My oldest daughter, a school teacher, brought this research to my attention a few years ago. The subject was stirred again recently in a discussion with a pastor’s wife.
The human brain, particularly the part that connects actions with consequences and influences impulsive behavior, is not fully developed until we are in our early twenties. (You can read a short article about it here, but there is plenty of research out there if you want to check it out.)
What that means is that your child may not be doing goofy things just because he is a rebellious teenager, but it could be because his brain won’t let him see the pain he’ll suffer if his plan doesn’t work. Things that are “no brainers” to us, are not so clearly defined in the minds of our kids.
Add to that the information that girls usually develop a little faster than boys and you can see why moms and dads are always wondering why Johnny can’t be as good as his big sister was when she was that age. That also explains why his insurance rates stay higher longer than his sister’s did.
But it also means something else.
It means that loving and attentive parenting is critical – even when it seems that our kids are almost grown. Instead of ugly confrontations after they’ve made bad choices, occasional discussions that lead your children to learn to think things through might better help bridge that gap in brain development.
Regardless of how argumentative and intimidating your teenagers are, they desperately need your guidance. Not in the same way they did when they were three, and certainly not delivered in the same manner and tone. You’ll have to think and pray for ways to communicate, and take advantage of those short windows of opportunity when they occur. But don’t abandon your child at this critical stage. Remember: their brain isn’t completely developed. That is why they think they don’t need you. Hang in there.
Telling stories can help. Find some event from your life that teaches the lesson you want your child to learn. Tell them the story – then add the points of the lesson as a “I should have known” or “I should have thought about” moment. That way, you are teaching without them really noticing.
But there is still one more thing about this brain development business that is worth noting. It may well be the most important part.
Have you known parents who got tired of enforcing the family’s dress and behavior rules and gave up? Teenagers always challenge them, and some parents feel intimidated and stupid if they can’t give a reason for the rule that meets their child’s satisfaction. Remember, you child’s ability to attach these rules to relationships is not fully developed yet. It will not always make sense to them. But just because they don’t fully understand doesn’t diminish the value of the rule.
In other words, during these formative years, life inside family and church can seem more about rules than it does relationship – because the brain has not yet allowed young people to understand how rules define, enhance, and protect relationships.
It is critical that parents continue to demonstrate how relationship works by having a healthy, biblical marriage that includes quality relationships with each child and the family as a unit.
But it is equally important that parents continue to teach and value the biblical principles of Christian living – because it is in this crucial time that your child begins to transition from a rules-based reason to serve God to a relationship with God that the rules made, and continue to make, possible.
Don’t let the scorners discourage you. God gave us that big book because He really does want us to make choices based on what it says.
Until your child’s brain is able to pull all of this together for themselves, stay close to them. Their brain does need your help.
All those rules you are teaching them now is the foundation of what is becoming a wonderful relationship with God.
Be wise in how you play your role, but there is never a time to quit being mom or dad.
Don’t give in to an undeveloped brain!