Sunday, September 30, 2012

Figuring out the teenage brain

Teenagers! Am I right?

While that would, admittedly, be a great self-sufficient text for a completely accurate post, I cannot leave it at that. So, to resume:

Recently we have been getting more direction from the General Authorities that, in regards to the youth programs of the church, the youth are to be the ones taking charge and running the show. These are not idle suggestions. For example, Elder Quentin L. Cook drew the analogy that normally if a youth were driving a car over a cliff a leader would grab the wheel and prevent the disaster. However, his instruction was to let them go ahead and drive off the cliff. The message being that the youth are to be in leadership roles no matter what. I assume that the secondary lesson is that failure is one of the greatest teachers. More recently Elder Bednar at a combined leadership session said that the youth are to be running the program and if you have adult leaders who are not letting that happen, you release them and find leaders who  will. Very strong messages and somewhat uncomfortable for those of us who grew up under a very different paradigm.

This evening we were to have a fireside at Bishop's home. Normally he would choose a topic and then teach for an hour or so. However, under the new direction he felt that the youth should have more input, so we decided to have a youth-directed Q&A session. The youth could ask any of the leaders anything they wanted to know about them with the intent to get to know the spiritual side of their leaders a little better. We all thought this was a good plan and were pretty excited to see what would happen.

Later during the fireside Bishop spoke for about 15 minutes then turned over the time to the youth to ask us questions. There was utter silence from the youth. To prevent undue discomfort, I asked a question to get the ball rolling. We ended up having a marvelous discussion and I learned a lot from what the other leaders shared. However, there was still no youth input. I know I was fairly disappointed, and I'm sure the other leaders were as well.

Afterwards I spoke to some of the youth and asked them what they thought; they all liked it quite a bit but expressed that they really were trying to think of a question, but just couldn't come up with one. One young man suggested that if they had been given more time to prepare they would have had questions ready, the other youth listening agreed. This was the beginning of understanding for me.

When we got home I tried prompting Caleb to share with Marci what he thought of the fireside and what he learned. His reply was "I don't remember." I was dumbfounded. That was 5 MINUTES AGO!!! How can you NOT remember something that JUST HAPPENED!? I reigned in my frustration and impatience as well as I could and, in an effort to get Caleb to say more than 3 words, poked and prodded his memory to draw out some more detail. It turned out that he DID remember quite a bit and he DID learn a number of things, much more than would be indicated by the initial response. It wasn't easy to draw out, but once we got him started he definitely had more than "I don't remember."

We spoke more later and he shared with me some more about his thinking process and how his memory works and I finally got it: he's a teenager. His brain doesn't work like mine. He hasn't developed the mental skills I have, he just lacks the experience. This was reinforced by what the other youth had said earlier - it all clicked into place for me. It's humbling to realize that I can know something (I studied educational psychology and developmental psychology) and yet not know a darned thing.

I spoke to Caleb and asked him to do me a favor: the next time we ask "What did you learn?" or "What did you remember?" he needs to say "Let me think for a minute." instead of saying "I don't remember." If he says it that way we will understand that he needs to process his memory and that he isn't being petulant or ignorant or both.

I am grateful that I was able to be there with my son at a fireside where I was able to learn about the practical way a teenager's mind works. I'm grateful that I was finally able to understand why communication with Caleb is so frustrating at times. I am grateful that the Lord provided me with a situation where I could be presented with the experiences that would help me gain a little more understanding about my son and the youth that I work with. I believe that understanding will help me be a better parent and leader.

I'm also grateful for a son who has patience enough to deal with a slow-witted father and who has the courage to be able to help me learn more about who he is. Thank you Caleb for teaching me and for being patient with your parents as we learn about you.

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