• Sarah Janisse Brown

The Brain Dead Stage - Age 11 to 15

You may have heard me, and some other moms of teens, joke about the "Brain Dead" Stage. Let me tell you what happens sometime between age 11 and 15...

YES, At our house we joke about the "Brain Dead" stage. It's very real and happens even to the best behaved kids.

Of course they are not brain dead, but they sure act like it. There is a phase where kids CAN NOT follow instructions, CAN NOT make plans, CAN NOT think logically, CAN NOT answer normal questions in a normal way, CAN NOT see how what they do now will impact the future. The can not manage time. They can not have a reasonable conversation. They can not answer "WHY did you do that?" Can not answer "What do you want to do?" Sometimes they are like "Whatever!" and show some disrespect out of nowhere.

The may lose interest in the things they once loved, and seem aimless. They tend to really love music at this stage, it's like the only thing that makes sense. They might just want to crawl in a hole with piles of novels, or get lost in Minecraft like they are never coming out.

There is usually one thing that they hang on to. They tend to get really good at one thing in this time. Sometimes they find their life passion or discover God in this time. It's a time of disconnection and refocus. It lasts 2 months to 2 years. If they get addicted to anything during this time, they may just stay in the "Brain Dead" stage for much too long, and not come out of it until they have their own kids. My kids usually stay in this stage for about 4 months. I try to help them find their passion in it. Kids are often more likely to engage in some risky behaviors at this time, courage kicks in and common sense seems to be lost.

There is science to all of this. It's a pruning process the brain goes through when kids lose the childhood brain connections and get the grown-up ones. The transition from childish thinking to adult thinking is not a process that happens slowly over time, it is rapid, but to get there they have to go through an intense period of brain pruning and the death of all the childish brain connections that are not needed for adulthood, and next all those adult thinking connections start to form. So what is a parent to do? Hold on, have hope! It's just a stage. My advice, encourage your child to get serious about a hobby, and watch out for addictions to gaming or online porn. Be vigilant! Find that one good thing your child loves and encourage it. Don't require the child to multitask. Don't expect him to be smarter than he was last year. Watch out for peer pressure. Homeschool if you can! This is the stage when the caterpillar is inside the cocoon and there is no butterfly and no caterpillar, just mush. Middle school is often a horrible place for mushy caterpillars, so have compassion. Take heart, something amazing is about to happen!

ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING "Beyond the Brain Dead Stage"

I have found that with Fun-Schooling, or Delight Directed Learning, and intentional unschooling, many children rise to a much higher level of focused learning and accomplishment... sooner than kids in school, and seem to be ready to start their careers at much younger ages. I notice that by about age 14, once they get through the "brain dead stage" the young adult is ready to start trying out their careers in the real world from the safety and support of home. It's no longer about LEARNING, but DOING!

Let me explain: When my oldest son, Isaac, was 16 he scared me. He said, "Mom I want to study music, film and create documentaries, be a sound engineer, do voice acting and a little bit of publishing. I don't want to do any math that is not related to my goals..." He was sort of asking permission, and sort of letting me know he was ready to take charge of his life, mind, learning and goals.

So, I did all I could to equip him to reach HIS goals and I let go of mine. He spent the last two years (at home) focused on the things he needed to become great in HIS field, not some random set of educational goals drawn out in 1955 (or whatever) by people who wanted more obedient citizens and good employees in the workforce. Once a young man or woman has their heart and mind set on what he or she wants to become, get everything out of the way that could be a distraction. Empower him or her with every tool they need to become the best at what they want to do. If what they want to do required college, they will be motivated to study for that track and build a portfolio. If they want to start a business or trade, they can just do it.What if he had the option of dropping everything else and focusing entirely on being an expert in Social Media Marketing and Travel Vlogging?

