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Understanding Your Teen's Behavior (Part 2 of 2)

Air Date 05/23/2017

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Based on their book Your Teenager is Not Crazy, Jeramy and Jerusha Clark offer an overview of a teen's brain from a neurological perspective, sharing insights on your teen's emotions and the impact of puberty and hormones. The Clarks give practical advice on resolving conflict with your teen, handling disrespect and helping your teen navigate peer pressure. (Part 2 of 2)

Episode Transcript



Pastor Jeramy Clark: Don't enter into the teenage drama, right? So I don't want to be a teenager. I lived through those years. I don't want to go back to those years. But so often I find myself walking away from an argument that I took the bait, I ran into it, and I walk away thinking, Why did I do that?

End of Teaser

John Fuller: So many parents can relate to that scenario. "I took the bait." Well, Dr. Jeramy Clark and his wife, Jerusha join us again on "Focus on the Family" and your host is Focus author and president, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, last time we started a great conversation about how we can understand what's happening as our teen brains--

John: Was that a Freudian slip?

Mrs. Jerusha Clark: That was a slip, definitely.

Jim: --as our teenagers' brains grow and develop, and it is so enlightening. If you missed the broadcast last time, get the Smartphone app, do whatever you need to do. Call us and we'll point you in the right direction or send you the CD, whatever we need to do, because there was so much great information about better understanding your teens as their brains are developing.

One point we made with our guests last time is that the male brain is not fully developed until somewhere between 24- and 27-years-old, and a female about 23. So when you're looking at odd behavior or things that you don't like or why is there always this resistance, in part, it's the discipline for all of us to better understand how our teens are growing, the changes that are going on in their bodies and in their brains, and how to better manage that as a parent.

And I just think it gives us so much more in the tool box, John, to better handle emotions and all the other things. It doesn't have to be such conflict as you parent. And I think the Lord is in this in such a big way.

John: Yeah, and Jeramy and Jerusha are living it. They've got a couple of teen girls. They're also writers. They put together this great book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, despite what you might feel or think. And Jeramy is pastor of discipleship at Emmanuel Faith Community Church. And Jerusha writes and speaks and we're glad to have them back for a second day.


Jim: Well, welcome to both of you.

Jerusha: Thanks.

Jim: Jeramy, you have spent really your life helping teens, and that has shown in the discussion we had last time, just the way you brought brain chemistry into the discussion. Really, it gives John and I a different perspective. I know millions of listeners who have heard this now, they're hangin' on saying, "Okay, give us some more." Let's recap a bit and talk about that brain chemistry. Just give us the … kind of the breakdown on what's growing in an 11-, 12-year-old boy and girl and the differences.

Jeramy: So to recap, there's a pruning that's going on from 11 years old in girls and 12 1/2, roughly in boys.

Jim: Roughly.

Jeramy: And their brains are being pruned back and it's going through a time of specialization. And the things that they do during this time will actually hardwire in their brains. So if these young people during these times, if they're just sitting on the couch playing video games, which they love to do, those are gonna be the things that are gonna be hardwired. For us as parents, we need to guide these years, and we need to understand that as their brains are pruning; there [are] a lot of starts and stops and their own emotions and there's confusion.

And we used to always say in teaching talks to adolescents it's always the raging testosterone and the hormone changes. All of these things are true, but through recent research we know that actually it's all coming from what's happening in the brain. The brain is regulating all of this and so, as the brain is specializing, we as parents can understand some of the stuff that we see that is crazy—the up-and-down emotion and all these different things that we outline in the book. There [are] reasons for why they are acting the way they are.

And that's why we took this title because teenage, the teenage years seem crazy, and we want to say, well, we want to take some of the mystery out of it. We want to say, hey, they're not as you think they are. There's actually things happening to them, and if you know, then you can have greater compassion and greater understanding.

Jim: There's almost another title for your book running through my mind, which is Embrace the Craziness As a Parent--

Jerusha: Hey, that's a good one too.

