Tag Archives: teenage brains

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Church Ministry or Youth Ministry-Related

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews are a mash-up category — some church ministry books and some youth ministry-related books (i call some of these ‘youth ministry-related,’ as they’re not really youth ministry books, but are books i’m reviewing for youth workers):

it's complicatedIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by danah boyd
4.5 stars
research-based explanation of how and why teens use social media from the world’s leading expert. even though the book gets a bit repetitive at points, i wish i could get every parent of teenagers and every youth worker to read the introduction to this book.

bonhoeffer as youth workerBonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together, by Andrew Root
5 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for must-read youth ministry book:
“Wow. I have, quite literally, never read a youth ministry book anything like this: full of history and story and theological articulation and implication. Absolutely fascinating.”

got religion?Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, by Naomi Schaefer Riley
5 stars
a journalistic overview of young adult ministries in various faiths, highlighting case studies of what’s working. story-driven and easy to read, i’ve started regularly recommending this book to those who care about the faith of college students and young adults.

brainstormBrainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel MD
3 stars
understanding the teenage brain from a perspective of its power, specialization, and potential. often boring (i found the exercises to be annoying and useless filler) and off-subject, there are some stunning gems in here for those with the patience to sift.

more than just the talkMore Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex, by Jonathan McKee
4 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for this parenting book:
So many books on this topic are written by people who don’t actually interact with real teenagers. But McKee is a practitioner first, a frontline youth worker with current and regular interactions with Christian teenagers wrestling with the intersection of their faith and their sexuality. Never condescending to teenagers or parents, Jon brings his blunt and honest writing style to a subject I wish more parents were talking about with their teens.

wrapping up this series tomorrow with two christian nonfiction books.

teenage brains wired for awesome stuff

brainstormreading Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel. it’s been on my ‘to read’ stack for more than six months.

it reminds me of the wonderful quote that dean blevins tossed out during our panel on teenage brains at the nywc last fall:

do we view teenagers as a problem to be solved, or a wonder to behold?

view this quote from the book through a “wonder to behold” lens:

Brain changes during the early teen years set up four qualities of our minds during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration.

yeah, i think i’ll have to blog about this more. but this is worth a mini-post by itself.

new brain research about young teens and identity formation

my friend (and YMCP participant) gavin richardson sent me a link to a report on a fascinating new brain study (read the summary of findings here).

brain scanthe researchers did MRI brain scans of a group of 10 year olds (pre-pubescent), and again, on the same kids, when they were 13. while the scans were taking place, the researchers asked them a series of questions: some were particularly focused on self-perception and identity issues (and, even more particularly, on identity issues connected to social interaction), while other questions merely focused on knowledge.

they found no significant difference in brain function on the knowledge questions. BUT, they found a significant difference in brain activity (focused in part of the pre-frontal cortex) with the self-perception and identity questions.

my thoughts:

1. i find this to be a wonderful scientific confirmation of the reality that after puberty, young teens begin the trek into the new world of abstract thinking; and a big part of abstract thinking is the new possibility of third-person perspective. in other words, young teens, unlike their pre-teen counterparts, have the ability (if not practice) to view themselves, and other people and objects and issues, from another’s perspective. this new third-person thinking is rocket fuel to the adolescent task of identity formation. without self-perception and some sense of how others view me, it’s difficult to form an active identity.

2. the part of the brain that was really firing–the part where the difference showed up–was the pre-frontal cortex. this is a big deal. on one hand, it makes complete sense that it was that part of the brain, since it’s that part of the brain that’s responsible for higher-order thought (and third-person perspective, including self-perception, is complex stuff). but here’s what’s significant about that: the pre-frontal cortex (or frontal lobes) is also the part of the brain that we’ve heard so much about in adolescents over the last 10 years. MRIs have shown us that the frontal lobes of teenagers are significantly underdeveloped, something we didn’t know until MRIs helped us look at live, healthy teenage brains in action. the reality of underdeveloped frontal lobes (responsible for all sorts of important things, like wisdom, prioritization, impulse control, decision making, and other critical thinking skills) has become, wrongly in my opinion, cause for assuming that teenagers are not capable of these thought processes. this study confirms for me: sure, teenagers (and particularly young teens) are limited in their decision-making, prioritization, impulse control and so on; BUT they are NOT incapable.

parents and youth workers: let’s get those pre-frontal cortexes firing. i’m convinced that, other than the mysterious transforming work of God, frontal lobe development is about the most critical aspect of both faith formation and the move to adulthood.

free webinar with some bearded dude talking about teenage brains

my friend jeremy lee has been a busy little beaver recently, creating all sorts of cool resources and opportunities for support and connection for youth workers and parents. seriously, i can hardly keep up with him.

one of his brilliant children is parentministry.net, a cool resource for youth workers who want to step it up in terms of the resourcing and training they provide for parents of teenagers.

