youth workers, feel free to copy and paste (or email) this series in a parent newsletter or email. i’d appreciate a credit line, but otherwise, go for it. oh, and by the way, this totally has implications for youth ministry also.
This is a very important issue for parents to consider, especially with the current trend toward a college-prep emphasis in school culture. School curriculum often teaches toward test scores. Even Christian schools, who are rarely involved in state testing, often focus on cramming content with an eye to college acceptance.
Many churches take a similar approach: load young teens with info during this formative age, in hopes that it will “stick” and become a guiding force in their lives.
Unfortunately, this is quite misguided.
Just prior to puberty (around 9 or 10 or 11 years old), your child’s brain does a wonderful thing: it grows an abundance of new connections. Like a massive infiltration of tree roots grasping for earth, these new connections between various parts of the brain open up a world of possibilities.
However, these new connections are only that: possibilities. There is no good way to use them all. So, those connections that get exercised and used end up forming a dominant part of the brain’s function through the rest of life. And those connections that are used less, well, they actually disintegrate during the teenage years!
What does this tell us? It’s essential that the young teen years be about learning how to think. Process, “what if”, and “why?” are critical. Discovery is the best learning mode (for spiritual learning or academic learning). If young teens exercise this part of their developing brains, it will positively impact their lifelong thinking, their spiritual growth (after all, spiritual stuff is abstract), their emotional health, their relational maturity, and their desire to continue growing and learning.
So, make room for “why?” and “what if?” Those are questions of speculation (a brand-new, but wimpy, ability for young teens). Encourage discovery. Don’t be threatened by questioned values and boundary-pushing. This is the best stuff of early adolescent brain development!
By the way, I unpack this more (and a bunch of other stuff about early adolescent development) in my book Understanding Your Young Teen; and go into detail on teenage brain development (not only for young teens, but teenagers in general) in A Parents Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains.