Youth Are The Future. Guide Them, Don't Break Them


Youth Are the Future. Guide Them, Don’t Break Them 




In September 2022, DAAJI released his bestseller, The Wisdom Bridge, and throughout 2023 we are sharing highlights from the various chapters to give you a taste of the practical wisdom the book offers. This month the excerpt is from chapter 18 on Principle 7: Youth Are the Future. Guide Them, Don’t Break Them. 


There is an old engineer’s lament, “Between seeing the glass half full or half empty there is also the possibility of the glass being designed for twice the capacity.” When the energy of the youth is guided by the elders’ wisdom, new perspectives emerge. Youth are not wild horses to be tamed by breaking them down. They need to be inspired and unleashed as a force for good.

The biggest strength of youth is their energy. Their energy is what makes them creative. There is no turning off the fire. There is no hibernating through this phase of life. When the youthful energies are guided in the right direction, such energy becomes creative energy. The energy of youth is not for rambunctiousness. It should be a period of vigorous activity with aspiration. What is this aspiration that should drive them?

It should be how to become gentle, how to become loving, how to become wise. Volunteer work, meditation, mentoring by elders all help the youth in their development.


Text Box: Parenting Tip: Flexibility in Ideas
When children are between six to ten years old, their intuitive ability is active, and the reason for that is that their minds are flexible. Outside a tantrum here and there, children don’t arrive at rigid conclusions and insist “this is how it should be.” 
As they grow up, their worldview becomes more set. For example, it’s easier to instill interests in little children. If a child doesn’t like math, then through games and activities, math can be made fun. However, as children grow up, it becomes difficult to steer their interests. They have already made up their mind about their preferences. So, parents need to be creative and have more patience.


The Teenage Brain Is a Work in Progress

For all the promise and potential youth have, elders often think of them, especially teenagers, as raging hormones, rebels without a cause, and reckless idiots. Why is this so? Why are the teenage years so turbulent? Some of the answers lie in the physiology of the human brain itself.

At the risk of simplifying neuroscience, I am sharing some insights that may help us understand what’s happening with a teenager’s brain. The brains of teenagers are still developing. By developing, I mean their brains are focused on finalizing what neural connections they need to keep and which ones to prune. This process of synaptic pruning is a natural part of growth. When we are born, we have an excess of connections, and over time the brain prunes away the excess.

How does the brain decide which connections to keep and which ones to prune away? The decision is based on the life experiences gathered till that time. For example, as a child, if you were into art, then when you become an adult the neural circuits that were formed will remain. This law is known as Hebbian Learning. When we learn something new, neurons in our brain connect with other neurons to form a neural network. The more these neurons fire, the stronger the connection becomes, and the action becomes increasingly intuitive. Hebb’s Law has been summed up in a single phrase: “The neurons that fire together wire together.”[1],[2]

Besides pruning, something called myelination also takes place in the teen brain.[3] A fatty substance called myelin coats the tendrils (or axons) of the brain cells. Myelination connects various parts of the brain so that information moves much faster in the brain. Think of myelination as upgrading from muddy country roads to glasslike autobahns, so your car can zip through.

Myelination starts from the back of the brain and gradually makes its way forward. Now, at the back of the brain are the emotional and impulse centers. They are myelinated first. But the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex is still on country roads, and it takes a few years for them to get upgraded. The front area of the brain is the voice of reason. Decision-making, self-control, rational thinking and faculties associated with maturity are in the prefrontal cortex. So, while happiness, sorrow, excitement, invincibility and other thrill-seeking impulses are traveling in the brain at warp speed, decision-making and self-control are moving slower. This explains why teenagers end up doing what seems incoherent to an adult. For a moment, think about your antics as a teenager. I’m sure many things will pop up that make you wonder, What was I even thinking? The physiological reason for teens behaving in illogical ways is a result of how their developing brain is processing the world.

One may think that myelination from back to front is a flaw. But it’s in line with our evolution. As a hunter-gatherer, fight or flight impulse dominated our existence. Swift decisions on whether to run from the sabretooth tiger or fight back needed split-second emotional impulses. The development of the prefrontal cortex came much later, as human beings evolved and established themselves at the top of the food chain.

