Why is the music of your adolescence still your favorite music? Why do you still have friends from high school? Why do you still feel the same conflicts with those friends from high school? Why do you still not want to run into you-know-who from high school? Why do you still dread Romeo and Juliet? Why do some people never grow up from high school? Why did that one couple from high school meet up again through Facebook and both leave their marriages?
It’s because of our brain development.
From this book about all of the current brain studies on teens (the teen brain is fascinating to many scientists—and us!):
“brain regions responsible for strong emotions are especially sensitive during adolescence. As a result, the adolescent brain is chemically primed to encode memories more deeply. The reminiscence bump doesn’t exist because more emotional events take place in adolescence, but because ordinary events trigger stronger emotions.” -–Age of Opportunity, Laurence Steinberg, p. 21
In detail description this is where the brain is growing. The limbic system (nucleus accumbens) is the most active part of the brain for the experience of pleasure—it’s the center of the reward center. It actually gets bigger as we grow from childhood into adolescence. But alas, it grows smaller as we age from adolescence to adulthood.
Random fact: Back in the early 1980s when I was first in my education for ministry, it was widely accepted that the teen brain actually stopped growing during adolescence which is why they made so many dumb decisions. Hence I made many jokes in my youth ministry training about teens’ brains not growing. But with the fMRI technology today the opposite is actually true. The brain is growing at its fastest rate since the child was 2-years old. And you remember how fun those “terrible twos” were!
I think this brain growth—and the lifetime memories that are forming–is the sole reason why I’m still doing youth ministry. This is such a crucial time in one’s life. If I can capture them now with a life of faith, I believe it can stick for a lifetime. These memories that they make are hard-wired. I want to hard-wire faith memories.
Have you ever walked into a school and smelled that “cafeteria” smell and had flashbacks to your awkwardness as a teen? That’s your hard-wired brain.
Yet you grew through that awkwardness. Most likely with mistakes. Most likely mistakes that needed forgiveness. Most likely with pain that you still feel in your quiet moments.
Even now Jesus meets you in those awkward memories. Jesus redeems all of it.
And maybe, maybe you were so lucky that you came to know Jesus during your teen years and found out how faithful and true Jesus is. Maybe you discovered any promise out of Romans 8 and it became your mantra. Maybe you have memories of shooting backyard hoops with every throw of that ball being an angry and daring prayer to Jesus. Maybe you have journals full of pouring out your broken heart to Jesus.
You made it through the suffering. You were gifted a personal Jesus as a teen. No matter what decisions you made in your 20s or 30s, this is now hard-wired into you. And you know it.
Give this “gift” to your teen. Give them the boring rhythm of going to church. Give them the wise adults of your church family. Pass on your faith to them. Wisely discern when to tell your stories but do tell your stories. Make faith memories with them. Lots of them! Even all the corny ones—because sometimes those are the most memorable. Lean into your own vulnerability, remember your high school memories, and give them to your teen.
This is their identity-forming foundation they will have for the rest of their lives. And you know it.