Written by Steph Raubenheimer, Greater New York WyldLife
Have you ever been listening to Spotify or Pandora when that song you listened to on repeat in seventh grade comes on, and you find yourself singing along to not only every single word, but harmonizing with every background vocal, knowing exactly when the key is going to change? Of course you do. It’s as if these songs are imprinted on our brains. You might also have a memory attached to when and where you listened to this song, your surroundings, even smells and emotions. It’s part of how the brain works. And let’s not forget: God created the human brain.
These memories stick with us because they are meaningful and had connections to our memory that made sense. Cognitive neuroscience tells us that in early adolescence, the human brain is undergoing a process in which the brain sheds what it doesn’t need – what isn’t useful or meaningful – and solidifies what does make sense and is meaningful. The implications of this for our ministry to middle school kids is intriguing: You get to literally craft — through prayer, through your insight, out of your heart and creativity — an experience with WyldLife that will make sense and be meaningful to kids, such that they decide “Yes, of course I want a relationship with Jesus.”
The kids you are reaching out to are in a developmental stage where they will filter a ton. And you know what? They might keep the crap. Some pain or even thinking about compromising choices might stick because it makes sense to them and it’s significant. Thank goodness you are here: You get to help truth stick. You get to bring meaning.
Isn’t it amazing that God designed us to go through such an internal process, and that He’d allow mankind to discover this about humans? To me it seems loud and clear from God: Go after my young teenagers. I want them to keep real meaning.
So, what can you do with this information?
Scroll down for an excerpt about this study of the adolescent brain
Probably a whole lot – but here are two quick “inventory” questions to ask yourself or your team:
- Reflect on your WyldLife ministry environment: Is what you and your team doing providing meaningful experiences, and does what you’re doing/providing kids make sense? If not: How can you tweak those areas?
- What do you personally want to stick with kids that they experience, hear or learn from you? How can you help spiritual truths be embedded into your WyldLife friends’ heads and hearts?
An excerpt on cognitive development from How the Brain Learns:
“The richer the environment, the greater the number of interconnections that are made…As a child approaches puberty, the pace slackens and two other processes begin: Connections that the brain finds useful become permanent; those not useful are eliminated (apoptosis) as the brain selectively strengthens and prunes connections based on experience. This process continues throughout our lives, but it appears to be most intense between the ages of three and twelve. Thus, at an early age, experiences are already shaping the brain and designing the unique neural architecture that will influence how it handles future experiences in school, work and other places.”
(p. 24, How the Brain Learns, David Sousa)