My Teenage Zombie : Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent in Your Home

My Teenage Zombie : Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent in Your Home

by David L. Henderson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718031244
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Dr. David Henderson is a board certified psychiatrist, author and speaker. He is the founder and president of Four Stones PLLC, a mental health consulting practice in Dallas, Texas. For five years, Dr. Henderson served as the Department Chair of Psychology and Counseling at Criswell College, rebuilding its Masters in Counseling Program and starting the undergraduate major in Psychology. He also helped to develop a fully online counseling curriculum for the school. In addition, Dr. Henderson has served as an adjunct professor of Psychology and Counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a member of the board of directors for Drug Prevention Resources, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing youth substance abuse. Dr. Henderson has presented nationally and internationally at conferences for the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, The Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. For more information, you can visit his website,

Read an Excerpt

My Teenage Zombie

Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent in Your Home

By David L. Henderson

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2016 David L. Henderson, MD
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-3124-4


The Teenage Zombie Defined

In the world of fiction, the undead are the most terrifying monsters I can imagine.

They are animated corpses that were once human, died, and by some supernatural means returned to an existence just short of life. They are tormented beings with an unquenchable drive to regain some semblance of what they once knew, and they pursue and consume their human counterparts in horrific ways. One might say that the undead have an insatiable lust for life but can only take it from others, never securing it for themselves.

As a metaphor, the undead represent adolescents and emerging adults whose psychological and social development have died. Erik Erikson, who proposed that the main task of adolescence is forming a healthy self-identity, would say that these young people are confused as to their purpose in life and their role in relationships. They lack maturity, motivation, and purpose, exhibiting a helplessness and fear of responsibility. As a result, they seem destined to remain under their parents' care forever, consuming all their time, energy, and resources, just like a zombie would.

When considering the challenges of raising an adolescent, many parents feel the same childlike fear that audience members do when watching a zombie movie. The horrors we imagine might befall our kids and the very real possibility that we could be mentally and emotionally consumed by their struggles can lead us to the point of desperation. Many parents admit that they do not have the resources necessary to deal with these challenges.

At this time during your adolescent's development, he may feel torn between yearning for freedom and fear of surviving in the outside world. Meanwhile, you as a parent may feel helpless to love, support, guide, and empower him to thrive in, not just survive, this life.

In fact, many parents with teenagers are themselves facing a midlife crisis. They are internally battling the same issues they see playing out before them in the lives of their children: apathy; lack of direction; unwanted physical changes of aging; rebellious questioning of authority; experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sexual expression; and resentful dependence on a constraining society. Is it really possible to escape this "undead" state of being?

The truth is that some of our worries may be unfounded, and there are effective remedies for most of the others. Once we understand how the characteristics of the zombies on screen parallel the struggles within our own children, we can start living like survivors, not victims, of our children's adolescence. Using themes and metaphors depicted in stories of the undead, I'm writing this book to help provide a clear framework by which you can practically and successfully help your teenager navigate an ever-lengthening stage of adolescence and successfully enter society with confidence and vision. It may even challenge us adults to consider where we are struggling with the circumstances of our own lives so that we may experience a freshness to life that we did not think possible before.

Have the Undead Invaded Your Home?

How do you know if you have an undead adolescent in your home? After all, the stage of adolescence is, in general, a challenging time for children and parents alike, even if it does progress with relatively few halting crises. When you consider the physiological changes within the body, the psychological challenges of forming a healthy identity, the difficulty of navigating platonic and romantic peer relationships, the desire to secure independence from the family of origin, and the burden of adopting ever-increasing responsibilities within society, you can see all the forces that contribute to making adolescence a stressful time. Many teens manage to grope their way through the fog and confusion of this stage of development unaffected by the undead all around them. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the living from the dead. So how do you know if your son or daughter is one of the infected?

A teenage zombie lacks the following three elements that are absolutely necessary to sustain life: spark, pulse, and fiber.

