did and said some horrible things when I was a teen. Some of it, as an adult, I am ashamed of. I suggest that you decide right now that you will love your kids — even teens — and accept them as people no matter what they say or do. Because it gets hard.

I heard a kid recently. . a kid that may or may not be the fruit of my loins . . say that he wanted to graduate high school, try lots of drugs, live with his female manager at the fast-food job, and make enough money to drink and have fun on weekends.

NONE OF THAT IS OK! However, there is still brain development occurring (thank God!) and I’m pretty sure most of that was said out of shock-value anyway. I hope.

Teenagers.

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