Jim: --you know, just as a parent. That's what I love about it, because God has designed this. You mentioned last time about 30 times the amount of testosterone flowing through a teenage boy's body and brain, and what it's doing to increase the size of the amygdala, which is the courage center, you know, the exploration area, the testing of things. That's what they're gonna do, because their brain chemistry is driving them in that direction. They want to do crazy things. You've seen skateboarders and what they do and you're going, "Why would a kid ever do that? It could harm you." That's the reason.

Jeramy: Correct and so their hypothalamus and their amygdala are enlarged --

Jerusha: In boys.

Jeramy: --in boys and it helps them mediate fear and danger. And since it's enlarged during these years, there's an aggressiveness. There's an assertiveness. There's a shorter attention span. Squirrel! (Laughter)

Jim: You do grow out of that, right? I don't know if I have yet. I'm concerned now.

John: Are you paying attention?

Jim: Absolutely. I'm looking out the window when you said that.

Jeramy: So, and also like this enhanced sex drive. That's what's happening because of the increased testosterone level in young men. I didn't understand when I was a kid why, when I got thrown out at the church baseball game—it was a picnic, church baseball game—I was raging mad. I was kicking bases and throwing stuff, and my senior pastor, Dr. Phil Howard, he said, "Jeramy, I knew God worked in you because you were the hottest-headed little punk I'd ever met, and God did something amazing in you."

Well, I didn't understand why, as a young man, I reached up and punched my windshield, because I was frustrated over a relationship, and I watched it spider-web crack in front of me and I thought, Oh, you idiot! Now I've got to pay and replace that. Well, it all makes sense that I had all of this extra testosterone. I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't know why I was aggressive and angry all the time and fighting with my parents all the time. This gives me great compassion when I'm interacting with young men, knowing that this is happening. This is something that is a reality in them that they just, we can't wish away.

Jim: Well, here's the point that is so important, I think. You start as a parent to see your child as a misfit rather than the normal trajectory, and this is what they're gonna and, you know, sometimes engage. And how do we, as Christian parents particularly, because we have such a standard of restraint as a godly character--which it is--but how do you step in there and begin to help your teenager, boy or girl? We need to cover more of the girls' attributes in a moment.

Jeramy: Right.

Jim: But how do you, as a father and a mother, step in and say, "Okay, we gotcha. We understand what's going on and hang on"?

Jeramy: You have to adjust your expectations. So if my expectation is that they are gonna be well-behaved, well-mannered, just gonna sit at attention in the pew.

Jim: Always want to pray.

Jeramy: Right, I mean, we see some families that way. How come our kids aren't like that? Well, because our kids are like us. (Laughter) So, we can adjust our expectations. If I have the expectation that they are gonna act a certain way and they're constantly not acting that way, and through research I understand and come to learn that this is gonna be normative, that they are gonna constantly be challenging boundaries and questioning my rules and asking why, where I often feel challenged and disrespected, and if I adjust my expectations and say, "Well, you know what? I'm not being disrespected here. I don't think at the core of this I'm being disrespected," I'm gonna allow them, by adjusting my own expectations, to enter into the journey with them.

Jim: Well, last time we left off with something you both said, which was, "Don't make and idol out of disrespect."

Jeramy: Correct.

Jim: And my first blush at that was, well, wait a minute. We're gonna manage this. Explain a little further, with greater detail, what that means when a parent makes an idol out of disrespect.

Jerusha: Yeah, well, idols are just good things that we make ultimate things. And respect is a good thing; it's something that God encourages children to give their parents, commands them to give. But when we make respect the ultimate thing in our relationship with our kids, then it [has] displaced God in our life. It's become the thing that we seek above all else, and we can't seek respect above all else.

Jim: So it's also an idol out of respect.

