Teen Boys and Teen Girls And What Makes Their Brains So Very Different

The challenge of parenting teenagers

Parenting teenagers can be challenging, and unfortunately, there’s not a quick, fix-all formula for parenting your unique teen the “right way”. The physical differences between men and women are pretty obvious, but the differences in emotional development during puberty, often referred to as “the awkward stage,” stand in stark contrast. When I look at gender differences in the brain during teen years, I can’t help but say, “really God, what are you thinking?!

Teen boys: how much testosterone can they take?

When testosterone is being released into a teenage boy, his body is altering and expanding structurally. This tsunami of testosterone is coursing through his body stretching vocal cords, enlarging the testicles, thickening and lengthening the penis, increasing hair follicle growth in new places, activating muscle and bone growth, and causing the sexual-pursuit circuits to become twice as large as a girl’s. That’s a massive amount of restructuring!

Louanne Brizendine, M.D. puts it this way:

“If testosterone were beer, a nine-year-old boy would get the equivalent of about one cup a day…by age fifteen, it would be equal to two gallons a day.”

A 15-year-old boy is daily “intoxicated” by the amount of testosterone his body is producing—no wonder our teenage boys need so much sleep! Their bodies are working hard to receive the changes coursing through them.

Teen girls: why do they have so many words?

Like testosterone changes a boy’s body, estrogen changes the structure of a teenage girl’s body. At the core, this influx of estrogen is an unfolding of the ancient biological manual embedded in every woman to become sexually desirable. This rewiring is why humankind has continued to create and the continuation of life is hinged upon this process.

As estrogen makes its way through a teenage girl’s body, breasts begin to appear, emotions are heightened, awareness of the perception of others is increased, pubic hair begins to grow, and a monthly surge of estrogen-progesterone causes menstrual bleeding to begin.

Teen girls often have a lot of words and the amazing ability to talk all day (and sometimes all night) with close friends. As a girl develops, language and speech often activate the pleasure centers in their brain. This is different from a boy’s brain, where language and speech do not produce the same effects. During teen years, a girl’s language area of her brain can be twice as large as a teen boy’s.

What can these differences teach us about God?

While the knowledge of these differences is important, I believe we still need to address important questions like: how do we view differences? Do we value these things as good and designed by our Creator with love?

As a mother who has successfully made it to the other end of those parenting-teen years, I know the teenage years can be filled with many frustrations. However, I believe these years are vital in exploring the mystery of man, the mystery of woman, and the mystery of God.

When we make space to allow these male and female differences in our teens to show us the creative hand of God, we are given the chance to marvel at the depth of what we have yet to discover.

~ becky

Standing in awe of your very own body

It’s a great time to learn

Each morning I get a media feed that informs me of current trends in regards to sexuality. Fun right? Currently, I am narrowing this feed to include things related to teens and sexuality. I believe we, as adults have some good things to teach teens in this area and it is going to take informed parents, teachers, mentors and pastors leading the way.

I believe, as do many other talented scientists and researchers, that teens have the capacity to learn. During these teen years of continual hormonal shifts, teenage brains are highly formative and are at their prime to be educated, informed and guided (to read more about teenage brains take a look here or here).

What if we noticed the ways in which teens are clamoring for attention and actually met them with real information about their bodies? What if we created an awe and respect to how their body functions? What if we taught them to listen to their bodies as a part of how they will experience relationships?

Standing in awe of your body

Sitting this morning in some quiet, I stumbled upon this verse found in Psalms 4:4,

“Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still.”

The word “tremble” has continued to stick with me this morning. Tremble. What could that mean? So I went to look it up in the original Hebrew and this is what I found as a more accurate translation of this verse,

“Stand in awe and sin not; commune with your own heart…”

It is from standing in awe that our perspective is nurtured to not sin.

I have a question for fellow parents, when was the last time you stood in awe of how God created you? Are you willing to listen to your own body, in order to teach your teen to listen to theirs?

Our role as parents

Parents, I believe so deeply that it is our words, our engagement and our authenticity of standing in awe of our own bodies that has the power to tutor teens the most in this area.

As parents, teachers, mentors and pastors, I believe we have the chance to influence our teens in this way. But guess what? If we want to teach this, we must first start living in ways that honor our bodies.

Do you feel passionately about turning the tide towards teens honoring their bodies? I do. And it’s caused me to do something just a little bit crazy – crazy exciting that is!

Can I share?

All November long

Ok, I will. All November long, I am asking women – from all walks of life – to share about intentional choices they are making right now to honor and love their bodies through the practical everyday choices. And let me tell you friends, it’s going to be amazing.

