What To Do When You Think Your Teen Has Lost the Faith
Your 15-year old son begins complaining about going to church on Saturday night and doesn’t quit even after you’ve forced him to go on Sunday morning. He’s always loved church and he has plenty of friends. You ask him to pray about it and he tells you matter-of-factly that he doesn’t even know if he believes God answers prayer. What’s happening? Is it time to panic?
This is definitely a subject that has worried many a parent over the years. Your sweet, church-loving child hits a certain age when suddenly he starts questioning everything your family believes in. But while this might look like (and certainly feel like!) rejection, it may not be. Something else very important may be going on – and it is also important to handle it correctly!
Here are some things you need to know when you’re worried about your teen’s faith:
Teens Need Their Beliefs to Be Their Own
I had the chance to interview and survey several thousand teens and pre-teens during the research for For Parents Only. And I heard them talk about what it feels like at this age to suddenly realize they are their own person and need to have their own beliefs, tastes, opinions and goals … but don’t know what those are yet! It’s a scary feeling!
Picture your teen or pre-teen as if they were made of LEGO® building blocks. Up to a certain age, every building block – every value, opinion, ideal – is something that you (and other influencers) have built into your son or daughter. But suddenly, they need to figure out who they are – which means they have to pull out each building block to figure out if they want it in their building!
What we found is that what looks like rejection (“I don’t think God really answers prayer”) may not actually be a statement of firm belief. It may truly be a question in disguise. (“I’ve heard this my whole life and I know it is what my parents believe … but is it what I believe?”)
Stay Calm and Affirm On
Based on what the teens told me, here’s a crucial action step: No matter what your son or daughter says, don’t (in their words) “freak out.” If you want your teen to stay open and keep voicing their questions with you (rather than avoiding you), stay calm.
Let me repeat that: Stay. Calm. I know that can be difficult (especially given what you might be hearing!) but the teens said it is a crucial step toward keeping the lines of communication open and keeping their heart soft toward what you have to say.
Then affirm what you believe, but be very clear that you appreciate that they have to decide these things for themselves. (“Rob, you know we have seen God answer prayer many times, but it is important for you to ask these questions and I’m here if you want to talk about it.” Or “Abby, you know that we value spending time in worship together as a family. Let’s talk about how you’re struggling to connect in the service and maybe we can help.”)
Wait and Watch. And Pray!
Thankfully, we got a great surprise on the survey. It was clear that along with a desire for independence, the teens truly did have an underground desire to embrace the strongly held values and heritage of their family. If they respect you as their primary influencers (which the vast majority of kids do, even if they don’t look like it!) they care about the beliefs built into them by Mom and Dad. Especially for people of faith, we can hit our knees and pray for our children, knowing the that if we have brought them up in the way they are to go, once they are older they probably don’t want to depart from it.
Understanding all this will help you have a great discussion with your kids, and be there as a strong support for years to come. Relax and trust that by letting your children go through the questioning process, they are far more likely to come back to your core beliefs in the end.
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