Studies show that the teenage years are also a time of vulnerability. About 70 percent of mental illnesses, including anxiety, eating and mood disorders, and depression, appear first during the teen years and early adulthood. This is also the time when youth have the highest propensity to get hooked on drugs and develop addictive behaviors. The reward circuits of the brain are in full potency and if mental and emotional health are not good, then teenagers become vulnerable. Also, deficiencies in the development of the brain due to trauma (for example, exposure to neglect, violence, abuse, homelessness) are often revealed during the teenage years. A traumatic childhood causes the brain circuits responding to stress to be well developed. As a result, the impulses to react and be aggressive are also well developed. But the compensatory circuits for self-control and composure may not be as well developed. So, it’s possible that the child may need help and counseling during their teen years to correct some of these tendencies.

With this understanding of the teenage brain, here are some suggestions about how to support your teenage children during these times of promise and pitfalls.


Recognize the Transition and Facilitate the Change

In cultures the world over, the transition to youth is formally recognized. Jewish people celebrate the bar and bat mitzvah. Parts of India celebrate the Langa-Voni and Ritu Kala samskara, Hispanics celebrate quinceañera and quinceañero. Each culture has its own traditions and rituals where the community came together and celebrated.

These rituals help teenagers understand their responsibility in the community. The recognition by elders also helps mold their sense of self.

Today, even though we celebrate coming of age, in many cases we’ve forgotten the significance of these customs, and sometimes over-the-top celebrations overshadow the importance of the event. Coming of age is generally associated with rights. The right to drive, the right to vote, the right to drink, and so on. However, we don’t emphasize the duties that come with age. When rights and duties are both duly acknowledged, the transition from childhood to youth is smoother. If not, then adolescence is extended for a much longer period. In such cases, children may grow in age but not in maturity. If they don’t take responsibility in their teenage years, it may become a pattern for the rest of their lives.


Use a Light Touch and Have Keen Eyes

When children are small, they aspire to be like their fathers and mothers. It’s natural. But as children become teenagers, most of them stop feeling that way. Somewhere along the way, the respect they have for parents goes away. Teenagers, still love their parents, but parents need to start earning respect again. They need to evolve morally and spiritually to continue to earn their teenager’s respect. Teenagers appreciate authenticity. They are idealistic and look up to people who are authentic. 

As a parent, share your successes and your failures with your teenager. Once my boys came to me asking for some advice on a business clause. I reviewed the language and told them that in my days I would sign contracts with much more lenient terms. I asked them to consult an investor friend of mine for a professional opinion. I also told them stories of the many ways in which I lost money in business. I could see that they liked the conversation, and I could also see how they both would muse about all my mistakes later on.

Our teenagers are not looking for perfection. They are looking for authenticity and love. As parents, when we embrace our vulnerabilities, acknowledge our errors, and share life lessons, it deepens the connection between our hearts. An honest conversation with them about what we may have done wrong in the past and how it affected our life will register much better than a lecture on what is right and wrong.

Who likes being corrected all the time? When our flaws are pointed out, it hurts. Youth are no exception. It helps to be very subtle with them. Find indirect ways to get your message across. For example, share stories – beautiful stories, inspiring stories. The problem is that we have stopped reading stories to them. Even when they are thirteen or eighteen, even when they are thirty, share a nice story. Share ideas that will make them think. When you read a profound message, share it with them with a lot of joy.
“Listen to this, how wonderful it is!” 
Just share it and leave it at that. Do not probe them after sharing, and do not lecture them.

Use a light touch and have keen eyes.



[1] Hebb, D., 2005. The Organization of Behavior, 99th ed. Psychology Press, UK, Kindle.

[2] Shatz, C.J., 1992. ‘The Developing Brain,’ Scientific American 267, no. 3: 60–67,

[3] Spear, L.P., 2013. ‘Adolescent Neurodevelopment,’ Journal of Adolescent Health, 52, no. 2, Supple 2: s7–13,