Teens, Brainpower, and Peer Pressure
by sandra snider
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I find it more than a little interesting that Daniel is one of the few well-known Bible characters about whom nothing negative was ever written. At 16 years of age!
He was just a youth when he was taken to Babylon and handpicked for government service as a high official. He was placed in an intensive training program in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. His name was changed so that he would lose his Jewish identity. They tried to alter his diet. Here was a teenager who could have sowed his wild oats, as they say. Boys will be boys, after all. Yet, his life was characterized by courage, consistency, and no compromise whatsoever. Daniel “purposed in his heart” (Daniel 1:8) to stay the course, avoid the idols of Babylon, and the young man was eventually used as God’s prophetic mouthpiece to declare God’s present and eternal purpose to the Gentile and Jewish world.
So where are our Daniel’s today? Why do so many young people cave in to negative peer and societal pressures? There could be two reasons why Decisive Daniel’s seem to be as scarce as Shekels in our society. God’s Word gives us one explanation (lack of wisdom, and more on that later), but another clue might be found in a government study.
Perhaps there’s a physiological explanation as to the behavior of youth is and why common sense and decision-making seem to be at a premium. Quite bluntly, their minds cannot yet fully reason. This insight comes from the researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of California-Los Angeles. They studied the brain development for ten years in 13 healthy children from ages 4-21. The researchers took periodic scans of their brains and used brain-mapping technology. Then they combined the images into a time-lapse, 3-D movie that condensed 17 years of brain growth into a few seconds of images. This is what the report states:
“Areas in the extreme front and back of the brain, governing such basic functions as smell, hearing and sight and taste, are the first to mature. The upper-middle portion of the brain, which governs movement and touch, appears to mature next. Then come the parietal lobes, associated with language and spatial orientation—the ability to bring together sight, touch and other perceptions to get your bearings in various surroundings. Last is the prefrontal cortex, which integrates information registered by the senses and controls reasoning and decision-making.”
That last sentence is the one that caught my attention. Researchers found that the last area of the brain to mature in humans, between the ages of 18-21, is the area responsible for reasoning, problem-solving and other sophisticated functions. When you combine this temporary brain ‘handicap’ with lack of spiritual wisdom and understanding, you get a combination that spells trouble.
But youthful Daniel probably had prefrontal cortex issues going on as well, right? He, too, was also at a disadvantage, just as today’s youth. So what kept our Old Testament friend from defiling himself with the king’s delicacies, or from worshipping the gold image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up? The government researchers are left scrunching their noses and stuffing their hands in white lab pockets at that question. Daniel certainly doesn’t fit their research study: he’s a square peg in a round hole.
The answer is wisdom, which is the fear of the Lord, according to Proverbs 1:7. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, exhorts Proverbs 4:5,7. Proverbs 23:23 states that wisdom has to be acquired and Daniel had acquired it. Ecclesiastes.7:12 and Daniel 1:4 tell us that wisdom was the main defense and strong advantage that controlled Daniel’s reasoning and decision-making in the midst of stress, temptation and outside pressure. Wisdom was the stabilizing influence in his young life (Isaiah 33:6) and he avoided evil by reverence and fear for God (Proverbs 16:6).
Without wisdom, teens and young adults are defenseless in the face of negative peer pressure. Prefrontal cortex or no prefrontal cortex, Proverbs 3:13 states that happy is the teen who finds wisdom. Wisdom alone was sufficient to overcome any brain deficiencies in this Bible-era teenager!
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