Adolescence is a time of significant change on many different levels - physically, mentally, emotionally, behaviorally, and sexually (Feldman, 2011). The adolescent’s brain is rapidly changing, which allows for greater cognitive ability and abstract thinking that propels the individual to explore his or her individuality and autonomy (Feldman, 2011). The prefrontal cortex of the adolescent’s brain, which controls emotion and impulsivity, is still maturing and may be one of the causes of his or her risky behaviors (Feldman, 2011). In addition, the changing body of the adolescent, due to puberty, adds the influence of increasing hormones for the teenager to contend with on a daily basis (Feldman, 2011). The adolescent gravitates and associates more with peer groups and friends searching for his or her identity (Feldman, 2011). During this radically shifting time of individualization and autonomy seeking (Feldman, 2011), what is the best method of supporting adolescents in making good choices which will prevent them from suffering long lasting repercussions of poor or negative behaviors?
Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman’s book, How God Changes Your Brain, offers practical ways in which one can enhance and strengthen his or her brain by cultivating a relationship with God (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). Since the adolescent’s brain is in a state of change and transformation, the adolescent must be given effective tools in order to cope and process these changes (Feldman, 2011). Newberg and Waldman offer four powerful tools that assist in strengthening the brain of adolescents (Newberg & Waldman, 2009).
Meditation and prayer are useful in strengthening the brain because the process of meditation and prayer releases hormones which affect physical and emotional health, allowing for the teen to be more relaxed (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). By practicing meditation and prayer, the individual will feel the “positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health” (Newberg & Waldman, 2009, p. 159). Meditation and prayer reduces the likelihood of risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking (Newberg & Waldman, 2009).
Aerobic exercise is a powerful mechanism in which the brain is strengthened (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). Aerobic exercises include cardiovascular workouts, stretching, or yoga (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). Aerobic exercise positively affects academic performance, improves cognitive abilities, and decreases anxiety (Newberg & Waldman, 2009).
Dialoging with others, specifically compassionate communication, enhances the functioning of the adolescent brain (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). Compassionate communication allows the adolescent an enhanced level of emotional and psychological stability (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). By effectively engaging in compassionate communication with friends and parents, the adolescent is less prone to anger and frustration because the individual is being positively and socially stimulated (Newberg & Waldman, 2009).
Finally faith plays an integral role in strengthening the brain of adolescents (Newberg & Waldman, 2009). By embracing faith in one’s beliefs and God, an individual neurologically promotes good mental health and stability while maintaining a sense of healthy ambition (Newberg & Waldman, 2009).
The four tools offered by Dr. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, meditation and prayer, aerobic exercise, compassionate communication, and faith offer our adolescents positive and long lasting methods to positively navigate the teenage years, thus becoming well adjusted adults (Newberg & Waldman, 2009).
Feldman, R. S. (2011). Development across the life span (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Newberg, A., & Waldman, M. R. (2009). How God changes your brain. New York, NY: