Change is seriously hard. Our brains are made to protect us, meaning that we often resist change at all costs.
It seems like everything is changing between middle school and high school. Whether it’s a growth spurt, a class schedule or a Snapchat filter, one can be certain that things that seem normal and routine today won’t be tomorrow. Okay, maybe they will be the same tomorrow, but your Instagram handle won’t be.
In school, young people are expected to make certain transitions, such as bringing a calculator to math class every day, using and maintaining a locker, and making the most of a study hall. The reason they’re able to progress as students has to do with how their brains are developing. Not everyone’s brain develops at the same time, or even at the same rate. But when the brain does go through adolescence, it’s going through an explosion of connections and growth.
Dr. Daniel Siegel refers to this in his book Brainstorm. The brain is developing so much, so fast. Teenagers often get a bad rap from what people thought were hormones, but what is more likely brain development. (Hormones are a part of it, too, but it’s the brain development that’s the greater culprit.) This rapid brain development can cause some of the negative, yet stereotypical teenager behavior. However, there are ways to overcome the negative vibes often associated with adolescence. Siegel discusses ways for teenagers to transition through adolescence, which historically has been seen as a rough time.
Try Something New
Teenagers are notorious for wanting to be daredevils, or at least that’s what John Hughes’ movies taught us. Siegel writes at length about the adolescent desire to thrill-seek; it’s a real thing. However, those who are influential in the lives of young people know that this desire isn’t all bad. Adolescents are at a prime time in their lives to experience new things. An increased open-mindedness, paired with growing intellect and an increased display of responsibility make for the ideal apprentice, traveler, volunteer or mentee.
Do you know a uniquely skilled individual, perhaps in your congregation or community? Could you partner with this person to teach your young people something new and engaging?
Connect with Others
Adolescents are beginning to relate more to their peers, and they may begin to value their peers’ opinions more than their parents’. Although this can be a frightening time for parents, it’s considered typical adolescent behavior. In cultures where a village-like model still exists, there are other adults besides parents who are regularly present in a young person’s life. These people can give parental direction and wisdom to young people who might be pulling away from their parents. When adolescents have non-family community members active in their lives, their potential for success is amplified because of the layers of support they have.
Is there a way to connect your youth with a mentor or a prayer partner who isn’t a family member?
Know your Emotional Self
Teens get a raw deal when it comes to emotions. They’re often labeled as being too emotional, when really, the emotions they have are just more intense and often rule their days. Teaching our young people to embrace our emotions while working through life’s ups and downs will undoubtedly lead them to be more compassionate, vibrant and adjusted adults.
Do you have a counselor in your congregation or community? Consider bringing in a counselor to present healthy coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety to your youth.
Explore Your Creative Side
The adolescent mind is seeing the world in a new way. Young people are reinventing themselves through clothing, makeup and taste in music, among other ways. They begin to wonder who they are and what they’re doing, and generally have an increased awareness of their existence. Pursuing a change in style or music isn’t bad or meaningless. However, teachers, coaches and leaders can capitalize on young people’s rapidly growing minds by challenging them to solve real problems creatively. Often, this starts with volunteering locally or with a simpler problem inside of a classroom.
Be on the lookout for ways to encourage your youth to think outside of the box and try a different approach to finding answers.
Jesus states in John 15:5-8 that his disciples should abide in Him, because in Him, they will bear much fruit. As our young people experience frequent transition and change during their adolescence, it’s paramount that we continue to challenge them and meet their needs. Perhaps the greatest thing we can communicate to them during this time is the Gospel. No matter what experiences they go through, they can be sure that abiding in Jesus Christ will cause them to experience oneness with the Father, not to mention the bearing of much fruit.