parentminisry.net is hosting a series of free webinars. the key word in that last sentence? FREE, of course. or “of”, maybe. jim burns was the guest on the last one.

and i’m sure jim was amazing, because the dude is brilliant. but, well, i think jeremy must have rightly felt that this series of FREE webinars needed to great increase its beard quotient. so — obvious choice, right?


yup, i’ll be bringin’ a little training based on my book, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains (but geared to youth workers). let’s talk gray matter, baby!

here’s the deets:

a free 1 hour webinar sponsored by www.ParentMinistry.net
February 26 at 2 pm (central)
Use this link to register

stop making assumptions and inferences about teenagers based on their brains

i’ve posted about teenage brains more than once. there’s been an good amount of research on teenage brains in the past decade, thanks to the MRI. there’s also been an explosion of more popular articles that infer teenagers are the way they are because of their brains, and we shouldn’t expect them to… (make good decisions, exhibit wisdom, control impulses, set priorities, act responsibly, or any other of a long list of adult-like behaviors).

this has really started to tick me off.

but two articles in the last few months (neither is new) have pushed back a bit:

this article in the huffington post, called “the teenager brain: debunking the 5 biggest myths“.

and, a fascinating article that many of you have probably already seen, published in national geographic, suggesting an alternative (evolutionary) possibility of why teenage brains are weak in certain controls and functions.

the article mentions some of the unhelpful conclusions being drawn by others:

They act that way because their brains aren’t done! You can see it right there in the scans!

This view, as titles from the explosion of scientific papers and popular articles about the “teen brain” put it, presents adolescents as “works in progress” whose “immature brains” lead some to question whether they are in a state “akin to mental retardation.”

but it goes on to suggest an alternate view:

B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College who has spent nearly a decade applying brain and genetic studies to our understanding of adolescence, puts it, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”

here’s what rubs me (and i’m borrowing this from dr. robert epstein): there’s a not-so-subtle discrimination against teenagers, MASSIVELY feeding extended adolescence, in this age-old discriminatory equation —

presence of a particular physical characteristic
alongside, the presence of a real or assumed set of behavioral realities (or biases)
means, the first results in the second

let me remind of a few places we’ve seen this before:

  1. women’s brains are smaller, on average, then men’s. for centuries we were sure that women did not have the intelligence for business, voting, public office, and a variety of other intelligent functions. the smaller size of women’s brains were PROOF!
  2. jews and people of african decent were said to have certain character traits (or lack certain character traits) due to physiology (surely, you’ve all seen the nazi drawings of a typical jewish face and head, with an explanation as to how it explains the stereotype).

i think we’re seeing the same equation play out in terms of teenagers today.

the assumption is (and it’s a BIG leap in logic): teenage brains prove what we’ve always assumed, that teenagers are incapable of wisdom, good decisions, and responsibility. the obvious (!) next step is: we should treat teenagers like children (infantilization) and remove all responsibility, keeping them “safe.”


youth workers, don’t tollerate this faulty logic. don’t tollerate this discrimination. let’s be counter-cultural on this stuff — let’s INCREASE responsibility and opportunities for wisdom and choices and prioritization and impulse control.

instead of discriminating against teenagers, let’s give them opportunities to be the apprentice adults they have the full capacity to be.

push-back on adolescent brain development and extended adolescence

sometime last year, the managing editor of immerse journal emailed and asked if i would write a feature article on adolescent brain development and the plethora of new findings that have poured out in the last ten to fifteen years. i agreed, and found out it was slated for may of 2011. so i didn’t think about it for another half year. finally, i wrote the piece (which is now online): this is your brain on adolescence. but by the time i got around to writing it, i didn’t feel i could merely write a summary of adolescent brain development. i felt an obligation to push back — because i’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the assumptions and conclusions coming out (both at a professional and popular level), referencing teenage and young adult brains.

here’s a snippet from the article:

I have a problem with the assumption that has quickly become accepted truth about teenage brains: that teenage brains are underdeveloped in a couple of critical areas and that teenagers are, therefore, biologically inferior and less than capable. So it might be helpful to step back a few years and fill you in on the nexus and my journey of trying to understand scientific findings about teenage brain development and the implications for youth ministry.

here’s another bit, after i provide an overview of “findings” from the last decade:

…we are quickly moving to calcify extended adolescence and remove more and more of the on ramps to the adult world that teenagers and young adults need.

My two cents: I’m interested in pushing back. While I have no interest in living with my head in the sand, I want to see teenagers live into their capabilities, and I want to see young adults move into adulthood.

one of the things i like about immerse journal is that the often provide a follow-up piece, reflecting on an article, but written by a different author. i was pleased last week to see paul sheneman’s response to my article: “going deeper with mark oestreicher’s: this is your brain on adolescence“. paul does a nice job of summarizing some of what i wrote and providing some additional thoughts. a nice “sidebar”, in a sense.

anyhow, i’m glad the article and “going deeper” bit are both online now, so i can point to them. happy reading. and let me know what you think…