Just think of all the dept he can avoid if he builds a business now, rather than paying for a degree.I set my son free and told him that if he decided later that he needed college he would be entirely responsible for all the entrance requirements, and I washed my hands of it. He is no longer one bit my responsibility. I put his education into his hands at 16. He was able to start doing everything he wanted to do with his life. And he did it well. He did it without distraction. He did it without me forcing him to take calculus and biology. My son had two full years of living at home and starting his career before needing to have an income to support himself... and future family.He's almost 20 and has enjoyed his life on his own, and now with his wife, and is just fine at generating income, he has no debt. He is a traveler and volunteer, does music, film making, and makes stupid Jazz Memes. He and his wife are happy, and when they needed more income they did what they needed to do, and fell back on the skills that make money. Parent-directed education transitions into self-directed education when the child knows what he wants to become and is willing to start doing it. At that point we become facilitators. The goal is to help the children become the best in the field of their choice, starting as soon as the child is ready to focus. When the students shows that he or she has chosen a life path, career, calling or a serious interest that could lead to a career, feed that interest! Allow your child to choose that interest as their major. Here are some examples of what my kids have focuses on at different ages: At 9 Anna majored in the Arts, at 15 she majored in publishing. She started to focus on international missions at age 16, and musical production and songwriting at the same time. At 13 Isaac majored in cooking and switched to music and film making at 16. At 15 Rachel Majored in musical production and project management, with portrait painting on the side. Naomi has always majored in Horses, and 13 began working in social media marketing and digital graphics. At 14 Esther got he first real camera and now has a booming fashion photography business on the island of Kauai. At 9 she wanted to raise reptiles for a living. Laura has wanted to work with endangered species since age 9. She wants to research Birds of Paradise, and be a creationist explorer. Susie is a miniaturist, and loves doing artwork involving tiny things. She is 12 and has focused on miniature art for a few years. Christina, age 12, has a jewelry making business. Eliza, age 16, has a focus on tropical flower photography, and makes jewelry. I have 4 children now that are no longer "schooling" they are 15, 17, 18 and 19. They are still learning, they are still reading, they are still researching, they are still seeking knowledge and taking courses online. They are choosing what they will do and learn, and they now learn on a much deeper level! They are learning by experimenting and doing the things they want to do with their lives. They have already embraced their own futures and are living it out. They are not just preparing to "someday" become something. They have all started their careers and are actively working at becoming great, while still at home. I know that my teens need time to perfect their skills, and now they may be only earning a few hundred dollars a week at theri trades, but it is something, and they can learn to reinvest it. At this time they don't need to put that money into rent and food, so a little becomes a lot. Imagine having $300 a week, no expenses and no dept? How would you use or invest that money? Mine put it back into their trades and invest in their own businesses. At times some of my kids have made hundreds of dollars per day. My older teens are not bogged down by education, they are DOING their dreams now, and doing it from home. I respond to their needs so that nothing will hold them back. My daughter, who is 17, seems to have one or two big clients coming to the island every week to do photography with her because she is so good. She makes her work affordable and is attracting many new clients, and she's nice and shows up on time, even without a car. My other two, 18 and 15, have spent time in many different parts of the world doing music professionally, and are overseeing a recording project that about 30 - 40 music artists are working on. It's so good that some very well known musicians are getting involved and contributing to the work. My daughter Rachel, 15, is teaching harmony parts to people who have graduated from theater and music school.

My kids are confidant and don't feel limited.I really believe that when a child is ready to become who they want to be, they are willing to pour their hearts, minds, energy and effort into that passion. I am becoming more and more fearless as I trust the way my children were designed, as all children, to thrive. Every one of them works hard to learn everything they need to do their meaningful work very very well, and I am not going to fight it, I'm going to encourage it, and get all the nonsense out of the way.If any one my kids decided that they do want to go to college and needs high school credits, I'll work with them to get it done, I'll buy the books and sign them up for online courses, send them to a tutor... but the motivation, responsibility, results, and work is THEIRS.

Here is some of the science by Daniel J. Siegel M.D.

Longitudinal investigations of individuals going through the period between childhood and adulthood reveal that there is a remodeling of the brain that starts often just before the teen years begin...

For adolescents, this means that the pruning down of existing neurons and the laying down of myelin sheaths connecting the remaining linked neurons will continue years after we stop referring to them as “teenagers”. But what is this remodeling all about? Why would nature provide for the rewiring of a brain such that there is the purposeful, genetically governed and experientially shaped destruction of existing neurons and their synaptic connections? Pruning means that the abundance of neural connections achieved during the sponge-like soaking in of knowledge during the childhood period will be whittled down, shaped like a garden. What was surprising to many was that such a pruning process would be so robust, a process that can be intensified with stress.And it is this pruning process that may explain the finding that most of the major psychiatric disorders—of thought, mood, and anxiety—have their major onset during this vulnerable period. Pruning may reveal genetically or experientially vulnerable circuits.The classic “use it or lose it” principle applies to adolescence—those circuits that are actively engaged may remain, those underutilized may be subject to systematic destruction. And so for an adolescent, this means that if you want to learn a foreign language well, play a musical instrument, or be proficient at a sport, engaging in those activities before and during adolescence would be a good idea. We move from open potential in childhood to specialization during and following adolescence.And the myelination of the remodeling brain? Myelin enables the remaining and connected neurons to communicate with each other with more coordination and speed. Myelin permits the action potential—the ions flowing in and out of the membrane creating a flow of charge down the long axonal length—to move one hundred times faster. And the resting time between firings, the refractory period, is thirty times quicker. That means neural firing becomes three thousand times quicker with myelination. When you notice that those Olympic athletes are doing feats you could only dream of doing, you are not exaggerating. Practice lays down myelin to enable a skill. In a field I work in called interpersonal neurobiology, we attempt to bring together all of the fields of science, and other disciplined ways of exploring reality as well such as art, music, literature, and contemplative practice, into one conceptual framework. In that view, we see a process called “integration”—the linkage of differentiated parts of a system—as the mechanism beneath health. With integration, harmony is created. When linkage and differentiation are not present, chaos and rigidity can emerge. Integration creates the possibility of regulation—of attention, mood, emotion, thought, social interactions, and behavior. And much recent research supports this notion that impaired integration in the brain is at the root of many psychiatric disturbances.And so adolescent remodeling with its pruning that creates a more differentiated brain and its myelination that links those differentiated regions is really all about creating more integration. Naturally a remodeling zone will not be as functional during the re-constructive process as it will be later on: at times we need to shut-down the electricity or the plumbing during the process. But in the long run, the adolescent brain will result in more refined capacities, more emotional balance, more insight and wisdom, all processes resulting from integrative capacities to create internal well-being and interpersonal health.

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