Jeramy Clark: Don’t enter into the teenage drama, right (laughing)? I don’t want to be a teenager (laughs), I don’t, I live 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?”
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John Fuller: Well, so many of us as parents can relate to that very scenario, I took the bait and today, Dr. Jeramy Clark and his wife, Jerusha, are joining us again on Focus on the Family to help you avoid taking the bait. Your host is Focus author and president Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: I love all the fishing analogies there (laughing), but, uh, John, last time we heard the first part of a great conversation about how we can understand what’s happening as our teenagers brains, uh, grow and develop. And it is really enlightening. If you miss the broadcast last time, get the download or hear it online. Um, you can also download the app for your smartphone. Great ways to listen to the whole library of Focus on the Family. Uh, one point we made with our guests is that the male brain is not fully developed. Now, wives and moms are going, of course, I knew this (laughing), but the male brain is not fully developed until somewhere around 24 to 27 years old. And for girls it’s about 23. Okay, let’s hear it for the ladies.
Jim: Um, so when you’re looking at odd behavior or (laughs) things that just don’t add up, um, it might be because they’re not there yet. And I’m definitely seeing it in my two boys. I mean, every year there’s greater maturity, and believe me, we’re grateful for that. As parents, we can better manage our emotions knowing that there is a horizon of development. And that’s what we want to inform you about today.
John: Yeah, and our guests, Jeramy and Jerusha, are living right there. They’ve got a couple of teen girls, uh, Jeramy and Jerusha write together and have this book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, and we have copies of that focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. We’re so glad to have this couple back. Jeramy Clark was a youth pastor for 17 years and now reaches out to ministry leaders through Standing Stone Ministry in Costa Mesa, California. Uh, Jerusha is also a writer and speaker, and the Clark’s have two teen girls, as I mentioned, uh, previously. Let’s go ahead and return to part two now of that conversation on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Well, welcome to both of you.
Jerusha Clark: Thanks.
Jim: Uh, Jeramy, you have spent really your life, uh, 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, uh, John and I both a different perspective. I know millions of listeners who have heard this now. They’re hanging 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 a 11, 12-year-old boy and girl, and the differences?
Jermay: So to recap, there’s a pruning that’s going on from 11 years old in girls and 12 and a half, uh, around-
Jermay: … roughly in boys 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 brain. So if these young people, and during these times, if they’re just sitting on the couch, playing video games, which they love to do (laughing), those are going to be the things that will be hardwired. For us, as parents, we need to guide these years and we need to understand that as their brains are pruning, it’s really, there’s a lot of starts and stops and, and their own emotions and there’s confusion. And we used to always say in teaching talks to adolescents, it’s always, um, 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.
Jermay: 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’s reasons for why they’re acting the way they are. And that’s why we took this title because teenage, the teenage years seem crazy.
Jermay: 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 crazy as you think they are.”
Jermay: There’s actually things happening to them. And if you know, then you can have greater compassion and greater understanding.
Jim: I would, there’s almost another title for your book running through my mind, which is embrace the craziness (laughing) as a parent.
Jerusha: Hey, that’s a good one too.
Jim: You know, just as a parent. Uh, that’s what I love about it.
Jim: Because God has designed this. Uh, you mentioned last time about, uh, 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 going to 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’s, it could harm you. That’s the reason.
Jermay: And so their hypothalamus and their amygdala are enlarged, which-
Jerusha: In boys.
Jermay: … in boys and it helps them mediate fear and danger. And since it’s enlarged during these years, uh, there’s an aggressiveness, there’s an assertiveness, there’s a shorter attention span, squirrel (laughing). There’s, there’s-
Jim: You do grow out of that, right?
Jim: I don’t know if I have yet. I’m concerned now.
Jermay: Are you paying attention?
Jim: Yeah, I’m still looking out the window when you said that (laughing).
Jermay: Right, right. So, and, and also like this, uh, enhanced sex drive, that’s what’s happening because 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, and my, um, you know, Senior Pastor, Dr. Phil Howard, he, he said, “Jeramy, I knew God worked in you because you were the hottest headed little punk I’d ever met (laughing).” And, and God did something amazing in you.
Jermay: Well, I didn’t understand why as a young man I reached up and punched my windshield as, uh, uh, because I was frustrated over relationship and it I watched it spider web crack in front of me, and I thought, “Oh, you idiot. Now I gotta 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 I was aggressive and, 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-
Jermay: … 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.
Jim: And this is what they’re going to, and, you know, sometimes engage.
Jim: And how do we as Christian parents, particularly, because we have such a standard of restraint-
Jim: … is a godly character, which it is. But how do you step in there and begin to help your teenager, boy or girl? We, we need to cover more of the girl’s-
Jim: … attributes in a moment.
Jim: But how do you, as a father and a mother, step in and say-
Jermay: Right here.
Jim: … “Okay, we got you. We understand what’s going on and hang on.”
Jermay: You have to adjust your expectations. So if my expectation is that they’re going to be well-behaved, well-mannered, uh, just going to sit at attention in the pew and-
Jim: Always want to pray.
