08.03.15

Why Deklin Can’t Decide and What You Can Do About It by Ron Powell

www.youthministryunleashed.com

He seemed zombie-like;
Deklin was paralyzed in thought or…
…maybe not?

He appeared like he had experienced a complete shut down.

He was more with it when I taught him in Sunday school. When did he experience catastrophic brain injury?
Strangely, Kyle is not unique. In fact, his condition seems epidemic. No wonder MacDonalds has created combos that need no words… just numbers.

Here’s what MacDonalds knows about Deklin and his friends..

Fast food companies know more about teens than we give them credit for. They know that brain growth, not brain damage, is the problem. Anyone who has a teen in their home or works with teens, needs to be aware of these three changes that make some teens appear to be zombies. I also have a few hints about helping students decide. 

 1. They are Thinking about Thinking:
Meta Cognition

Some teens are over-processing because they can now think in multiple dimensions instead of either-or possibilities. They become overwhelmed with choices.

If this was a bad sci-fi movie Deklin would be saying, “Does not compute.  Does not compute.”

Because teens are now capable to evaluate their own thought processes, they can sometimes do this mid-thought. The question isn’t answered and they’re already second and third guessing the response.

There are too many factors to weigh. The teen may be computing:

  • what they ate all day,
  • the fat content of the choice in the menu,
  • and how their body processed the food on their last visit.

–Way too much to process while the cashier is asking them “Would you like to up-size your fries?”

Although it is difficult, we want to encourage this kind of thought. Split second choices are going to be difficult for some teens in the earlier years of their development. As much as possible give them advance notice of decisions. Also try these steps:

  • Ask one question at a time
  • Wait patiently for responses
  • Don’t overwhelm them with details
  • Sometimes keep the options narrow
  • Allow them to verbalize their decision making process out loud and don’t interrupt

2.They are Considering Others Thoughts and Opinions:
Social Cognition

Teens are now capable of considering what you are thinking of them. They take into consideration what image they want to project to the world. They wonder, “What is the right response in this situation?” What would their close friends think? Who am I in this social situation?”

Considering a fast food order, they may consider:

  • What their friends are buying.
  • How impatient is the person at the cash?
  • What will their girlfriend, looking at him think of his choice?
  • How much money do I have?
  • What else do I need this money for?
  • What will my parents think about my use of money?
  • What’s for dinner tonight?

What will help teens in this situation is a clear sense of identity. If they constantly have to take cues from others, then they will have to determine what the group is doing. This is going to have a big impact on decisions like:

  • What sports do you want to try out for?
  • Are you going to youth group tonight?
  • Are you going on the youth retreat?
  • What are you doing on Saturday morning?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

Helping teens with decision making in the middle school years will help them to have a mind of their own when they get older. It is best to have some boundaries in place. This helps limit the field of possibilities. Routine is not a bad thing either. For example:

  • On Sunday morning we go to church as a family.
  • On Friday you will go to youth group.
  • If you are on this team you will go to practices.

Parents can help teens here as well by setting an example of good decision making that is not swayed by the social context. If we give in to peer pressure as adults, our kids will definitely trade their choices for those of the group.

3. Their Brain is Tongue Tied:
Communication Apprehension

Many teens are tongue tied in social settings with adults. Life experience has shown them that adults can be impatient for them to come up with a response. This may be because under pressure the teenage brain “shorts out.”

MRI Studies show that inhibitions or anxiety cause areas of the brain to go silent. They don’t contribute to the problem solving situation. When their brain is relaxed all of these important areas work in harmony to come up with the best possible answer.

Communicating is an incredibly complex function. Students often need to practice their response in their head before they say it out loud. If you have ever spoken a foreign language, you know what this feels like. Sometimes you choose the easy way to say something, even if it is not really what you are thinking, or what you wanted to say.

The other circumstance where all of us have difficulty communicating is when we feel that we are being evaluated. Students may have a very difficult time doing a class presentation. There is just too much at risk in this situation. Most of the brain checks out in this stressed state.

Here are some ways that youth workers can help students communicate:

  • Create as relaxed situation as possible
  • Don’t have students read aloud to their peers
  • Give them a chance to think through their ideas and share with a peer before sharing with the group
  • Allow for some written responses that you will read
  • Some leaders allow students to text responses to their phone
  • Avoid asking students to respond to the whole group
  • Let students opt out or say “pass” when leading a discussion group
  • Provided creative ways for students to express themselves that don’t always include speaking

 The Gift of Decision Making

Helping students make good decisions is a gift for life. Parents and youth workers can help early adolescents along by being patient, narrowing the choices, and helping them learn to put thoughts into words. It can feel frustrating in the early stages but eventually teens will be able to express their thoughts, opinions and decisions.

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