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Understanding How Your Teen Thinks (Part 2 of 2)

Air Date 10/24/2018

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In a discussion based on their book Your Teenager is Not Crazy, Jeramy and Jerusha Clark offer parents helpful insights on how their teen's behavior is being shaped by their changing brain chemistry. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Drop-In:

Jim Daly: Hi, I’m Jim Daly, and before we start today’s broadcast, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the recent passing of our good friend and colleague, Reverend H.B. London Jr. H.B., as we affectionately called him, was a gifted leader and pastor who deeply cared for church ministry, and he served as our “Pastor to Pastor” here at Focus on the Family for 20 years leading a unique outreach where he tirelessly worked to encourage and motivate his fellow clergy members and their families. I had the privilege of interviewing H.B. a few years ago when he retired from Focus in 2011. And here are a few of his wonderful comments that reflect his servant’s heart and a life well-lived for the Lord.

It was 1991 when Dr. Dobson invited you to come to Focus on the Family to do what?

H.B. London: Well, his thing was that uh, we’re having a lot of crisis mail coming from the clergy home, and he looked across the table at me and just said, “I wonder if you and I could work together without killing each other,” because we were cousins and only-kids and all that. But, you know, after two or three months of wondering what I was doing here, God gave me a mandate that I was to be a “Pastor to Pastors”, and we really hadn’t heard that term. But then He gave me the mandate that we were to help facilitate spiritual restoration and renewal in the life of clergy families, and then come along and help them better manage their finances and their families and all the things that go along with it. And then everything just broke loose after that.

You know, the greatest energy that I receive is going out into a group of pastors or pastors’ spouses and - and helping them laugh a little bit and helping them realize that it’s not their church; it’s God’s church. And it’s not their people; these are God’s creation. And they’re under-shepherds, they’re overseers, and even though their turf may not be great, they’re responsible to that turf and to make it the best they can to bloom where they’re planted. Make the most of every day, every opportunity. Get up with a smile on your face and with a skip in your step and make the world a better place.

There are two passages of Scripture that I’ve embraced - Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge Him.” There is so much wrapped up in those two verses. Surrender and trust and faith and all of that. And Psalm 118:24: “This is the day the Lord has made; we’ve gotta rejoice and be glad in it.” And my advice to young and old alike is if you surrender your life to the Lord, He will guide your path. He’ll bring you through. But the other thing is you gotta get up every day and join the opportunity to think that He made this day. He invited you to join Him in this day and face it with a smile, but have something in mind for that day. Don’t waste a day.

Jim: Well our good friend and colleague, H.B., passed away peacefully on Tuesday, October 16, surrounded by his wife, Beverly, of 61 years, also with his sons, Brad and Brian, their wives, and four grandchildren. And obviously, it would be much appreciated if you could pray for the Londons as they grieve the loss of their husband, their father, their grandfather, and recognize that he is in paradise.

End of Drop-In

Excerpt:

Jerusha Clark: If you’re in a construction zone, you know there may be some nails exposed or some wires that are not put together. And so it allows you to just step back, look at things and depersonalize them. For instance, when your teenager says, “Just leave me alone,” think, “Okay, I got to put my hard hat on here rather than retaliate.”

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Jerusha Clark, and you’ll hear more from her and her husband Jeramy today on Focus on the Family about how you can better understand your teenager. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim: Last time we started a fascinating discussion on how the brain develops in fits and spurts uh, but to think of it in terms of scaffolding being built. I think that’s a great way to view the teen brain. We talked about how brain development impacts why your teen seems drawn to risky behavior uh, the importance of your teen having good friends, and why parents need to show humility in all of that. We have a lot of helpful insights from Jeramy and Jerusha, and today we want to come back and dive into how to tackle issues that teens “wait” through like purity, technology, and faith. Those are three important ones in our household, and I’m hopeful that programs like this are helpful to you as they are to us. And uh, this is the kind of advice we all need.

John: Mmhmm. Yeah, and a good place to find more insights, particularly about this topic is gonna be by getting a copy of the book by the Clarks called Your Teenager Is Not Crazy. We’ve got that and a CD or free download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: And just as a reminder we mentioned this last time, Jeramy is facing a rare medical condition and receiving treatment, but it’s life-threatening, and he and Jerusha would certainly covet your prayers right now.

John: Mmhmm yeah, we’ve been praying for them and look forward to a good update. Jeramy has worked extensively with youth, and Jerusha is a pretty prolific author. Together they have two teen daughters, and uh let’s pick it up now as Jim, you asked about the importance of modeling forgiveness for our teenagers.

