Parenting, Spiritual Practices

Book Review: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Teenage Brains

For those of us in youth ministry, Mark Oestreicher (or as he is commonly called, Marko) is a household name. He has been at the center of the discussion of how to effectively empower teenagers to live out the gospel for decades.  

Teenage BrainMore recently, Marko has become a student of teenage brain development and how we can better leverage and respond to the reality of the neurological changes happening in young brains. There have been volumes of research and academic works written about adolescent brain development. Marko has synthesized and packaged that information into 68 pages specifically for parents who want to better understand what’s going on inside the head of their teenagers. His goal isn’t to turn you into a neurologist. His goal is to give you the basic knowledge and practical skills needed to be a more gracious, understanding, and informed parent.

There are five main points that Marko makes in this short book. It’s an absolute joy to read his stories of personal experience with teenagers as both a parent and a youth leader. Here’s a quick teaser of what the five chapters are about:

  1. Understanding your child’s brain development is critical to being an effective parent. Also, brain development is super interesting and points us toward God’s creativity in the way he made humans.
  2. It’s great to try to raise your child to be kind or creative or to have other desirable qualities, but your main goal as a parent is to raise a flourishing adult.
  3. The capacity for abstract thinking changes everything. Young teens develop the ability to speculate about the future, see things from another person’s perspective, and experience complex realities, such as empathy and paradoxical ideas.
  4. Abstract thinking has side effects that can help us understand why teens behave the way they do (at least to some extent). From emotions to relationships to independence to faith development, abstract thinking plays a critical role in shaping a teen’s experience with the world around them.
  5. Take a tour through different areas of the brain neurologists and neuroscientists have only begun to explore in the past couple of decades. The discoveries are fascinating and have deep implications for how we understand and relate to teenagers.

You (parents) indisputably have the most influence on who your child will become–more influence than any church volunteer or pastor could ever have.

If you’ve been around Blackhawk and have heard us talk about the relationship between church and family, you already know this: you (parents) indisputably have the most influence on who your child will become–more influence than any church volunteer or pastor could ever have.  

This book is one tool that could profoundly shape the way you use your influence in your child’s life. For me, and those of us who work and volunteer with teens in our church, this information on brain development has had a paradigm-shifting impact on how we structure our ministry and empower students to learn and grow in their faith. The data and insight he presents is fascinating and profound. Give it a read, and let’s learn and discuss together.

To purchase the book, click here.  

Or check out Marko’s talk on teenage brains from the Blackhawk Youth Leader Conference.


Jimmy Bero
About the Author: Jimmy Bero
Jimmy is the Director of Student Ministry at Blackhawk Fitchburg, where he has been pastoring teens and their families for the last 5 years after interning for almost two years with Blackhawk High School Ministry. He loves books, cheese, coffee, Chipotle burritos, good TV, breakfast food, and his family (Brianna – wife, and Irwin – cutest dog ever). He blogs semi-regularly at about how God can speak truth through all things.