The Bieb’s Prefrontal Cortex

I don’t know Justin Bieber personally.  I’m not even sure I would know any of his songs.  But as a man interested in how boys become men, I’ve been watch him as he tries to grow up in front of the world.  And it’s not been a pretty sight so far.

There are no doubt many reasons for his very public meltdowns.  As other pop stars have demonstrated, it’s really tough growing up into a responsible, well-adjusted adult when at age 13, 14, 15, you have anything and everything you want.   He’s one of many young kids who was raised in a Christian home, only to have fame thrust upon him, resulting in a prodigal son (or daughter) lifestyle.

While Justin’s struggles to grow up are public, they are struggles all boys experience in some way shape or form.  And much of it has to do with the pre-frontal cortex, that part of the brain responsible for seeing causes and effects, enabling one to  foresee future consequences; that part of the brain that analyzes, decides, and plans so that we aren’t driven by our emotional impulses.

My friend Denny Coates, in his very helpful book, Conversations with the Wise Uncle, tells us that the prefrontal cortex—that decision making part of us—opens at puberty and then develops over the next 10-12 years.  He writes:

Because this area is “under construction” during adolescence, it’s hard for teens to use it, which accounts for their sometimes impulsive, emotional, and risk-taking behavior. 

As boys (and girls) move through their teen years, the decisions they make along the way shape their pre-frontal cortex.

By the time you’re in your early 20’s, your basic foundation for critical thinking and decision-making will be set—for the rest of your life.  If you spend the next 10 years asking why and learning what causes what, your critical thinking will be huge.  If all you do is have fun, fool around and do dumb things, it will be small.  It’s totally up to you.

We have far too many “Justin Bieber’s” today, young adult men who did not develop their critical thinking and as a result live as boys in men’s bodies.

What boys and teenage males need are mentors, especially men, who will teach them how to make good decisions and hold them accountable to make good decisions; men who will instill in these boys a vision for noble manhood; men who will help boys shape their prefrontal cortex by giving boys the tools to make wise decisions.

The teen years are crucial in the development of a boy.  Justin Bieber is using (misusing) his pre-frontal cortex in ways that will shape reckless, childish behavior for the rest of his life.  I pray God will intervene with some good men to help him redeem the damage done so far.

On a deeper level, I pray for all the teenage males out there, the young Bieb’s, with their growing, vulnerable pre-frontal cortex, and that God will give us men the courage to step up and help them develop that cortex into a tool of wisdom, honor, and goodness.

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About Tim Wright

I've been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1984, currently serving as the founding pastor of Community of Grace in Peoria, AZ. My wife, Jan and I, were married in 1979. We raised two kids and currently have 3 grandkids. I love to ride my bike, travel, read British Mysteries, and Disneyland. I have written 6 books, including my newest--Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys From Church. My website: www.TimWrightMinistries.org


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