Body:

Jim: Let me start with something that’s really difficult for us as parents. And you mentioned it in your wonderful book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy. Again, love the title. It’s that idea of modeling asking for forgiveness. It can be such a hard thing for a parent to do ‘cause you’re in control. You’re the one in charge. And I think for anybody that has responsibility, but particularly for a parent dealing with a teenager, adolescent, whatever it might be, kind of getting down to their level and saying, “I’m sorry that was not right of daddy or mommy to do that,” why is that so critical?

Jerusha: Well, from a neuroscience perspective, it’s because your teenager has - and so do you - these fascinating little cells called mirror neurons. And scientists have just been studying these for about a decade or a little bit longer. And we’re discovering that people learn by watching others almost more effectively than any other kind of learning because what you do, say, even your facial expressions, are mirrored in the brains of the people around you. So that’s why when you see someone smile, it’s hard not to smile.

Jim: Oh, that’s interesting, yeah.

Jerusha: Or when you see someone drinking a cup of coffee, you’re like, coffee sounds good. These are mirror neurons. We don’t control their firing. They naturally occur as we observe someone performing an act, saying something, um, you know, doing a certain behavior. And so God put this, once again, just the glory of God to wire into us something that helps us as parents, which is that when we are humble, when we lay aside our pride, when we lay aside our need to be right and we apologize sincerely, that is mirrored in our teenager. Now, that doesn’t guarantee that they will then apologize back. But what it does is it mirrors humility inside of them. So I just loved discovering these little mirror neurons um, and the science behind them because it really helped me realize when I’m modeling asking for forgiveness from my kids, I’m, like, actually engaging a part of their brain they don’t even have control over. So I’m like...

Jim: Right. So Jeramy - Jeramy, what’s the example as a dad with daughters? Where have you had to get down and say, “I’m sorry”?

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: I’m going to lean on you for that one.

Jerusha: Hit him below the belt.

Jeramy Clark: The last thing I want to do is apologize, especially to someone that I feel was at fault. And so my pride gets in the way, my own ability to assess the situation and - and go in and apologize once again because I can’t control what they do. I can control what I do. And I can always keep assessing, did I do this Christ-li- in a Christ-like manner? Did I - could I have handled that better? How did it come across to them? And especially, I have one daughter who will not apologize. Oh, it drives me nuts. She will not apologize. And so there’s this little pride tug-of-war within me because I feel like I’m relenting, I’m giving up, and I want her to. And so this is pride within me. And I want to model and I want to show humility. I want to admit when I was - I’m wrong. You know, “I was wrong in this. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I shouldn’t have uh, gone down this and been accusatory. I - I jumped to conclusions. I made it bigger than I should have. I got historical and I brought other things in.” And you know, all of this stuff I want to model to her so that in turn, she can also...

Jim: You’re trying to get her to fire their neurons.

Jerusha: Yes.

Jim: Come on.

Jeramy: ...But, but truly, to forgive and to humble myself and apologize once again, even though I want them to recognize what they’ve done wrong.

Jim: Right. And you’ve even mentioned some of those elements. But let’s be really succinct for the listener, for the parents who are saying, “Man, I rarely apologize,” what are the key components of a real apology?

Jerusha: Yeah, sincerity is one of the biggest things. That is that you actually believe what you’re saying. I know that’s very challenging. But some people go, “I’m sorry.” That’s not a real...

Jim: “I’m sorry I offended you.”

(LAUGHTER)

Jerusha: Yeah, no, “I’m sorry that you offended me,” um, so sincerity. The humility portion comes in in realizing that we are not above our teenagers. They hurt us, but we hurt them, too. The humility of recognizing - just this morning I was um listening to Ephesians 4 and twice in that short chapter God reminds us, “Just as you have been forgiven, forgive others.” We have been forgiven of so much. We need to forgive our teenagers readily, just as Christ has forgiven us. Those are - those are not easy things, Jim, John. It’s so challenging, but that sincerity factor. Another thing - I love this - it’s attributed to Ben Franklin, but never ruin an apology with an excuse. You know, we - “Well, but you this, this, this,” you know? So it’s like, don’t undermine your apology. So some of these things are the specifics. Uh, we outline in this chapter the form of a good apology. For those of you that aren’t skilled at it, we have several steps that you can just start to employ. Again, it’s not a formula, but we do need practical help sometimes. So this idea of sincerity, not ruining it with an excuse, being able to forgive as Christ forgave. If you go through some of these things, you’ll find that your apology sinks deeper in your teen’s heart.

Jim: Yeah, and it’s a good thing, and that’s why I wanted to start there. Let me also uh, challenge this area because we’ve talked a lot about the brain chemistry. It’s very informative.

