Parenting your teen as they wrestle with their faithWritten by Lindsay Hawkes
What's inside this article
As a parent, you’ve invested your life in your child. You brought them to church, taught them everything you know about the Bible, and prayed with them at night. You wanted nothing but God’s absolute best for their life.
Then, almost before you knew it, your son or daughter morphed into a teenager and dropped a startling confession on you:
I'm not interested in going to church and I'm not sure if I believe that the Bible is true. I don't know if God is real, or why I should believe in Him.
Every situation is unique, but the gist of the scenario is the same: your child is wrestling with their faith.
Seeing your teenage son or daughter give up on the church and their faith is tough – there’s no easy way around it. And there’s no easy way to fix it. But there are a few things to consider as you walk this journey with your child.
You could be experiencing a myriad of feelings, from disappointment to regret to self-doubt. Acknowledge your feelings and know that you aren’t alone. Many parents have faced this and you certainly won’t be the last. Children have been rebelling against God since the beginning of time.
Resist the urge to try to change your son or daughter. After all, if it were possible for you to change them, wouldn’t you have accomplished it already? The only person you can truly change is yourself. As you pray for your teen, ask God to transform your heart and mind too.
Embrace your child. Rather than seeing their questions and challenges as a divisive threat, model God’s love, patience and grace both verbally and non-verbally. Be a parent who sticks with your son or daughter no matter what they’re going through. Remind them that you love him or her regardless of whether things are good or bad.
It would be helpful to figure out why your teen is grappling with their faith. In the book Why Christian Kids Rebel, author Dr. Tim Kimmel suggests that your child’s rebellion may not be an isolated problem, but a symptom of something else that’s going on. Is your teen struggling with rejection from peers or your church family? Has something else happened that sent your teen into a tailspin? Keep your eyes and ears open for what the deeper issues might be.
When (and if) your teen opens up to you about what they’re feeling, make sure to give them your full attention. Listen to them with empathy, validate their fears, and reassure them of your love. Remind that that your home is a safe place where they will always belong. Being a teen is tumultuous. It’s scary for parents, but it’s likely more unnerving for your son or daughter to feel like they’re walking through it alone.
Teenagers need more than mere knowledge of your faith; they need a relationship with you. Find ways to build bridges to connect with your teen instead of digging ditches that drive you further apart. One of the easiest ways to do this is by finding fun activities that you can enjoy with your teen.
Does your son like to watch movies? Offer to take him to the latest blockbuster and, if he needs a little extra convincing, bribe him with a bucket of popcorn. Does your daughter have a creative streak? Find some inexpensive canvases, paint and paintbrushes to let your inner Picasso loose for a couple of hours. Regardless of what you do, relax and have fun.
Turn to the Word
Is your teen bombarding you with deep theological questions that leave you stumped? Be honest. Tell them that you don’t have all the answers, but suggest that you two could search for them together. Growing together with your children can be the most effective form of spiritual training.
You could dig deeper into God’s Word on your own or take a theological class together. Turn to your pastor or a friend for book recommendations that could spark conversations and improve understanding. Watch TrueU or The Truth Project and spend time talking about what you’re learning.
It’s important to trust that God is working in your teen’s heart, mind and life – just like He did with you. If you’re feeling inadequate, then you’re exactly where you need to be for Him to work through you (Philippians 4:13). Continue to cover your child with a heaping helping of prayer as they wrestle through questions about their faith and world view.
It’s possible that some of your teen’s rebellion may be a necessary step in establishing an authentic and personal relationship with God. By grappling with their faith, teens are trying to determine whether their faith is something personal, or something canned that they adopted from church, school or you.
For more help
Again, everyone’s situation is unique. These suggestions don’t guarantee that your child will return to the Lord, but they could go a long way to preserve your relationship through this challenging time.
You may have already done all of these things (and more), but your teen is still spiralling out of control. Focus on the Family Canada has a team of professionally trained staff counsellors who would love to talk to you and guide you through this stage of life, or point you to someone in your area who can help.
If you would like to book a free phone consultation with one of Focus Canada’s counsellors, please call 1.800.661.9800. Our counsellors are available from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. (PT).
When your child wrestles with their belief in God, it’s not a sign that all hope is lost. It’s an opportunity for you to lean in and love your teen through the journey, no matter what the end result may be.
Lindsay Hawkes was an in-house writer with Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.
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