Jermay: Right, uh (laughing), they’re, they’re just I’m like we see some families that way, how come our kids aren’t like that? Well, because our kids are like us (laughing). So like, so, um, we can adjust our expectations. If I have the expectation that they’re going to act a certain way, and they’re constantly not acting that way. And through research, I understand and come to learn that this is going to be normative. That they’re going to constantly be challenging boundaries and questioning my rules and asking why? Where I often feel, um, challenged and disrespected. And if I adjust my expectations and say, “You know, I’m not being disrespected here. I don’t think at the core of this I’m being disrespected,” I’m going to allow them, by adjusting my, my own expectations, to, um, enter into the journey with them.
Jim: Well, last time we left off with something you both said, which was don’t make an idol out of disrespect.
Jim: And my first blush at that was, “What, wait a minute-
Jim: … we’re going to 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, uh, 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’s become, it’s 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: And I think that, you know, I’m so glad, Jeramy, that you brought up the whole aspect, um, of what you were just talking about because we’re not trying to excuse behavior by biology, we’re, actually, we’re never trying to say, “Oh, you should just ignore all this, you know, just understand them and, and get over it.” We’re actually, in each chapter, we give specific try it today principles for how you can adjust to those expectations. How you can navigate these things specifically. Because, uh, if you’re like me, parents out there, sometimes you just feel a little helpless like, “What do I try next?”
Jerusha: Because I’ve done the whole like 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, uh, when a parent encounters that, um, just hypothetically, because it would never happen in our home (laughing).
Jerusha: Ours either.
Jim: Let’s talk about John’s house.
Jim: No, I’m kidding, John. But, you know, when that team has a little flare up of disrespect and, you know, they say something in a cut or demeaning way. What should a parent do not to take the bait?
Jermay: Right (laughs). Right. Uh, we, again, I, we mentioned this, but we like saying, “Hey, use your adult brain. We are the mature ones. Our prefrontal cortex is our, are fully myelinated. We can think, we can have, you know, wise judgment and discernment. And, and if I know that my adolescent is going through this changing time and, and these emotions are up and down for them and they’re, 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.
Jermay: 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: Just as a trigger.
Jermay: Right, right. Don’t enter into the teenage drama (laughing), right? I don’t want to be a teenager. (laughs) I don’t, 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?
Jermay: Why did I yell? Why did I-”
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 (laughing).
Jim: We go from this moment to-
Jerusha: They’re going to get pregnant. They’re going to this. Yes, totally.
Jim: You know, that’s Jean and I [inaudible], “Do you know what he could turn out to be (laughing)?” You go, “Wait a minute, what?”
Jerusha: We call that catastrophization. It’s actually a psychological principle, and you’re absolutely right, women-
Jerusha: Catastrophization, and women tend to struggle with this more. And it’s absolutely true that you take a thread and run with it. Another very specific thing that you can do when you’re encountered with those disrespectful comments is that you can say what you want to say in as few words as possible. Because-
Jim: As a rule?
Jerusha: Teenage brains respond best to shorter, more frequent conversations. Don’t get into a big like explanation of let this and that.
Jim: Lecture, right.
Jerusha: Yeah, 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. So-
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 (laughing), 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 u- usually want those things, but then you’ve offered an invitation to greater relationship.
Jerusha: So it’s 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? Because I do, how do you perceive me?”
Jim: Mm-hmm, yeah, people are smiling.
Jerusha: You’re obviously inviting them to relationship. Now, a lot of times they’re gonna be like, “Whatever,” and walk away (laughing). But let them have that 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-
Jim: Explain, yeah.
Jerusha: … excuse bad behavior. 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. Um, 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, uh, kind of teasing folks that we’d talk about the peer pressure issue.
Jim: And, you know, when you’re, and again, I don’t mean to keep coming back to Christian homes, but we can have a very high standard in this regard-
Jerusha: Oh, it’s true.
Jim: … 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 going to be natural-
Jim: … 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, “That my friends don’t condemn me for stepping beyond the boundaries. All I get is a hassle from you, mom and dad.” Um, speak to that environment where now it’s becoming serious. And if some of it, as a parent, if we’re honest, it’s our fault too.
Jim: And we have pushed them out the door at times.
Jermay: We have, I think the tendency, and this is where parents often don’t grow as their children grow-
Jermay: … when they’re young, we have to set good boundaries because if we don’t, they’ll run out into the street, get hit by a car. They’ll put their hand on the stove. We have to box them in here. Where we get uncomfortable is putting the walls of the box down. A Senior Pastor I worked with, uh, Dennis Keenan, he likes to say, “By the time a, um, a, 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: Yeah, that’s preparing them for adulthood.
Jermay: 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 (laughing)? Jeramy, do you know what could happen?
Jermay: It’s dangerous (laughing).
Jim: Yeah, but it’s true.
Jim: That’s what moms and dads are thinking.
Jim: So how did they adjust that? Okay.
