“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” ~ C. S. Lewis
Welcome to the January 2012 edition of Tweens & Teens. I tell you what, readers of this column don’t hold back with their questions and Gwen and Shannon do pass them on. So, if you have one of your own, please email it to mamas@nwaMotherlode.com and perhaps we can help answer it for you.
Here is this month’s question:
My 15-year-old is really questioning issues of faith and told me last week that he’s not sure he believes in God anymore. We have raised our kids in church, and this is just killing me! He doesn’t even want to go to church with us anymore, and I don’t know whether or not this is something I should force him to do. Any advice on how to handle this?
Okay, let’s take this one part at a time and work through it together. First, notice that the adolescent is 15 years old. That means that, developmentally, he is learning how to think for himself and is also trying to test limits and establish his boundaries and independence.
With that being said, he is probably questioning a lot of things, not just religion. For example, who his friends should be, should he smoke (cigarettes and/or marijuana), should he drink alcohol, when can he have sex (not if because they all want to have it), etc. Just thinking about this gives me a headache and heart attack at the same time, as my son is almost this age. By the way…everyone reading this article knows that they were asking themselves the same questions around this same time in their life and we were giving our parents heart attacks, as well.
It is interesting how we, as parents, want our children to grow up and think for themselves, become independent, and start asking questions that will help them mature. Then, when they do, we back up and wonder how they got to this point so fast. Being an adult is hard. Being a parent is harder. Being a good parent is just plain exhausting.
It’s very natural for adolescents to start questioning their faith and asking questions such as “Is there a God?” or “How could a loving God send people to hell”? Logic versus faith, if you will. Their answer will shape their future and you need to be there to help guide them. You also need to make sure that you reinforce that you love them regardless of their faith or the decision they make about their faith.
Additionally, you must realize that teenagers don’t have the life experience that we have. They’re just now learning to live. They’re seeking FUN, FUN, FUN and may feel that Christianity, or any religious belief(s), will keep them from having fun. When I was in my teens, I wanted to play doctor with the girls and then I became a doctor. But not because of the girls. As a teenager, and into my early twenties, my primary goal was catching the cuties. Breathing and food was a distant second and third, respectively.
Also, adolescents want to have control over their life and may believe religion takes that from them. After all, if we have to follow a set of beliefs, then we can’t do what we want. We have to live spiritually rather than earthly and, as a teenager, or any age for that matter, who wants that? Certainly not teenagers. At our age, we have, hopefully, come to realize there is more to life than fun and control. Both are good, but only up to a certain point.
You must also recognize that if you’re judgmental and begin to lecture them, they will shut down and be hesitant about approaching you again with other questions. By talking to them, you may be surprised at how insightful your teenager actually is. You will most certainly find out that you do not have all the answers, which is okay. If you don’t know the answer, then please tell your teenager the truth, which is, “I don’t know the answer but let’s try to figure this out together.”
In terms of MAKING them go to Church, I would do so, but only until about age 15-16 years. At that point, I have to (big gasp) let go and let them make their decision about whether they want to go, or not. My thought is that if you have brought them up in a God-centered household, then the roots are there for them to eventually want to go on their own. Maybe not now, but somewhere down the road. Also, you do not want to alienate them into hating and resenting the Church. As for now, I’ll stick with my decision to allow them the choice at around age 15-16 years. Until that time, they will attend whether they want to or not. I know that many of you would disagree and that is okay. In fact, my wife, who previews the majority of these before they are posted, emphatically stated, “I can’t believe you wrote that our kids can make their own decision before they are 18 years old! They will ABSOLUTELY go to Church because they are not yet adults and still live under our house!”
At that time I used all of my professional knowledge and experience to say the only thing that could be said…”Yes dear.” This is certainly a topic you can discuss with your teenager, and wife, when you are talking about religion. I have now had that conversation with my wife, though not resolved completely, and will later be having with our two sons, I am sure.
Finally, I have many friends who are atheists. I, however, am not. I am a Christian. I have done a LOT of research, read books on biblical archeology, read the Bible, read books on evolution, etc. to reach my decision. My parents did not help guide me to my decision, though I wish they had. I wish they had allowed me to ask them questions and have them answer me honestly about their beliefs. I wish we could have had a real conversation about religion, but we did not. You, however, have that opportunity now…don’t let it pass you by. Talk to your teen and, equally, if not more important, LISTEN to them. THEY are searching for answers, not you. You need to know what they believe, what they don’t believe, and what they are seeking. Only then can you give them the advice and support so they can make an informed decision about what their faith and what they believe (notice I did not say an informed decision about what YOU believe).
Hope this helps because this is a tough one. Please feel free to comment and let us know how you have handled this situation for your family.
P.S. Husbands, talk to your wife, as well. It will save you from sleeping on the couch.
Until next month,
Click here to read previous articles on Tweens & Teens. Got a question for Dr. Jones, a child psychologist for Mercy Health? Send it to us (we won’t use your name) and we may feature it in an upcoming installment of Tweens & Teens.