You won’t want to miss a thing this next month. Believe me.

~ becky

Sexting: teens & cellphone privacy

When I was a teen, there was a central line coming into the house. There was one phone. We all shared it. Raise your hand if you remember these days and the phone being connected to the wall… by a cord… that was continually getting twisted. It might have looked something like this:

(I think the kids are calling this vintage nowadays.)

Any hope for some phone privacy meant maneuvering and stretching the phone cord all the way into the closet down the hall. Everyone in the house knew you were on the phone and usually who was on the other end of the call. Super private.

Today privacy, when it comes to phones, looks a little different. Phones have become more like fashion statements with absolutely no cords to be found. We bedazzle our phones with jewels, accessorize them with slogans or personalize them with special ringtones. And quite often we guard our phones with a little security code for extra privacy.

Phone privacy for those of us from the “phone-cord generation” was non-existent. But what about for our teenagers now? Is there too much privacy out there for our teens? How do we seek to parent our kids well so they can make wise choices for themselves in this area?

Facts and Numbers

Recent reports show an increase in what is termed sextinga play on words that indicates sexually explicit photos or videos being sent via texting.

Parents, we need to recognize and think hard about how we engage with our teen and their phones. What does “privacy” really mean and how do we empower our teens and not abandon them to this world of electronics? It is important to know some of the facts regarding teenagers and phones:

  • 19% of teens ages 13-19, have sent sexually-suggestive pictures of videos of themselves via email, cell phone, or other electronic means
  • 44% of these teens were asked to send the photo/video
  • Older teens are much more likely to send and receive “sexts”
  • 17% of teens who pay for their own phone bills are more likely to send sexts versus just 3% of teens who do not pay for their cell phone bill
  • Teens with unlimited-text messaging plans—75% of cell-phone owning teens—are more likely to receive sexts

Now there’s no need to automatically jump to the conclusion that every teen is in the 19%. But, hey I do believe we can expect good things from our teens, help them learn to make those good decisions and a part of that will happen if we as parents continue to stay informed.

Boy! In our day, sexting and a rotary dial just weren’t compatible, were they? Remember how long it took just to dial your best friend’s seven-digit number?

Have any tips you’d consider offering other parents for learning how to best help our teens manage these electronic devices? Please do share!

~ becky

What is cellphone etiquette anyway?

We had an appointment. We both showed up. The conversation began.

The phone beeped…

The conversation paused, texting done, conversation resumed.

The phone beeped…

The conversation paused, a brief text response, conversation course shift.

The phone beeped…

Etc……

While sitting at a coffee shop, I watched this repeated pattern play out:

  • adult with adult…
  • teen with teen…
  • parent with teen…
  • cashier with client…
  • client with cashier…

Reality check: we have all done this. But in the mere thirty minutes of observing this pattern, I began to notice this curiosity angst rising up in me that went something like this:

  • What is someone else doing?
  • Am I missing something?
  • What if there is some place better to be?

What is phone etiquette nowadays? And how do we “teach” this to our teenagers? Or is the better question, is there something here for us to learn together?

They sat in my office married barely a year and his phone repeatedly vibrated, turning his attention away from our counseling session. Each time we all paused as he fought the urge to exit our conversation and check and see what was happening right outside of his reach. Her pain oozed out in these words, “I only wish he were this present to me in our marriage.”

Does my phone, this fancy device that I use for communication (and really, really, really like) have the capacity to culturally reshape my being present and face-to-face with others? Am I enslaved to my fear of missing something?

Let’s face it parents, the only world our teenagers know is the one where they can carry their phones in their pockets. No closet-hiding, vintage cord phone calls like us in our teen years. Teens are wireless to just about every electronic experience they encounter.

So what does this have to teach us?

How is this impacting more than this moment, but the future of how we engage as human beings? I watched a recent short, 3-minute TEDtalk by Renny Gleeson that highlighted the good of electronics, but also the danger of them making us less human. If you’re addicted to TEDtalks like myself, you might need to watch this one.

Parents I believe that you are the best educators of your teenagers. So here’s a question for you: how do you use your own cellphone? Have you created any “no phone zones” that require face-to-face communication times?

Our curiosity does not always need to be satisfied, instead there is so much we can learn from the mysterious place of sometime just not knowing. If we let ourselves linger in wondering and not knowing… who knows what could happen! In those moments we might actually get to encounter a face-to-face.

~ becky

Watch tomorrow for my blog post highlighting National Cyber Awareness Month for the scoop on a new app that makes sexting oh-to-private on our cellphones.

