Zombies are not just found in horror movies, sometimes they're lying on your living room couch. These are undead adolescents whose psychological and social development have come to a screeching halt. Torn by their yearning for freedom and their fear of surviving the outside world, they have stalled in their maturity, motivation, and purpose in life, hijacked by a helplessness and fear of responsibility. Parents often feel ill-equipped to love, support, and guide them-especially when they may be facing a midlife crisis of their own and battling some of the same issues in their own lives. Is it really possible to escape this "undead" state of being?
In My Teenage Zombie board-certified psychiatrist and medical doctor David L. Henderson explains the parts of a teenage zombie (their brain, heart, and spirit), how they got into this undead state, and how to resurrect them back to life. Using real-life examples of families he has counseled, he describes both their physical and psychological characteristics and offers practical suggestions on how to deal with, and in many cases avoid, having an undead adolescent in your home.
Q: David, thanks so much for doing this interview with us. Tell us a little about yourself and your experiences in ministering to families?
Absolutely! I am a board-certified psychiatrist and the owner of Four Stones Collaborative Group, a consulting practice in Dallas, Texas that serves individuals and families dealing with mental, emotional, and relational challenges. A significant part of my practice is working with teenagers who feel like they have lost their motivation and passion for life. Many parents come to me at their wits end, wondering what they can do to help fix the situation. Together, we work to tease out the patterns of thoughts, emotions, and actions that may be helping or hindering a teenager's success. I've been amazed at the transformations I've seen with just a bit of education and coaching through the process. Many parents find hope in knowing they are not alone in their struggles with their teenagers and that there are excellent solutions for overcoming the challenges that modern-day adolescents face.
Q: With Halloween coming up, it's intriguing that you have a new book entitled "My Teenage Zombie." In what ways are teenagers today zombies?
Well, psychologically, I think there are a lot of parallels parents will identify with. Think about the zombies depicted in shows like The Walking Dead or in movies like World War Z. They are basically corpses that attack and consume the living, either killing them or turning them into zombies themselves. As a metaphor, the undead represent adolescents and emerging adults whose psychological and social development have died. They lack maturity, motivation, and purpose, exhibiting a helplessness and fear of responsibility. As a result, they seem destined to remain under Mom and Dad's care forever, consuming all their time, energy, and resources, just like a zombie would.
In the book, I address the three elements of the body that a zombie teenager lacks: spark, which represent motivation; pulse, which represents direction; and fiber, which represents determination. To resurrect a zombie teenager, a parent must learn what motivates their teen, channel that motivation in a healthy direction, and then strengthen within them the fiber or determination necessary to endure the stressors and obstacles that will inevitably come their way. In the second section of the book, I address the most common fears parents have when faced with a zombie teenager - fears that parallel the ones we have watching a zombie movie. These fears make engaging a zombie teen challenging, but they are possible to overcome with the techniques that I outline in the third section of the book.
Q: What roles do guilt, fatigue and shame play in a parent's relationship with a teenager?
There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, "I was wrong." Shame says, "I am always wrong!" Guilt says, "I made a mistake." Shame says, "I am a mistake." Guilt can be a great motivator to do things differently. When we are honest about our failures, we can shift gears more quickly and try solutions that actually work.
Unfortunately, when we come up against a teenage zombie - a person that looks like us, talks like us, represents us to the community, but appears to reflect all our weaknesses and flaws - it can be extremely discouraging. Many parents retreat into isolation as a result of shame and refuse to seek the help that could rescue them and their teenager from further problems. I've told parents that this isolation, this retreating, is like leaving the theatre before seeing the end of the movie. A parent has to fight against shame.
Sometimes knowing that your teenagers' actions are the direct result of biological or psychological changes taking place within them helps reduce the stigma and gives hope to parents who may otherwise be doubting that this stage will eventually pass. That is why I've outlined in the very first section of the book the changes taking place in a teenage zombie's brain, heart, and spirit.
As exhausting as raising a teenager is, there are great tools and techniques available to channel your own energy, motivation, and passion for your son or daughter in a way that is more effective and efficient. That's why I chose to write this book. I wanted to share some of those solutions with readers so they could feel better equipped to face the zombie attack they see approaching.
Q: How can faith make a difference in the life of an adolescent?
In the chapter of the book I've titled The Teenage Zombie Spirit, I outline the three truths of life that every adolescent must accept before they can be resurrected to a life worth living. One of those truths is this: life is a process, not an endpoint. Too many teens (and adults also) look to some event in the future to fulfill them, but now is the time to enjoy life, even in the midst of troubles. Jesus said, "Don't worry about tomorrow. It has enough problems of its own." He was not advocating for a "live-for-the-moment" mindset, but rather a "live-in-the-moment" mindset. There is a difference. I address this in depth in the book through various examples, but a teenager's faith has a profound impact on how well they can live out this truth. Someone once said that the knowledge of Heaven allows us to enjoy more fully lesser pleasures here on earth. Why? Because we don't have to be in such a rush to have it all now, knowing that we'll have it all someday in the future. Adolescents want so desperately to be adults, but if we can teach them to enjoy their lives as they are right this moment, we will be instilling in them a truth that will last them a lifetime: contentment in all things.
Q: In what ways do you think your new book can be helpful to both parents and teenagers?
Really, at its core this a book about how to deal with our own emotions when confronting people who we love and want to succeed, but who don't seem to trust us or even get angry at us for our interventions in their lives. This happens every day, whether it is at work, with our family, or with friends and acquaintances. If we can master our own emotions when confronting a zombie, we can deal with anyone. In the end, I think both parents and teenagers will find tools in this book to help them know themselves deeply. This knowledge, in my opinion, is the most important part of success, whether it is in business or in our personal lives. I am confident that those who read it will be challenged to look at life in a different way and consider how the undead adolescent lurking in all of us can be resurrected to a new and vibrant life we never thought possible.
Q: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and purchase the book?
I encourage folks to go to my website, www.drdavidhenderson.com . There they can click on a link to the online store of their choice and purchase a copy. They can also visit their local bookstore and request a copy. Also, I love feedback, so feel free to have readers shoot me an email through the contact page on my website.