jh pastors summit notes, part 1
Wednesday May 30th 2007, 6:15 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth work

this year at our junior high pastors summit, we invited psychiatrist and adolescent brain specialist, todd clements, to join us. this is part 1 of a 6-part series of the notes from that time. this particular section are notes from todd’s presentation to us. the notes are a bit cryptic at times, i admit. i’ve cleaned them up a bit from what was useful for those who attended, but it would take too long to fill in all the gaps — so i’m posting them somewhat as is, in hopes that they’ll still be stimulating to some.

Unraveling the Mystery of Maturity: “A Look inside the Adolescent Brain.”

The brain is involved in everything you do
How you…
- Think
- Feel
- Act
- Interact
Who you are…
- Friend
- Mother
- Child
- Doctor

How do you know unless you look? Brain imaging can be very helpful.

Brain works on glucose though blood flow

Functional scans vs. anatomical scans – how they work vs. its anatomy – “Primal Teen” looks at the anatomical scan – Todd’s clinic uses Functional scans

Brain is not fully developed until 25
We need to take care of brains

Myelinization of brain neurons – the book says it’s the difference between going 2 miles/hour NASCAR. In reality, speed of information via neurons increases 200x’s when Myelinization takes place

- Physical Maturity comes to fruition between 16-18: This is when your full potential is in place – practice can make it better, but your potential is there
- Knowledge Maturity peaks at 18-20:
- Wisdom Maturity peaks at 25 – rental car companies won’t rent until 25 because they know this

Prefrontal cortex – first/front 1/3 of our brain is the last to mature. This is the part of the brain that separates us from all the other animals. No other species has the capacity of the prefrontal cortex that humans do. Dogs are 7%, cats 4.5%, people 32%

Phineas Gage – railroad worker with damage to prefrontal cortex – personality changed after the accident – he was no longer himself. Which one was the real Phineas Gage?

What does the Prefrontal Cortex do?
- Focus – have a hard time focusing on things and not being distracted by everything else in the room
- Forethought – not being able to see consequences
- Impulse Control
- Organization – tasks, time, etc.
- Planning – without this, we live in the hear-and-now – it’s hard for teens to make decisions based on whats coming up in the future and the need to plan for it. Do you know where you’re going to be this weekend? What about young kids? What about your dog? Do they know, do they care? What difference does this make?
- Judgment:
- Empathy – being able to see what you do and how it affects others – seeing something from someone else’s point of view.
- Insight – into behaviors
- Emotional control: Acting out a negative emotion instead of being able to control this emotion
- Motivation:

Maturity vs. Intelligence: They are not the same. Because a person gets good grades, does not mean he is mature. These are totally different process in the brain. Maturity will typically catch up in intelligent people.

Prefrontal Moral Strengths: - how many times do we judge a person morally based on the under developed prefrontal cortex? i.e. a teenager does something stupid and we judge his moral conviction based on this impulsive act. “Apparent Hypocrisy” – he does believe that stealing is wrong, but he acted impulsively and stole something and does not really know why. He is not hypocritical, but he acts like he is.

Phil: Does getting busted help them or hurt them? Do you let a kid go because of this? Do we use this as a crutch?

Todd: NO – we don’t let them get away with it. We need to let them live with the consequences. Guilt and shame do not work to our advantage, but allowing someone to suffer consequences to his/her actions does help them begin to learn and understand and “develop” these skills

Temporal Lobe Functions:
If they have problems with the left temporal lobe – hostility can be a real issue. Frustration builds up until it explodes.

Sensitivity to slight – if someone cuts you off, a person with this issue will say “that person did that to piss me off.” They over-react.

Hostile Dependency – still dependant on their parents, but they are hostile about this relationship. They are “ready” for independence, but are fighting with parents who are still the ones making the decisions. The kid is dependent on the parent, but does not want to be.

When do the temporal lobes come into maturity? 18-20. – we can expect to see these same struggles in young teens because of the lack of development in the temporal lobes.

Right Temporal Lobes: If there is trouble here, they often can’t read the emotions of another person. Can’t see it in his face.

A person who is a victim of abuse has a unique ability to read emotions – can do this very well because they have been forced to do so.

This person may also struggle with knowing how they come across to other people. They don’t really know that what they say may be hurtful to those around them. Do not know they are mean or hurtful.

Violence and aggression:
2 types – hot and cold
- Hot: explode after a buildup and they get to the boiling point. This can be helped via therapy.
- Cold: you methodically plan for some form of violence. This can’t really be helped via therapy.

Optimizing the brain:
Does prayer really help? Studies have found meditation improved the right temporal lobe activity -

Drugs can be good for some parts of the brain, but at the same time, it’s doing bad things to another part of the brain.

clearly, puberty has dropped dramatically in age.

100 lbs and 20% body fat is the place where girls bodies are ready for childbirth. We are reaching this at an earlier age (the body signals the start of puberty when these thresholds are met). The brain, however, is not developed. Improved nutrition can get to this body mass earlier.

There is no “puberty central” in the brain. Hormones activate certain genes all over the brain that will kick growth processes into gear.

Kissinger Effect: The younger you learn something, the more natural it is. Kissinger came to America at age 12 and spoke with an accent his entire life. His younger brother came to America at 10 and had no accent.

Sport: Is it better to do one sport with great intensity or multiple sports less intensely?

The earlier you start an activity (drugs, violence, etc…) the more natural these activities become in your brain.