Electronics, Teens & Parenting, Real Life Examples

As I’ve mentioned before, I get these daily Google alerts on topics related to sexuality, teens, health and the brain. Super exciting right? This leads to some really interesting reading, but also some choices each day and every day.

  • Do I click on this site?
  • Do I not click on this site?

Simple really, but what I realize daily is that choices are set before me of how I will participate with electronics.

We are raising our children in an electronic age.

Every innocent and curious tap of the finger can instantly bring images and articles into our homes. Daily, I am aware how easy it can be to be the fly caught in a spider’s web – only this web is a World Wide Web (pardon the pun). As adults, we know that the simple “www” can be a place of great learning, but also great pain.

Is this part of a teen’s rite of passage, getting to make these choices for themselves? After all, we cannot be there to monitor their every keystroke and finger swipe.

or

As parents, should we be willing to be actively engaged with our teens as they interact and (let’s be honest) so often teach us about electronics? These little electronic devices, computers, iPhone, iPads, iTouches, etc., are things we often purchase, that reside in our homes and therefore we have some responsibility to help our kids learn how to handle them safely.

Think about it, did you just toss your 16 year old teen the keys to the car and say, “Great! You’ve been in one your whole life, so go for it! Enjoy.”

I think not.

Respecting our kids privacy

Too often I have heard parents state that they respect their children’s privacy so they would never check their phones or computers. Really? Does respecting their privacy mean giving them unlimited access to the World Wide Web and hope they don’t misuse it?

Who is tutoring them if we are not? How are their limits being defined with allowance for natural curiosity?

Now, I am not suggesting that parents become CIA operatives putting teens under electronic surveillance, blocking every channel and website so we can monitor their every move.

Remember my last post when we explored the term curious girdle? It seems pretty clear that like an article of clothing essential for the day’s activities, daily we need to be wearing something that will honor curiosity while also guiding it. In gentle yet, firm ways our teens need to be reminded and experience both your presence and your questions.

Is there a central charging place for phones in your house?

One mom of three teenagers told me that all phones are nightly charged in one place. As a family they all place their phones there. Her teens know that their phones are right next to mom or dad’s phone – no hiding.

Interestingly, this mom also shared that this measure of accountability has sharpened them as parents to be aware and also available. The cell phone charging center has become somewhat of a “water cooler station” where small but in-depth conversations happen in unexpected ways.

Are your computers used behind closed doors or in the open?

A father recently told me how he and his wife discovered porn on their son’s computer. Through some well-timed and prayerfully considered questions with their teenage son, they realized that he was struggling.

Rather than shame him, the father identified his own struggle with his son and together they brainstormed on how to help one another. They moved their electronics to the home office and replaced the door with a full pane of clear glass. The computer screen is now positioned so it could be seen, rather than hidden. Together they began to recognize that to struggle was not bad, but to not provide some support could be detrimental… and a totally missed opportunity.

What kind of curious girdles do our teens have that can support the process of their learning how to make wise choices?

I believe we can invite teenagers into this arena of discernment by actively noticing where the roots of their desire are carrying them. But guess what, first we as parents must notice how we engage in this way.

So parents how do we train our teenagers to discern and to nurture their God given curiosity in an electronic world we live in? What if we risk being willing to be with our teens in the struggles, recognizing that curiosity is a beautiful way we discover.

The real enemy is not electronics but instead disengagement. What might this time of engagement look like in your house?

~ becky

PS Join me tomorrow when we take another look at parenting teenagers in this digital age.

photo credit here and here.

Curiosity Is Good, But Sometimes It Leads To Pain

We are all curious.

Especially when it comes to sex.

Check out the news stand magazines and you will find questions with some reference that stirs our curiosity into picking up the magazine.

But what does curiosity create?

Airplanes, phones, cars, computers, etc.

In all those instances, someone explored their curiosity and discovered something beyond what we knew could be possible.

Yet, what about curiosity that leads to pain?

I played at the park a couple weeks ago with some little boys. They love the tire swing and continually asked to be pushed higher while spinning in circles. Remember the days when doing that didn’t make you puke? Oh those days seem so far off now, even just watching made me woozy!

I was pushing and they were swinging when one of these little boys got curious… “Becky, what would happen if I jump through the middle hole while we were swinging?” See that? This little boy totally engaged his curiosity. Such a great, natural wondering!

But before I could respond with an answer, there was a sudden drop, face plant in the sand and a bump quickly growing on his forehead.