Jerusha: … 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, um, develops unevenly. It’s 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, um, these different brain structures. Um, one of the things that is happening in that part of the, 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.
Jerusha: 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: Yeah, late bloomers or, or whatever we describe them with.
Jerusha: Because we’re trying to, um, squelch this maturation of the social grain. We’re afraid. Um, one of the things that we address in the book are 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 surrender control.
Jim: Exert more control.
Jerusha: Rather than to surrender it to the only one that can handle it. I mean, I love 1st 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: Counterintuitive, it’s scary (laughs).
Jerusha: It is, it’s so, and it’s challenging and it’s scary, but it’s also what they need because that-
Jerusha: … time with peers, um, 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 (laughing). 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. Um, your kid’s soccer coach may be a great surrogate prefrontal cortex for them.
Jerusha: 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: Well, that is so well said, I love this stuff so much because you guys are hitting it. Um, let’s continue that thought into faith and faith development. Because as you let the walls fall down, uh, you’re hoping that’s what emerges is a child who is committed to the Lord, who can follow, age appropriately, as best as he or she can at that age that 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% 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.
Jim: I’m sure, uh, 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, uh, you know, “My word will not return void and teach them in the ways of the Lord.”
Jim: And, and when they are old, they will not, in essence, forget that.
Jim: Um, 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?
Jermay: All right, you’re not going to like this, but teens learn best through example. They need examples, they need… and it starts with us and we humble ourselves and, and what matters most is that we model. Not just talk about a faith but live a faith.
Jermay: 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 (laughing), 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 what, 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’re just continuing to pray like crazy.
Jermay: 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 going to rely on you because we know we’re going to trust our kids to you into your hand. Would you help them develop as the young ladies that 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.
Jermay: If we want them to memorize the scriptures, then are we memorizing the scriptures? Is, is a church a priority? And, for so long, I think the church, and I’m very passionate about working with youth, it’s 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: When you’re aggressive like you described without breaking the windshield.
Jim: But people didn’t walk away from you.
Jim: That’s key.
Jermay: I had mentors and, and my parents who raised me on the Bible and the church, and also on Focus on the Family.
Jerusha: They did, they do. Absolutely.
Jim: Correct (laughing).
Jermay: They, like seriously this is a coming home for me to be here because my parents had us listen to tapes. And they, I mean, they just they were constantly trying to grow, and they were our examples. I come home from school and my mom is, uh, reading the Bible. Like my dad was serving in Junior High Ministry, and, and I would want some of the suckers that he was taking to the other kids (laughing). 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 in the example, and they kept bringing it up, but they weren’t pushy.
Jermay: And yet I had, um, my Youth Pastor, Ted Montoya, tapped 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.
Jim: Oh, that’s a great idea.
Jermay: Go, you have important roles, no more important than mentoring the next generation. Find the very best leaders and send them 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% 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: Uh, you know, it’s interesting. I- it’s obviously not that God is lacking or that there’s something wanting in his word.
Jerusha: 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?”
Jerusha: 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, you know, “Okay, now go read your Bible for 10 minutes.” And then it becomes just something to check off the list. How do we help them have as well as these kind 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. Um, maybe it’s about sexuality and gender. You’ve never had really a, a robust conversation with your kids about these kinds of things. They go away, and all of a sudden they hear things and they think, “What in the world?” So never too early, never too late, you know, start where you are.
Jerusha: 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 (laughs). I, I have so enjoyed it. I want to continue the discussion in our web area. Ask you a few more questions. So for the listeners, if you want to hear more, uh, 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, uh, ask a few more questions in parenting teenagers (laughs) and trying to get through that. Um, I am really encouraged. I think you are onto something, both of you, in terms of the research and what it shows us, what God has built into us, uh, as teenagers who are developing, you got it.
Jim: And, uh, 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 too which is-
Jerusha: Yes, embrace the crazy (laughing).
Jim: … embrace the crazy.
Jerusha: I love it, I love it.
Jim: Um, 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.
Jim: 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 a parent. And I- I’m pointing the mirror right back at Jean and me because we have those challenges as well. So let’s grow together. Uh, you can get a copy of this book. Uh, John let’s make this available for a gift of any amount, uh, 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. Uh, be there for them, do ministry through Focus. Um, I’m committed to running Focus efficiently and effectively. Um, 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: We really enjoyed our conversation with Jeramy and Jerusha Clark, uh, on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And as Jim said, um, you can donate and get the book from us and help families, uh, in a variety of circumstances. Your support allows us to provide hope for real families who need it. Again, the title of that book is Your Teenager Is Not Crazy. And I’ll also mention another great resource that we have, specifically, for teen girls, Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine, equips teen girls to better understand the world around them with a biblical perspective. And it really helps you engage in conversation with your daughter. Contact us to subscribe to Brio magazine. Donate and get that book by the Clark’s.
John: Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or our number 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459. Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. Next time you’ll hear from Mark and Jill Savage share about rebuilding trust in their marriage after infidelity. That’s next time as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.