Jerusha: Yes.

Jim: And it’s very helpful in understanding why your teen may react or your adolescent may react a certain way. However, we also, as faith-filled people, people who believe in Jesus Christ, there’s a God component here. There’s a faith component. And not everything is boiled down to just simple chemical reaction. It paints a picture for us, a mosaic, but God’s active in all of this, too. These are the mechanisms that He placed in the natural universe for us to experience this life. So just give that disclaimer as well where God plays in this.

Jeramy: That - that gives us the greatest confidence because this is a spiritual battle for our kids. We want to see God’s character being formed and reflected in their lives, and so we know this is a spiritual thing. We can’t just argue. And we can’t just boil it down to the - the biology of it all. There’s a spiritual dynamic that - and luckily, my wife and I are on the same page. We pray together. And we pray for our kids because we’re just in agreement with God’s good plans that He wants to accomplish in their lives. So we pray earnestly for them. And we say, “God, as intercessors, we stand alongside You and we agree with the good plans that You have for our daughters, and would You use us in this process?” And I can say we have seen God answer prayers uh, time and time again. Where we feel hopeless, where we feel this is beyond us, we’re trusting God to do His work.

John: Jeramy and Jerusha, in your book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, you did uh, some really interesting unpacking of sexuality in the brain. Talk about the brain development and particularly, whether or not it’s just boys who think a lot about sex and if that’s all they think about.

Jerusha: Yeah, actually, the title of that chapter is “It’s Not All I Think About.”

John: Okay.

Jerusha: Yeah, because it’s really good to recognize that young men are facing a lot of things beyond that but certainly the dramatic increase in testosterone. I mean, talking, like, from 10 to 20, the rise is 30 times as much testosterone. Poor guys, right? I mean, we should have compassion on them. But because of that flood and all of the energy that that is placing then into the development of what will eventually be a great asset to our young men, the sexuality that God has given them, it’s a lot of challenge, especially in today’s hyper-sexualized culture. And John, as you mentioned, this is certainly not limited to young men. We’re actually finding now that even 1 in every 3 users of pornography is a young woman. And that statistic is important for us to recognize so that we can be vigilant for our daughters, as well as our sons.

John: How do we help them practically?

Jerusha: Yeah, eh well...

Jeramy: Well, we do have to be aware. So remember the ABCs when it comes to your kids’ online use of social networks and what they’re watching on TV. So we use the ABCs. And that is A, awareness. Be aware of where your kids are searching, what kind of things that they’re looking up and how much time they’re on certain social networks. Be aware. This is difficult because the older we get, the less inclined we are, the less interested we are, the less aware we are of even how to educate ourselves to understand these different apps and programs that our kids are literally sucked into. What is on them? What are they doing? How are they spending their time? So A, be aware of what they’re doing and how they’re spending their time. Are they looking at pornography? There are apps that can help you monitor. Now, we don’t support the whole idea of helicopter parenting where we’re just hovering over. But when it comes to this issue, we have to set boundaries, that’s B. So awareness and then B, set healthy boundaries. We wanted our girls to be able to self-regulate. They have phones. And we - we’re trying to help them integrate it. In fact, in their school setting, they were being looked down upon, even made fun of, that they didn’t have some of the iPhone technology that their friends did. In fact, one teacher told one of our girls, “What, do your parents hate you?”

(LAUGHTER)

John: Or are you so poor you can’t afford it?

Jeramy: “Your parents hate you? ‘Cause I want you to look this up right now and you don’t even have an iPhone. Do your parents...”

John: What an insensitivity.

Jeramy: Right. So - so, Okay, you know, we...

Jim: They love you.

Jeramy: Right, exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

Jerusha: Right.

Jeramy: So this is the kind of pressure they’re facing, so be aware, set boundaries. Now, I would love for them to self-regulate, but they’re not. We’ve even allowed for a time frame in which we would say, “This is what we expect. These are the amount of times that you can and cannot have your phones in your room at night. They have to be plugged in,” et cetera. We’ve set boundaries. But the reality is they were not self-regulating, so we ended up getting an app that helped, really, set parameters of how long they could be on different apps and different social sites, et cetera, because we’re trying to help them exercise healthy behavior.

Jerusha: And this was all above-board. This wasn’t stalker kind of app. We do not recommend those, especially for older teenagers, because they need to develop that regulatory system. They’re going to go off to college or adulthood and they need to be able to decide, “I really shouldn’t be on Instagram for three hours.” So this was a very above-board app. We said, “This is why we’re doing it. This is just limiting.” And as they’ve gotten older, we’ve released more and more of those quote unquote, you know...

John: Restrictions.