Exercise is great for the brain

- Teenagers have the worst sleep patterns of anyone – the body wants to be in a rhythm and teens are in anything but a rhythm.
- Why do they stay up later?
- Not as much physical activity
- More “things” to do

Relationships can change your brain: they learn empathy and other skills in relationship

How do you deal with parents who give their kids a pass on everything and they blame it on the brain or issues?

Can ADD drugs help? Yes – good drugs can be helpful.
Can we look at kids with “ADD” and know who really has it? Yes – when someone has a complete change immediately after starting medication, it’s clear they have ADD. If a person does not really make a drastic change, it’s likely they are not actually ADD. The drugs are buying us time for the brain to naturally develop. As kids get older, let’s take you off the medication and see how you react.

Most are not using the brain scans – it’s more of a hit and miss medication approach.

Anti-social is NOT “Norman Bates” in the movie Psycho. Instead, they’re often very nice and fun to be around – but they’re manipulative, pathological liars, impulsive, irresponsible. They will blame behavior on everyone else. Consequences are the only thing that can help these kids. There is no fear and threats don’t work. Guilt does not work. But you must follow through with the consequences.

Referral – Danny Levine – is a great resource for parents, knows places where kids can be sent. You call her and she will give you a few ideas of where to send your kid.

Where is the hope? The development comes, the question is can they make it through the time in life (15-30) when they may do something that sends them to prison for their entire life?

14 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good stuff here Marko…thanks for sharing it.

Comment by Brian 05.30.07 @ 9:54 am

Mark, this is truly great info! i am a psychiatric nurse in a child and adolescent outpatient clinic. i see this stuff all of the time, and it is so true. I particularly agree with the part about not allowing a brain problem to mean no consequences for actions. our own son has a neurological diagnosis (tourettes), and he often does things that are out of his control. However, we still give consequences because part of our job is to teach him how to live in this world with this diagnosis. As he gets older and his brain changes, chances are his symptoms will be less and less. However, because we have been consistent inour consequences, he will take with him valuable lessons he would not have gotten otherwise. This is great info for anyone involved in any way with young people. Kudos to you for sharing!!

Comment by hollybird 05.30.07 @ 10:22 am

Wow I need to take the time to read this thoroughly. This area may be the lost frontier we need to be aiming for in youth ministry knowledge.

I saw the name Phinea Gage. Fascinating story. Much of what we know about our brains comes throught tragic accidents like his.

I believe his skull is on display at the Smithsonian.

Comment by Jason Pauli 05.30.07 @ 10:39 am

[…] Oddly enough, often they aren’t. :)  No offense youth, but your brains are still forming - especially those of you in junior high. I know, I know - this sounds like just another excuse for why teens act the way they do. But this is becoming more and more a topic of study being discussed in youth leader circles. For example, there was a “junior high youth leader summit” that I would have loved to go to, but since I didn’t, I get to see the notes that another great youth leadery person took. You, especially you parents and those of you who would like to work with (or are working with ) teens, should take a look at these amazing insights. In fact, I’ll go ahead and copy some of the most pertinent ones here, so you don’t even have to click over (but feel free to click on over… Marko’s blog is on my blogroll). Or, to click right to it, check it out here: https://ysmarko.com/?p=1655. […]

Pingback by What on Earth are Teenagers Thinking?! « The Live Wire 05.30.07 @ 12:44 pm

Marko, I have $2000 and a soccor field. Im supposed to host a Messy Games/Survivor type challenge games night for the youth of our community.

I have no idea what Ive gotten myself in to! Do you have any suggestions for what I should do as a program for this night?

Comment by Jeremy Street 05.30.07 @ 1:50 pm

jeremy — get the ideas library on CD-ROM. also, check out jonathan mckee’s website: http://www.thesource4ym.com/

Comment by marko 05.30.07 @ 2:30 pm


This explains A BUNCH. Thanks for sharing. I am sending it to Steve for reference.

Comment by Kathy Clark 05.30.07 @ 4:02 pm

Great stuff Marko thx
I’m a big fan of the Love and Logic book series. This research seems to show similar research. Was there discussion on this? Is there similarities or are the differences?

Comment by markeades 05.30.07 @ 4:56 pm

“we need to look after brains.”


Comment by tash 05.30.07 @ 5:47 pm


Off subject, but do you know of any good books that deal with the business side of ministry. Specifically with youth ministry and support funds or working for churches and dealing with funds???


Comment by Kevin 05.30.07 @ 6:51 pm

Is it any wonder that even really good kids sometimes do totally stupid things? :-) This kind of information makes it easier to have empathy for them.

Comment by Jennifer 05.30.07 @ 8:08 pm

Thanks Marko, really helpful stuff :-)


Comment by Youthblog 05.31.07 @ 6:26 am

[…] JH Summit Notes Part 1 Part 2 and Part 3 (from Marko) - Marko’s notes from the Junior High Ministry Summit. If you’re willing to dig a bit, there’s tons of content here. […]

Pingback by Links: Daily Round-up « Youth Hacks 06.01.07 @ 11:29 am

[…] this is fascinating to me. allstate has an advertisement out completely built on the research of adolescent brain development (specifically about the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex — the decision making center of the brain) that i’ve been posting about so much (see here (primal teen review), here (thoughts about the proliferation then winnowing of neurons prior to and after puberty), here (purely speculative rumination about mary’s cognitive ability — this one really ticked some people off!), here (just a cartoon), here (link to an excellent overview article), here (notes from jh pastors summit of dr. todd clements presentation), here (discussion of implications for teaching middle schoolers), and here (discussion of implications for younger youth ministry volunteers). […]

Pingback by ysmarko 06.13.07 @ 10:19 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: