My Teenager’s Not Crazy? Are you Sure?!

Today’s post is from Hearts at Home conference speaker Jerusha Clark. When I saw Jerusha’s new book title, I knew some of you needed this encouragement so I asked her to write something just for us! 

Do you have a teen or a pre-teen? Today’s words are for you!  

If you know someone with a pre-teen or a teen, would you please forward this to them? We’re better together when we find encouragement we can share with another mom! 

We’re giving away a copy of Jerusha’s book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy! To enter, leave a comment about one strategy or piece of wisdom you’ve found helpful for navigating the teen years!

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JerushaWhen I was pregnant with our first child, I used to joke around that I would be better equipped if she were born 12 years old.  Having never babysat and a little unsure of myself around babies, I knew precious little about raising an infant.  Pre-teens and teens?  I got them.  After all, my husband had been a youth pastor for 15 years, and I had worked alongside him for much of that time.  We understood adolescents far better than babies, I assumed.

Now that I’m the mother of two teenagers, I realize I had no idea what I was talking about.

Raising adolescents is challenging (understatement of the year there!), and I now know that God gives us all the precious, “I wuv you, Mama” years to get us through the times when we want to the throttle that little pre-teen princess or that pent-up-aggression teenage boy.

As my daughters neared the teen years, I had the good fortune to be asked by a friend to teach her Bible study group.  She intended for me to speak on some of the adolescent issues I had written about (relationships, communication, mental health, etc.), but I wanted to do a bit more research.  What I found was absolutely astounding, and I want to share some of the most practical discoveries with you:

Your adolescent’s brain is one massive construction zone, so keep your hard hat ready! At roughly 11 for girls and 12½ for boys, your child’s brain shifts from explosive neurological growth to wide scale neural remodeling.  If you’ve ever been part of a remodeling project, you know that it takes far more time—and usually more resources—than you planned to spend.  Parenting an adolescent, whose brain is under construction, is very similar.

Moms of pre-teens and teens: God is calling us to gear up for a phase of incredible potential in our child’s life; scientists liken it to the amazing window of opportunity that occurs from zero-three years old.  Your teen’s brain, while it’s being remodeled, is remarkably malleable; it can be changed by experience more during this time of life than almost any other.  This may strike you as both encouraging (it’s not too late!) and terrifying (this is all happening so fast!)

Thankfully, God promises to give us wisdom and discernment as we seek Him.  Instead of viewing the teenage years as one big hassle, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NLT).

Your adolescent’s brain responds best to questions and shorter, more frequent talks. Because the teenage brain is under construction, there are times when its control center (called the prefrontal cortex, for you science-y moms out there) is periodically “offline.”  Think of it like this: when people remodel their kitchens, they sometimes have to turn the plumbing or electricity off while changes are made.  A roughly analogous thing happens in the adolescent brain, and it won’t stop until your child is nearing 25 years old!

As a result, having “once and for all,” lengthy talks about grades, sexuality, relationships, character issues, or faith doesn’t work well.  Teen brains respond best to shorter conversations that happen more often.  Make a comment here and there about things you observe.  Ask good questions, too.  Nothing engages the adolescent brain better than a question that can’t be answered with a “yes,” “no,” or surly grunt.  This will take some practice, but you can do it!

Look at how many questions our Lord asks throughout the Bible; on earth, Jesus was downright inquisitive!  Follow His example and draw teens out by engaging their minds.  It’s okay if you don’t get a response every time.  Maybe you get annoyed sighs eight out of ten times, but the other two might yield pure gold!  Be patient, persistent, and it will pay off.

Your adolescent’s brain craves exciting experiences, so try new things with your teen. It’s absolutely phenomenal to look at how God designed the brain, and one fascinating thing that happens during the years between 12 and 25 is that the natural levels of dopamine, one of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals, drop significantly.  This explains, in part, why teens often complain of “being bored.”  What’s wild is that when adolescents experience novel and thrilling things, their capacity to experience dopamine release is higher than adults or young children.  God can use this neurological reality marvelously—just imagine; if your teen never wanted to try anything new he or she wouldn’t ever move out, get married, or pursue a career—but parents are often stuck in the patterns of “same old, same old.”

Adolescence is all about change, but moms most often feel safe when things stay fixed.  Instead of giving in to routine and wondering why your adolescent doesn’t dig family pizza and movie night as much as “back then,” try new things with your teen.  Don’t let the youth pastor be the only one to, I don’t know, ride rollercoasters and eat crazy concoctions with your kids.  You don’t have to try something crazy at a theme park (you can kidnap a studious kid from school one day and take them to a museum or a musical child and go to a concert).  It doesn’t have to be something expensive (look online for a list of free things in your area).  Get creative, have a little fun with your teen, and see what new things God does in your relationship.

Finally, if you want it to be part of your teen’s life, model rather than mouth godly character. Teens have super sensitive hypocrisy sensors (when it comes to everyone else’s life, at least).  It’s no surprise that scientific research shows that the teen brain learns best by example rather than explanation.  I believe God designed it that way for two reasons: 1) He wants to transform you during this season every bit as much as your teen and 2) He knows that you will be motivated to change if you’re aware of how it will impact your child.

If you want your teen to make good technology choices, you make wise choices first.  If we want our teenage daughters to stop gossiping, we should watch our own words.  If we want our teen sons to honor women, we should watch what we read (celebrity gossip or fashion magazines, perhaps) and avoid questionable TV and movies.

Most importantly, if you desire your teen to walk closely with Christ, you must (there is no two ways about it) focus on your own relationship with Jesus and stop trying to control your child’s.  Your son or daughter is in the Holy Spirit’s hands.  In 1 Timothy 6:15 God calls Himself the “blessed controller of all things.”  This phrase means He is both absolutely sovereign (in control of all things) and good at being in control.  I am not a blessed controller.  When I try to control my children, I am more like a Mom Nazi.  As a fellow mama who wants her teens to walk with Jesus, I encourage all of us to surrender the control we never had anyway so that we can use the influence Christ offers us: the power of living by example.

What about you? What strategies or wisdom have you found helpful for navigating the teen years? 

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17 Responses to My Teenager’s Not Crazy? Are you Sure?!

  1. Michelle Patrick says:

    I have learned that, when my teen daughter comes home with lots of emotions over a VERY DRAMATIC situation at school, it is best for me to listen and affirm (that must have been very stressful, I can understand why you feel that way, you must have been very frustrated about that) instead of talk and try to fix. God bless you!

  2. Tricia says:

    I have a 16 year old boy and I 11 year old girl…need I say more?

  3. Jenny Lewis says:

    I can’t remember now where I heard it or who I heard it from, but they said to touch them every day. Even as your child is pulling away and doesn’t act like they want touched, touch them. Doesn’t have to be a big hug, just a touch to their hand or shoulder. Especially when there is a disagreement, touch them and remind both of you that the connection is important.

  4. Sheryl says:

    I try to love my teen by knowing his or her love language and responding in loving ways. I also listen a lot.

  5. Tristi says:

    This book sounds very helpful! It helps me to remember that my job is not necessarily to protect my daughter from harm, it’s to equip her in the face of it.

  6. Donna D says:

    We have 4 kids, the girls were not too difficult through their teens, but our 17 year old son is struggling with , depression anxiety, discouragment as well as the regular teen turmoil. Your book sounds like it could help.
    Thanks!

  7. Marylou Sanzobrin says:

    I have decided to write short messages mini letters to my son. Now, when he becones angry he writes back and it helps me model to him how to communicate when angey. I was trying to find a way to keep myself calm and not yell so I started writing notes. Also, I send him a positive or funny text each morning.

  8. Stacy says:

    This email came at the perfect time. My son is 12 1/2 and just this week I thought an alien had taken over his body. Reading this has calmed my nerves knowing that the moodiness, etc. is normal. Thank you!

    • JillSavage says:

      Too funny, Stacy! Hang in there…you’re in a fabulous, but sometimes frustrating, season of parenting!

  9. Trista Hill says:

    My husband is a family/marriage therapist, and when our oldest first entered this phase, he reminded me that her words and behavior were not necessarily a personal attack on me. This has been HUGE in helping me keep my emotions under control so that I can respond more positively and effectively.

    Great post, Jill!

  10. Hope says:

    Try to find 3 positive things each day about your teenager to focus on. 😊 It changes your attitude toward them and causes a lot less frustration.

  11. Heather says:

    I love this email, much needed. I bet your book is awesome. I have a 15 year old son and a 18 year old daughter. It has been very trying and I most days I often wonder if they even like me anymore.
    Thanks for sharing this post :)

  12. Jill Hart says:

    I have 3 girls. The youngest is 16. One basic rules with girl drama is to not take things too seriously but show real interest in what they say. If it continues for 2 weeks as a problem then get involved or take it seriously. Most things pass in a few days or less. All are very important but unless it goes on for 2 weeks then nothing really needs to be done about it by mom or dad.

  13. Sonja Kajohn says:

    Are you kidding me was my initial reaction? As I was reading, I felt as if Jerusha was speaking directly to me about my daughter. Everything you said from…is this going to be a long talk, to raising voices (not in a good way), to modeling the behavior that I want her to have (but I don’t model) to trying new things – even though I don’t want to. I am so glad to feel as if I am not alone on this teenage journey. I can remember when my daughter was going into 6th grade and the principal said, “Now over the next three years, you will have days where you don’t recognize your child. The good news, is that it is short-lived. The bad news is that it will feel like forever. However, rest assured, your child will return…I promise!”

    I remind myself of this everyday and can’t wait for her pre-teen attitude to return or best case, post-teen attitude to improve and transform her into the beautiful, both inside and outside, person I know she is and God created!

  14. Margarita Ruvalcaba says:

    My daughter is 12 years old, and i am worry because she kissed a boy at school.

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