Jerusha: Yes, and I think that, you know, I'm so glad, Jeramy, that you brought up the whole aspect of what you were just talking about, because we're not trying to excuse behavior by biology; we're never trying to say, "Oh, you should just ignore all this. You know, just understand 'em and … and get over it." We're actually, in each chapter, we give specific try-it-today principles for how you can adjust those expectations, how you can navigate these things specifically. because if you're like me, parents out there, sometimes you just feel a little helpless, like what do I try next? Because I've done the whole count to 10 thing and I've done this. And so, I really wanted to make sure, and Jeramy wanted to make sure that the moms out there and the dads out there had things they could literally put into practice within these 24 hours.

Jim: Well, let's push on the disrespect one, when a parent encounters that, just hypothetically because it would never happen in our home. (Laughter)

Jerusha: Ours either. (Laughter)

Jim: Let's talk about John's house. No, I'm kidding, John. But you know when that teen has a little flare-up of disrespect and, you know, they say something in a curt or demeaning way, what should a parent do not to take the bait?

Jeramy: Right, right, well, we, again, we mentioned this, but we like to say use your adult brain. We are the mature ones. Our prefrontal cortexes are fully myelinated. We can think; we can have, you know, wise judgment and discernment. And if I know that my adolescent is going through this changing time and these emotions are up and down for them and one minute they're nice and docile and the next minute they're screaming and challenging me and talking back to me, well, it's up to me to bring calm into the situation. It's up to me to be the adult. It's up to me to be the parent and model appropriate behavior. And if I'm always taking the bait and running into the argument, so this is something that we like to say to each other, "Rise above. Rise above this."

Jim: This is a trigger.

Jeramy: Don't enter into the teenage drama, right? I don't want to be a teenager. I lived through those years. I don't want to go back to those years, but so often I find myself walking away from an argument that I took the bait. I ran into it, and I walk away thinking, Why did I do that? Why did I yell?

Jim: Why do we equate this thing—and this is a humorous way to look at it—that if we're having a struggle with our teenager, that somehow (and I think moms do this quicker than dads) that disrespectful teenager is on his way to being a car thief?

Jerusha: Yes, right, right. (Laughter) They're gonna get pregnant.

Jim: We go through this moment--

Jerusha: They're gonna this. Yes, totally.

Jim: --that's Jean and I are lying in bed going, "Do you know what he could turn out to be?" You go, "Wait a minute."

Jerusha: They call that "catastrophization." It's actually a psychological principle, and you're absolutely right.

Jim: Catastrophization?

Jerusha: Catastrophization and women tend to struggle with this more. It's absolutely true that you take a thread and you run with it. Another very specific thing that you can do when you are encountered with those disrespectful comments is that you can say what you want to say in as few words as possible.

Jim: As a rule.

Jerusha: Yes, teenage brands respond best to shorter, more frequent conversations. Don't get into a big like explanation of this and that.

Jim: Lecture.

Jerusha: Even if it's not a lecture, even if you're just trying to, you're really trying to explain; you're not trying to lecture, their brains can't take it in. Use as few words as possible and make those words count.

Jim: That is a great rule of thumb.

Jerusha: You know, for instance, if you have a teenager that says, "It doesn't matter. Why do you even care?" Instead of going on and on about why you care, just say, "If you would like to understand more, I'm more than happy to give you some reasons." The reality is they don't usually want those things, but then you've offered an invitation to greater relationship.

Jim: Right.

Jerusha: So use a question every time you can. Instead of a statement, try to ask a question. "You know, I'm actually really interested, why do you think I care so much? 'Cause I do. How do you perceive me?"

Jim: Yeah, you're smiling.

Jerusha: You're inviting them to relationship. Now a lot of times they're gonna be like, "Whatever," and walk away. But let them have the last word. The "whatever" is not so bad. Now obviously if they are cursing at you, if they are completely undermining your authority, disrespectful, those things need to be addressed. That's why we never say biology does not excuse bad behavior.

Jim: Explain that.

Jerusha: But the way that we do those things is very different when we operate on this understanding.

Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guests are Dr. Jeramy Clark and Jerusha Clark. And their book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen's Brain Can Make You a Better Parent. I want to turn the corner, because we left off last time kind of teasing folks that we'd talk about the peer pressure issue. And again, I don't mean to keep coming back to Christian homes, but we tend to have a very high standard in this regard about how you speak to parents, and those are all good things, but when we make them an idol, as you guys have described, some of those kids will feel so unable to attain it, that they start seeking relationship outside the home to find affirmation.

And I'm sure a lot of Christian parents are in that spot right now, where their teenagers are now wanting to be with their friends more than they want to be at home, hang out. Some of that's gonna be natural, but when it's unhealthy, when they're finding that they love being with their friends because the expectations are low or they're now getting into behavior that is risky—it could be premarital sex, it could be drinking, drug abuse, whatever it might be—speak to that environment where now it's becoming serious and some of it, as a parent, if we're honest, it's our fault too, and we have pushed them out the door at times.

Jeramy: We have. I think the tendency, and this is where parents often don't grow as their children grow. When they're young, we have to set good boundaries, because if we don't they'll run out into the street and get hit by a car. They'll put their hand on the stove. We have to box them in. Where we get uncomfortable is putting the walls of the box down. The senior pastor I work with, Dennis Keating, he likes to say by the time a teenager is 17, all four walls of the box should be down—based on the teen, of course, and based on your own experience of their maturity.

Jim: That's preparing them for adulthood.

Jeramy: Correct and we are so uncomfortable, as parents, to put the walls down, to let the walls down to give more and more freedom.

Jim: Do you know what they could do with that freedom? Jeramy, do you know what could happen?

John: It's dangerous.

Jim: Yeah, but it's true. That's what moms and dads are thinking. So how do they adjust that?

Jerusha: Well, maybe hearing a little bit about the biology will kind of help parents, because the social brain is developing during this time, and as Jeramy mentioned before, the brain develops unevenly in fits and starts. And so, the social brain continues to grow during this adolescent period, but one of the primary things the social brain does during this period—and by "social brain," we just mean the brain structures that are involved; it's not actually part of the brain; it's kind of the overall the different brain structures--one of the things that is happening in that part, those parts of the brain, is a push towards peers.

God designed it this way. God designed it this way so that our kids would leave the nest. If we squash that entirely, we're doing ourselves a disservice. I truly believe that this is one of the reasons that our children, our adult children, emerging adults, are not leaving as early as they did in the past.

Jim: They're late bloomers or whatever we describe them as.

Jerusha: Because we're trying to squelch this maturation of the social brain. We're afraid. One of the things that we address in the book [is] these fears of letting go of control, but control is an illusion. Only God is in control. Any control that we thought we had as parents is blown out of the water when they become teenagers. We realize how little control we actually have. But in response to that recognition, a lot of us try to clamp down rather than to--

Jim: Exert more control.

Jerusha: -- surrender control, right, rather than to surrender it to the only One who can handle it. I mean I love 1 Timothy 6:15 says that God is the blessed and only controller. He's the only one that can do this and do it well. I am not a good controller. I'm kind of more like a Nazi when I'm trying to control things. And so, I have to surrender that control and trust.

Jim: Whoo, it's counterintuitive.

Jerusha: It is.

Jim: It's scary.

Jerusha: And it's challenging and it's scary, but it's also what they need. And what's so great, Jim, is that we don't have to give them a ton of unsupervised time with peers. That's when the trouble really starts. We looked at a lot of research on this, and it's the time when you get a bunch of unmyelinated prefrontal cortexes, meaning teenagers, when they all get together, that's when crazy stuff happens.

Jim: Bad judgment.

Jerusha: So have that youth leader with them. Even someone that's 25 will still have a more fully developed brain and have parents, coaches. Your kid's soccer coach may be a great surrogate prefrontal cortex for them. You know, it's kind of like a safety net. You have adult brains surrounding your kids so that when they branch out with that social brain, they're not falling into oblivion.