Jerusha: ...Those restrictions. And now we’re at the point with one of our daughters where she’s, you know, going to be going off to college in the not too distant future, and we’re hoping that she has seen the benefit of not being on social media like some of her friends who get sucked into it for literally hours and hours every day. And you know the - Jeramy was mentioning the ABCs. I’ll just wrap it up with C is communication because it’s this idea it’s not a once and for all talk. And I think this is also really key when we’re talking about the development of healthy sexuality, understanding of gender, all these things, we want to have this talk, you know, and then not ever talk about it again. That is so not effective with teenagers for a couple reasons. One, cause their brains are just not able to take it in. They’re not wired that way. So what we always say to parents of teenagers is shorter, more frequent conversations. Their brain can take in shorter and more frequent conversations about sexuality, about phone usage, about pornography. So I literally think of it kind of like Jesus dropped these parables in, they were little stories, and they were more like a pebble in someone’s shoe than they were a lecture. They just kind of stuck with people. And they walked around, it was, like, still in their mind. And that’s what, as parents of teenagers, we should kind of think of our - of our, um, conversations as dropping a little stone in a lake and it ripples out. And once it’s calm again, we drop another stone in and that ripples out, and then we drop in a - you know, it’s this idea that hopefully as their brain is able to take in these shorter and more frequent conversations, um, this communication piece of the sexuality and the technology use will really gel. So again, not like a lecture. Not - my daughters use the word rant - “Mom, you’re ranting again,” and I’m like, “Okay.”

John: But it feels so good to lecture.

Jerusha: Oh, gosh, sometimes I just...

Jeramy: “Sit down; I have something I want to tell you.”

Jerusha: We’re all paid to speak for a living. I mean, it’s hard.

John: We’re talking today on Focus on the Family with Jeramy and Jerusha Clark and their excellent book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent. We’ve got copies of that and a CD or download of the conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Another area that uh, teens particularly struggle with, and girls more so than boys, I think, is the eating disorder issues, body image issues. Um, you know, for the guys, it’s about muscular look. And you know, there’s lots of things they can do, workout and things, to improve that. But for girls, particularly, that feeling of being ugly or unacceptable, speak to the nature of that, what women, young women, are feeling and how do they build enough self-esteem and self-worth. And how do we as parents help them do that so that those wounds aren’t as deep and they can get through this time?

Jerusha: Well, Jeramy is really the expert on this. Just kidding, no it’s actually - it’s so challenging for um, for dads especially to understand. They look at their daughter and think, “You’re so beautiful, how can you think these crazy thoughts about yourself?” But let me just statistically tell you 97 percent of women report having at least one negative body thought a day. Now, if that’s 97 percent and the other 3 percent are lying. It’s just, I mean...

Jim: Yeah, I was going to say, I mean, that’s 100 percent.

Jerusha: ...Yeah, truly, the statistics are so grim, paint such a grim perspective as far as what women naturally believe. But we have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome. So in this chapter when we’re talking about - the chapter title is “I Feel So Ugly.” And those of you who are parents, specifically of daughters, you’ve probably heard that, if not every day. And so what we try to do is really help you go through what does it mean to model a healthy body image for your teenage girl and also to help them develop it. In this chapter, we use the verse from Ephesians 2:10, in which it says we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works, which He prepared beforehand for us. That word that I memorized in my childhood is workmanship is actually the Greek word “poiema.” And it means masterpiece. And so helping our teenage girls understand that they are a masterpiece of God’s design is really empowering to them. I have taken my daughters to art museums and shown them masterpieces. I’m especially fond of Vincent van Gogh and have taken the girls and shown them the texture and the depth and the intensity of these masterpieces. We went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and showed them my favorite painting, “Starry Night.” And you stand before a painting like that and you think, “This is how God sees me, as a masterpiece, this is how God sees my teenage daughter,” helping her to understand that...

Jim: What about Jeramy? What can he do to help you, though? I mean, yeah, I’m back in the court of the husband, dad role.

Jeramy: Well, I need to literally speak life into my girls to reinforce the positive, that I can continue to tell them of the great, um, aspects of who they are, build them up, support them and really lock down on any of the negative talk whatsoever. And when I hear it in them, it baffles my mind. And so I don’t understand the way a woman thinks that way, but I...

Jim: But it makes no sense.

Jeramy: It makes no sense

Jim: Yeah, I can understand that.