This little man acted on his curiosity… and what happened? Pain. A wound was incurred. So what about curiosity that leads to pain?

There is not a human being alive that has not experienced curiosity about sex and their sexuality. Yet, way too often people experience shame when they are curious about the human body.

Since curiosity has the potential to create so much good, I have to believe that it’s apart of God’s design for us as humans! What do the scriptures say about curiosity anyway?  Interestingly, when I searched scripture for “curiosity” I found the words “curious girdle” eight times – always in reference to how the priests clothed themselves.

Excuse me, what? A “girdle”? Any one remember these??

We don’t use girdles here in the 21st century all too often that I’ve noticed, but basically a girdle is something like a belt that’s worn for support (see the Flex-O-Form for more details). In fact God commands Moses to place the “curious girdle” on his brother Aaron and all his sons as a part of their leadership of the people (Lev. 8:7). This kind of girdle God and Moses were chatting about probably looked a little bit different, use your imagination. But hmmm… something they were to wear, as a part of their leadership… curiosity.

Is it possible that curiosity was a part of how God wanted them to prepare themselves for each day?

Do our teens have curious girdles, i.e. the support to explore and wonder about their sexuality?

So, back to my little friend who took a nose dive into the sand. His curiosity induced a wound and this wound was painful. But this pain was met first with the comforting arms of love. Later, after the tears stopped flowing and we could see that he was alright there came a time to explore his choice together with words.

But first came the tested place of love. Yes his curiosity cost him, but no it did not first include shame or judgement.

Now I realize that our teenagers will not always want to run into our arms and let us comfort them. So maybe the invitation is for us as parents to let our love rise up first, before our words create one more barrier between us and our teens because of pain they are experiencing.

So what does your teen’s “curious girdle” look like? And how do electronics play into this picture? Watch the blog this entire week for several posts that explore questions specifically around electronics and our teenagers.

Here’s to strapping on my curious girdle and hoping you will join me… (sorry, just couldn’t resist the visual!)

~becky

 

like the photos? you can find them here or here.

 

The Teenagers of Heritage United Methodist Church

I spoke with a group of teens this past weekend. And even now, always a week after the fact, I am still incredibly impressed by how these teenagers showed up, engaged and even asked questions about Effective Communication Between Parents and Teens.

Now I realize it could have been the parents who did some “strong encouraging” to have these teens show up bright and early on Saturday morning. But hey, regardless, they did, and it was breathtaking to see. This beautiful community at Heritage United Methodist Church in New Prague risked bringing parents and teens together to actually practice communicating.

In the room with just teens, I listened carefully to the familiar questions that are a part of many teens daily repertoire:

  • “Do I measure up?”
  • “Do I really matter?”

As I looked into their sleepy Saturday morning eyes, Thomas Merton’s words kept returning to me:

 “We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others….first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it give us, but because of what it enables us to give to others.” (Emphasis my own.)

Teenagers you are worth loving!

Teenagers you matter!

Teenagers the world needs you to love yourselves!

My prayer today is that we as parents might have language to remind our teens that they matter…really they do.

And to the teenagers of United Methodist Church thank you. You are truly extraordinary.

~becky

PS Interested in bringing a class like this to your church and/or community? Feel free to contact me, I’d love to chat more.

Parenting, It’s Harder Than It Looks.

Ever have someone say to you that they know exactly what you’re thinking? Let me give you an example of a conversation I’ve (unfortunately) had more than once:

“Hey, I know what you’re thinking right now…”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, you’re upset and thinking that it’s unfair that I’m not letting you stay out past curfew tonight because you think I don’t trust you.”

“Actually, Mom, that’s not what I am thinking at all.”

I find these situations amusing because, let’s be honest, there’s no way another person can fully step into your mind, experience or perspective. However, in my years of parenting, I have to admit that I have been guilty of assuming that I knew exactly what my teenagers were thinking, planning or conspiring… and oh it’s hard to admit… but often I was completely off base.

Take it from someone who knows…

Well said Darth Vader

So where does this all-assuming-knowledge-of-what-my-child-is-thinking come from?

I cannot speak for other parents, but for me, my assumptions of what my teenagers where thinking come from one very powerful source. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s name is fear.

Fear of what they would choose…

Fear that I could not protect them from pain…

Fear that they would get hurt…

Fear that their choices would cripple their future…

It’s funny really, fear has an interesting way of isolating us from the present moment. As a parent, I’ve found that I often step back into my own past and partner it with my worst experiences (multiplied by ten) and then assume it’s exactly what was happening with my own precious child… that’s on the verge of adulthood!