A Life Without Spark

We all know that the human brain is an electrical organ as much as it is a chemical one. Signals are transmitted throughout the body by nerves that send electrical signals to and from the brain. Fictional zombies have brains that have been infected, usually by the bite of another zombie, and are therefore damaged. Their electrical system has gone haywire, and as a result, they act impulsively, without thinking. In other words, they lack the spark necessary for purposeful actions.

In zombie teenagers, the spark of their lives that is missing represents their motivation: that thing that drives them forward from day to day. Undead adolescents, at first glance, appear to lack this spark. They look comfortable with the circumstances of their lives and have little motivation for improvement. They may spend hours on the couch playing video games, watching television, reading blogs, or hanging out with friends. They may have few extracurricular activities or hobbies and spend most of their time at home. If they do have jobs, they have no desire for advancement and do the bare minimum of what is asked of them by their bosses. In school they scrape by with Cs earned at the last minute by turning in makeup work and cramming for exams. Their teachers consistently say, "They just don't apply themselves." Procrastination, tardiness, forgetfulness, and lack of initiative are common. Instead of these teenagers pulling their own weight at home, their parents feel like they are dragging their children's dead corpses everywhere they go.

The spark-less zombie living in your home is in one of two states of being — meaninglessness or mindlessness.

Meaningless Zombies

Kids who are living as meaningless zombies are like the slow, aimlessly meandering zombies of 1960s and 1970s horror films. They look at life through a lens of cynicism, discouragement, and purposelessness.

The key feature born out of the meaninglessness these zombies experience is a lack of motivation. The activities they want to participate in are limited significantly. Perhaps they lie in bed all day, barely eating, isolating themselves from family and friends. They might have difficulty concentrating on the tasks before them, resulting in failing grades, unfinished chores, and poor self-care. Physically, their energy is low. They are lethargic and difficult to inspire. Zombies like these are scary because of the hopelessness and lifelessness they exude. Parents fear that their children's inaction will end in a life that has irreversibly passed by them.

For some, it may move beyond the normal phase of adolescent brooding toward a more serious clinical depression. One of the features of depression is anhedonia — an internal loss of happiness in the midst of normally pleasurable experiences. This apathy for life taints everything they do — or more accurately, everything they don't do. It is important to consider this when working with your child. He or she might not be lazy, undisciplined, or defiant, but rather discouraged, depressed, or defeated in some aspect of his life. If this is the case, you should seriously consider professional intervention.

Mindless Zombies

The mindless zombie is like the crazed, super-fast zombies of modern horror flicks. Think World War Z. These zombies don't focus on the meaninglessness of life. In fact, they don't appear to focus at all. These zombies usually rush into life like a freight train that has jumped the tracks. They seem to lack the conscious awareness necessary to have or understand the motivation behind their behaviors.

We might say that these kids are impulsive, absentminded, rash, or even foolhardy. Many have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are often swayed by intense emotions, subjective sensing, and intuition. Rational thought is a slow second to the more overwhelming emotional surges of the moment. Their higher, more logical brain functions only kick in after the fact, mainly in an effort to explain their behaviors, which they do not fully understand. Unfortunately, because of this, they may be labeled as dishonest or manipulative. When parents consider their child's actions, they are often left asking, "What were you thinking?" The usual response from the child is, "It seemed right at the time!"

Parents fear this kind of zombie because of the potential irreparability of their quick, poorly planned actions. Instead of life passing by them, life seems to move too slowly for them. They rush on ahead with every opportunity, demonstrating an unconscious, unmediated pursuit of pleasure. It is not that they don't care about you or others. They just don't think to care. The intensity of their drive leaves them unable to think or consider any higher purpose beyond their immediate self-gratification.

A Life Without Pulse

The second characteristic of an undead adolescent is a lack of pulse. We know that without a pulse, living beings cannot survive. A pulse is generated by the pressure of blood pushing against blood vessels (arteries and veins) as it is pumped by the heart to all areas of the body. The constraints of arteries and veins allow the blood to be channeled in the right direction to the right places. Without these channels, our blood could not be replenished with the oxygen and nutrients necessary for our bodies' survival. Instead, blood would seep out in all directions, coagulate, and be useless. Fictional zombies do not have a pulse, and neither do our teenage zombies. But in the cases of our teenagers, that pulse represents direction.