Jeramy: But it’s a reality. And so if I recognize that reality, then how do I speak life and truth and how do I come against the lies that I - I hear my young teenagers say on a regular basis about themselves - “I feel ugly.” It is so heartbreaking to me because I hear it in them, and it is often. They don’t like this about themselves, and they don’t like that about themselves and they wish they were more like this, like their friend or - and trying to help them deconstruct those lies and reinforce the truth and to speak truth into their lives and build them up and leave little notes on their mirror that they are beautiful and that - that I want them to know how proud I am of them and who they are in their character development, but they are beautiful and speak that truth into their life.

Jerusha: Yeah

Jim: Jeramy, let me ask you this because as a man, I mean, this is a trap that I think I can fall into. And we do this in our marriages all the time, you know. It’s kind of like, “I told you I loved you when we got married, wasn’t that sufficient? Do I need to keep coming back to it?” It’s an interesting male trait that we feel like that’s said and done. “I haven’t changed, why do I need to keep telling you that?” How do we avoid that trap as a dad to kind of overfill what we would think we’re overfilling, but it’s such a vast well that they need, particularly daughters, need that affirmation, but sons do in a different way? But how do we not think, “Oh, one and done?”

Jerusha: Mmhmm

Jeramy: Well, we first have to know and recognize the truth that it isn’t one and done and that our girls, especially, need that positive affirmation and they need the physical touch, too.

Jim: Would you try to do that daily?

Jeramy: Yes.

Jim: I mean, really, to get a measure of this.

Jerusha: He’s really, really good at that to the girls.

Jeramy: Well, to give them hugs, to make sure that every day somehow I am touching them. I give them a hug. I hold their hand. Even - so one of my daughters, she’s, like, I touch her back and she kind of, you know, withers away from me, you know, wiggles away...

Jim: Don’t do that kind of thing?

Jerusha: Yeah.

Jeramy: That’s not - that’s not her...

John: That’s not her love language.

Jerusha: No, it’s not.

Jeramy: ...Her love language. My other, she’ll, like, just say, “Scratch my arm, dad.” And - and so I can spend that time, but I have to be intentional. And I look for those opportunities because I want - I don’t want them looking for physical attention somewhere else. So for even the - the daughter that’s not as inclined, it usually comes on her timing. She’ll come over and she’ll want me to pick her up. And it’s fascinating because it’s a little harder for me these days, you know...

Jim: Yeah, I was going to say that can only go so far.

Jeramy: ...Well, she’ll even joke, she’s like, “You’re shaking.”

(LAUGHTER)

Jeramy: And she’ll say - she’ll say, “Do a squat.” And I’m like, “It ain’t happening.”

(LAUGHTER)

Jerusha: Literally, she, like, totally baits him.

Jim: We’re going to fall over if we do this.

Jeramy: But she needs that affirmation, and I will not let go until she makes me let go, because I want her to know of my affirmation and my physical connection with her that’s real and it’s loving and appropriate.

Closing:

John: That’ll bring our conversation with Jeramy and Jerusha Clark to a close today on Focus on the Family, and what insights they’ve shared about the teen mind. So spot on, and as the dad to a teenage boy, this has been really helpful to me personally.

Jim: Oh me too, John. I find the science behind God’s creation so fascinating, and I picked up on so much that I can put right into play immediately, um and I know you’re gonna want to get a copy of the Clark’s book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, it’s full of practical tools and scenarios to better understand and relate to your teen. And maybe today has made you feel discouraged because your teen is struggling with something. I know that feeling. We have caring Christian counselors on staff that will provide you with an initial consultation and then refer you to someone in your area to continue that discussion.

John: And to schedule a consultation with a counselor, just give us a call. Our number is 800-232-6459. Uh, we might have to take your name and number and give you a call back just because of call volume, but please know we do care, and we will be in touch.

Jim: Today’s program really does highlight the mission here at Focus on the Family. We want to strengthen your family, and if you’ve benefited by the ministry of Focus, would you let us know by becoming a monthly donor to the ongoing work here? Your faithful, continual support allows us to provide Biblical advice like you’ve heard today to literally millions of families around the world. And today with your monthly or one time gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Your Teenager Is Not Crazy as our way of saying thank you for your partnership.

John: Make your donation online and get a copy of the Clark’s book, Your Teenager Is Not Crazy, as well as a CD or free instant download of this two part conversation. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Or just give us a call. Our number is 800-232-6459. 800 the letter A, and the word FAMILY.

Well join us next time, we’re gonna hear from Kay Warren. She’ll share Biblical advice on how to rise above a season of despair.

Teaser:

Kay Warren: I want to bounce back and not be buried by life and by loss. I want to not only survive, but I want to thrive again. I wanna live a hope-infused life, not a hopeless life.

End of Teaser

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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 is currently serving as Senior Associate Pastor at Pacific Coast Church in San Clemente, Calif. 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, www.jandjclark.com.