Unfortunately, I have too many examples of this in my parental history where I let my own past mistakes be the lens through which I viewed my teenagers and their current experience. I mean, hey! A little credit here, we are parents, we are learning how to do this as we go! As you’ve probably all heard by now, there’s no manual for parenting that gives insight to all that our teens will bring to light from our own pasts.

So, what if we as parents took the time to lay aside our own experiences? What if our teens had the opportunity to invite us into what’s present in their lives?

What would we risk?

What might we learn?

I encourage you to continue the conversation in the comments below or send me a quick email! I love to hear from you friends,

~b.

What Happens In Vegas… Might Not Stay In Vegas Afterall

It is all over the news – a wild party – a single prince – photos sold…in a city that claims,

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Really? I think we have enough internet proof that this is NOT true and I am guessing that some rather heated discussions in a certain English palace might reveal otherwise.

As a parent I wonder if we might have some similar thoughts, “What was he thinking?”

So what if this is one of those teachable moments for us as parents, with our teenagers?

Do they have a cell phone?

Hang out with friends?

Are they curious about sex?

In this developmental stage their frontal lobes (this place where logic is formed) is not fully developed and yes, it’s only through struggle and making mistakes will they learn how to reason.  So parents, the opportunity for learning to reason is there.

Who do you want your teenager to have these conversations with after they’ve struggled and made mistakes? I know that their peers are eager to discuss these Prince-Harry-in-Vegas events. So what if, when we see and hear things like this on the news we as parents recognize and see an opportunity to ask questions, instead of making statements.

I heard these phrases on talk radio all week:

“Boys will be boys!”

Really?? Is this what defines typical boy behavior? And to top it off, Prince Harry is third in line to the throne and a man who holds the position of commander in the British army.

“He was only letting off some steam and unfortunately got caught.”

Does getting caught make it more real? Is there more to this lesson than how not to get caught?

Maybe there are adults who believe “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” but I believe that as parents we can teach our children through the mistakes that are made – teenagers and adults – we all have something to learn.

This royal screw-up could become a royal opportunity… (it could happen).

~b

The Demise Of Boys and Their Addiction to “Different”

Have you heard about this newly released book The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It?

Radio and talk shows are sure burning with conversations about how young men are flunking out of school, avoiding responsibility, struggling to communicate face-to-face, avoiding intimacy and are becoming addicted to being aroused. 

What is causing this arousal craze? In this brief four minute Ted Talk, Philip Zimbardo, a professor of psychology at Standford University, shares how boys are literally rewiring their brains, not to want “more” like a substance abuse addiction, but instead of “more” they are wanting “different.”

Currently for every 500 movies that Hollywood produces, the porn industry answers with 11,000 films – why? This addiction to different is creating an increased desire for variance while also revealing how little we want to repeat what we have already experienced.

Need a clearer picture?

When was the last time you wanted to replay or return to an already completed level of whatever current video game you own? How often do you re-watch the last episode of your favorite TV series?

A CNN article written last week about Dr. Zimbardo’s research says:

“Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation.”

This constant arousal leaves them without the capacity to rest, recharge and choose healthy options within reality.

Researchers were shocked when they were testing the stimulation in the pleasure center of rats, that “…given the option to eat when hungry or to stimulate the pleasure center, the rats chose the stimulation until they were physically exhausted and on the brink of death.”

Mr. Zimbardo is seeking to make educators, parents and game producers aware that this is a problem and something needs to be done. He acknowledges that he is an “alarm sounder” and that it’s time we pay attention to how our teens are experiencing the impact of the internet through both video games and pornography.

Science has proven that regular users of porn report higher incidences of depression and poorer physical health than non-participates.

I don’t think that we all need to panic and yank the cords on everything electronic in our homes–we do live in an electronic world and smoke signals are no longer effective modes of communication with our neighbors, but…

Are we aware of ways we might be allowing electronics to desensitize our teens to the reality of real-life interactions with their friends, family and future?

What conversations are we having with our teens about arousal? Are we inviting teens into the discomfort and necessity of tracing their own motives of desire?

This book Demise of Guys has truly great research and is raising important awareness of how video games and porn are rewiring a boy’s brain. While I could easily get caught up in the seemingly negative outcomes of this research, I continue to feel a deep sense of hope.

God intentionally designed our brains to respond to stimulation. The roots of this design rest in the potential of our choosing to bring forth creativity and life.

So thank you Mr. Zimbardo for the research, I know fully that anything which holds the kind of power to create demise also holds the power to create life!

~ b