Jim: Boy, that is so well said. I love this stuff so much, because you guys are hitting it. Let's continue that thought into faith and faith development, because as you let the walls fall down you're hoping that's what emerges, is a child who is committed to the Lord, who can follow, age-appropriately, as best he or she can at that age if they go off to college.

You know, the statistics right now are very dismaying to parents when they go off to Christian school or a secular school. About 70 percent of kids will fall away from the faith. The good news is about half of them will come back to the Lord at about age 30. I'm sure, although I don't know the research has been done beyond age 30, more will come back to the Lord over the next several decades before they pass away. That's a good thing. That reinforces the Bible where it says, you know, "My Word will not return void," and teach them in the ways of the Lord and when they are old they will not, in essence, forget that. How do we set the best environment spiritually to let them thrive and let them make mistakes and allow the Holy Spirit to do His job?

Jeramy: Right, you're not gonna like this, but teens learn best through example. They need examples and it starts with us and we humble ourselves and what matters most is that we model, not just talk about a faith, but live a faith--a faith that they see is true within us. We like to say teens have a real strong hypocrite meter, for everyone except for themselves, granted. But they can spot the hypocrisy. They see it. And what do they need? They need mentors; they need models. They need parents that will humble themselves and say, "You know, I was wrong the other day."

And to the listeners out there, we're right in this. I mean we had a tough few days, and we are just continuing to pray like crazy. We go on walks on a regular basis and we just pray and say, "God, if You can't help us, no one can. But we're gonna rely on You because we know we're gonna trust our kids to You and to Your hand. Would You help them develop as the young ladies You want them to develop into?"

But we want to provide that example. We want to humble ourselves. If we want our kids to read the Bible, then they should see us reading the Bible. If we want them to memorize the Scriptures, then are we memorizing the Scriptures? Is church a priority? And I'm very passionate about working with youth, because that's when my faith really took off, and it's also a time where I was really uncertain and I was testing the waters and I got into some trouble.

Jim: Well, and you were aggressive like you described in breaking the windshield.

Jeramy: Completely.

Jim: But people didn't walk away from you.

Jeramy: Correct.

Jim: That's key.

Jeramy: I had mentors, and my parents, who raised me on the Bible and the church and also on Focus on the Family, they seriously.

Jerusha: Absolutely.

Jeramy: This is a coming home for me to be here, because my parents had us listen to tapes and they, I mean they were constantly trying to grow, and they were our examples. I'd come home from school and my mom is reading the Bible. My dad was serving in junior high ministry, and I would want some of the suckers that he was taking to the other kids, but he's like, "You can't have them because they're for the students I'm leading." They were my models.

When I was going wayward, my mom said, "You know why things aren't going well for you, Jeramy? You're not living right." They were setting the tone and the example. And they kept bringing it up, but they weren't pushy. And yet, I had my youth pastor, Ted Montoya, tap me on the shoulder. "God keeps bringing you to mind. How are you living right now? Hey, come help me in the youth ministry." I think churches today need to send their very best of their best leaders to go mentor youth.

Jerusha: Yes.

Jim: That's a great idea.

Jeramy: You have important roles? No more important than mentoring the next generation. Find the very best leaders and send 'em in to be models for junior high and high school students.

Jim: Let me say it this way, and I'd love your reaction. When you look at that stat of 70 percent of young people when they leave the home they're walking away from the faith in a very secularized university environment, whatever it might be, we have to look at the situation and say, "Why? What are they not finding in Scripture that's keeping them close to God?" That's a bold question, but it's one we have to ask.

Jerusha: But you know it's interesting. It's obviously not that God is lacking, or that there is something wanting in His Word. I think one of the challenges is that we have to look inside and ask, did we make space for our kids to have doubts? Did we make space for them to develop their own thoughts about really their own relationship with God?

Because oftentimes we're so focused on behavior that we forget that it's a relationship with God. We don't just want them to have, okay, now go read your Bible for 10 minutes and then it becomes just something to check off a list. How do we help them have, as well as these kind[s] of behaviors that are good and important, how do we help them have that relationship?