Undead adolescents are directionless, and this lack of direction leads them to focus all their attention on one thing: themselves. This self-centeredness, as you know, generates a great deal of conflict within the family system. Because directionless teenagers are all about instantly gratifying their own personal needs, they give no thought to the long-term consequences of their decisions or how they are impacting their present and future relationships. They have very little restraint when it comes to pleasure. When confronted with a challenge, they will often take the path of least resistance. They use things like food, video games, pornography, drugs and alcohol, and even romantic relationships with other people as a way to escape the demands of life.

What is worse is that they seem oblivious to their selfishness and to the needs of others. They are in denial. When confronted, they can become defensive and emotional, spouting off a hundred reasons for why they are right and you are wrong. When they want something, they will use circular arguments and relentless persistence to wear you down. As a result, they can suck the life out of you. Giving in to their demands so you achieve temporary peace can be a real temptation for you. But in doing so, you are robbing them of the very pulse you are trying to generate within them.

It is important to note that underlying this seeming lack of motivation, self-centeredness, and instant gratification, undead adolescents struggle with deeper issues: confusion, fear, and anger. Zombies without a pulse have no way to channel these emotions in a way that is productive. They lack the moral framework necessary to contain, direct, or restrain their passions.

A Life Without Fiber

If your teenager is motivated toward a clear purpose and is pursuing that purpose with a clear moral framework, and even if by all outward appearances he seems successful, be careful: he might still be a teenage zombie. Some zombies appear to be in control, but this control is obsessive, superficial, and fear-based. It is meant to keep an underlying emotional fragility hidden. This leads us to the third and final element that a zombie teenager lacks: fiber. We know that fibers hold the human body together: muscle fibers, ligaments, bones, cartilage, tissue, and the like. Fictional zombies lack fiber. Their bodies are depicted as rotting flesh. Many hobble around with broken or missing limbs. When the pressure reaches a certain level, they literally fall apart.

Your teenage zombie has the same problem. For him, fiber represents determination — what the ancients called fortitude. The word fortitude means "courage in the face of pain or adversity." The undead have an overwhelming fear of the future. Because their identity is unformed and insecure, they wonder about their capability to survive on their own. Because of this, they put a great deal of energy into controlling their circumstances. This control often looks good to parents. These zombies are usually straight-A students, star athletes, popular, service-oriented, conflict-avoidant, and all-around "good kids." But behind all of these "good" things is an obsessive fear of the future. In order to combat this fear, they must create the perfect set of circumstances to feel comfortable. Yet, with an ever-building sense of entrapment in their current circumstances — circumstances they, themselves, have often created — fiber-less zombies have a breaking point. Out of the blue, they may lash out in anger, retreat into isolation and depression, or panic and lose focus. The longer they remain paralyzed by their fear of failure, the more like the undead they become.

Fiber-less zombies may develop what psychologists call low frustration tolerance. They cannot handle getting a B on a test, missing a shot or goal, being dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, or not looking like the supermodel they idolize in the magazines. Eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobias are common in this group. They may be shy, avoidant, or quick to please. They do not use drugs, sleep around, or get in trouble with the law. Though very successful in most things they pursue, they still don't feel that they are measuring up to the standards they or others have set for them. As a result, they rely heavily on their parents and other close relationships for validation, encouragement, and advice. This keeps them very dependent emotionally on people.

Unfortunately, many parents see their children's continual seeking of advice and reassurance as a sign of conscientiousness and diligence, not as a compulsive means of suppressing irrational fears. For those parents who can sense the fear, they cannot understand it. "What are you worried about?" parents ask,. "You're doing great!" But the teenage zombies know they're not. They are anticipating the next mistake, the next situation that might betray their weaknesses, the next shoe falling, or the next attack. They fear rejection, abandonment, and failure, so they work, they train, they achieve. Outwardly they are getting stronger, but inwardly they are wasting away. Unlike the mindless zombies, these teenagers are conscious of the passions lurking inside of them and feel true anxiety and remorse over their destructive tendencies. Knowing these tendencies, their consciences are much heightened and overbearing. Paralyzed both mentally and emotionally by the knowledge of what the beast inside of them is capable of doing, they exist in self-made prisons of fear, separated from the joys of real life.

If any of these features sound like traits within your child, you may be dealing with an undead adolescent. Don't freak out! You are not alone. The truth is that all teenagers go through an undead phase and most are resurrected successfully. To whatever degree your son or daughter is a part of the walking dead, there is hope. With education and a good survival kit, you will have the tools necessary to endure with your teen and see your teen through to the other side.

Let's review: Motivation, the spark of all life, initiates our actions. This spark is generated by our experience of two powerful sensations: pleasure and pain. These are the jumper cables that, when used together, generate the spark of motivation that moves us all.

Direction, the pulse of all life, channels our actions. This pulse is contained by our understanding and practice of two essential elements: right and wrong. Pulse is generated through the rules by which we choose to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.

Finally, determination, the fiber of all life, sustains our actions. Our fiber is strengthened by our ability to maintain a balanced perspective on two opposing forces: success and failure. The skills we possess matched against the challenges we face may determine our momentary success or failure in any given situation, but our determination will most certainly govern how we grow through both successes and failures over time.

The perfect balance between these three factors — motivation, direction, and determination — creates a flow that keeps us moving forward successfully in life.


Excerpted from My Teenage Zombie by David L. Henderson. Copyright © 2016 David L. Henderson, MD. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: The Rise of the Undead, ix,
Part I: Understanding the Attack,
1. The Teenage Zombie Defined, 3,
2. The Teenage Zombie Origins, 15,
3. The Teenage Zombie Brain, 31,
4. The Teenage Zombie Heart, 49,
5. The Teenage Zombie Spirit, 67,
Part 2: Facing Our Fear of Zombies,
6. The Fear of Deception, 81,
7. The Fear of Association, 95,
8. The Fear of Exhaustion, 107,
9. The Fear of Humiliation, 123,
Part 3: Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent,
10. The Spark of Life: Motivation, 137,
11. The Pulse of Life: Direction, 159,
12. The Fiber of Life: Determination, 189,
Afterword: Winning the Battle for Your Teenage Zombie, 229,
Notes, 233,
About the Author, 239,

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My Teenage Zombie: Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent in Your Home 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
lolly-pops More than 1 year ago
First, the disclaimer. "I was provided a free copy of this book. All opinions are my own." That done, MY TEENAGE ZOMBIE: Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent in Your Home is a timely book for those of us with Undead Zombies. I am somewhat behind on reviews due to four back-to-back book deadlines, and the publisher sent me a gentle reminder that my promised review for this was past due. I opened it up, read the introduction, the first chapter, identified the area where my twenty-six year old zombie has issues, and flipped to that chapter (11). Read that. My zombie has been quite alarmed by my reading the book and is arguing he is not a zombie. Not engaging. I know better. The tone of the book is rather clinical, but I suppose that seeing as Dr Henderson is a MD then it is to be expected. I struggled to wrap my mind around some of the things included, and I can see it is going to take some time, rereading and thought to thoroughly implement change in my child. In the mean time, what Dr. Henderson recommended in chapter 11 was to change locks, padlock the refrigerator, and impliment the command "He who will not work shall not eat." Sounds rather harsh, and what parent wants others to judge him that way? Not I. But then again, is that going to be what's necessary to get him off his rump and out looking for work? Or into college to earn that "stupid, worthless degree" that is so necessary to getting his dream job? This book would be helpful for other parents who struggles as I do. Is your child addicted to mind-altering drugs or alchohol? Lazy? Is he lacking spark, pulse, or fiber? Not sure? Just know something is wrong? This book will help you identify the problem and help you to take steps to solve it. I know I will be rereading my copy as I struggle to help my son find his pulse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Hey Matt." Sara said walking down wearing a tanktop and pant<_>ies