And unfortunately, a lot of parents are scared to enter conversations about doubt. Maybe it's about sexuality and gender. You've never really had a robust conversation with your kids about these kind[s] of things. They go away and all of a sudden they hear things and they think what in the world?

So, [it's] never too early, never too late. You know, start where you are. Just right where you are, begin having those discussions. Bring up your own faith as an entry point. You know, "I was reading in the Scripture this. What do you think?"

Jim: This again has been an incredible day of discussion. I have so enjoyed it. I want to continue the discussion in our Web area and ask you a few more questions. So for the listeners, if you want to hear more, why don't you come to the website? We'll direct it there, John, and you can go to the landing page and we'll ask a few more questions in parenting teenagers and trying to get through that.

I am really encouraged. I think you are on to something, both of you, in terms of the research and what it shows us, what God has built in to us as teenagers who are developing. You got it. And to help parents better understand what's happening physiologically with our kids as well as spiritually. And in your book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy—I like my revision, took which is Embrace

Jerusha: Yes, Embrace Crazy, I love it.

Jim: --the Crazy, because we're living it. All of us are living it at this table. I'm sure many of you listening are living this right now, and it's not working perhaps very well. Let's try something different. This is why Focus is here, to give you a tool that can hopefully bring that shalom, the Lord's peace, into your home. And that definitely starts with looking at your own, you know, your own weaknesses as parents. And I'm pointing the mirror right back at Jean and me, 'cause we have those challenges as well. So let's grow together.

You can get a copy of this book. John, let's make this available for a gift of any amount. Support the ministry so we can help those who need it, and if you're in a good place, man, all the more reason to step into this gap and stand with Focus on the Family to help those, maybe even some of your neighbors who are listening right now. Be there for them. Do ministry through Focus. I'm committed to running Focus efficiently and effectively. You and your wife, you and your husband pour into this place so you can do ministry as God sees it into other people's lives. You may not know their name or their faces, but you're helping. Help us help them.

John: Donate and get great resources at, or when you call 1-800 the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459.

Jim: You know, John, one of those great resources coming back is Brio magazine for teen girls. This is a perfect place to remind parents of teenage girls. It's back. You can call Focus, as John has just given you the details, to subscribe to Brio magazine, probably one of the best tools Focus ever had in equipping teen girls to better understand the world around them and for parents to engage in the conversation.

Jerusha: Actually, I'm so glad you brought that up, because looking at a fashion magazine for three minutes leaves girls depressed. That's the statistic.

Jim: It's one of the reasons we're doing that.

Jerusha; So get Brio in their hands, 'cause that's not gonna leave them feeling that way.

Jim: There's nothing out there in my mind that really helps from a biblical perspective. So that's a great step you can take.


John: And you'll find details about Brio, and thank you for the kind words on it, Jerusha, at

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, hoping you'll join us again next time as Alexandra Kuykendall reflects on a nine-month experiment that she tried to help her learn to appreciate life as it is.


Mrs. Alexandra Kuykendall: And it was that slowing down and noticing what God was doing already that allowed me to change my heart posture to one of gratitude and being grateful for the gifts that He has given me. And when I embrace those gifts daily, I'm loving my actual life more.

End of Excerpt

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Jeramy and Jerusha Clark

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Dr. Jeramy Clark received his Masters of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry from Talbot Theological Seminary. He served as a youth pastor for 17 years before becoming the Pastor of Discipleship at Emmanuel Faith Community Church. His role includes overseeing men's and women's Ministries, care and counseling, youth ministries and small groups. Jeramy and his wife, Jerusha, have co-authored four books, three of which are bestsellers. Jerusha has her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God. She recently completed her twelfth book, Every Piece of Me: Shattering Toxic Beliefs and Discovering the Real You. Jeramy and Jerusha have two teen daughters. Learn more about the couple by visiting their website,