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November 12, 2014 / BTM

Help! My Teen Is Losing His Faith!

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I’m not sure if there is a more painful reality for a Christian parent to be confronted with than learning or observing that her child is losing, or has lost, his faith. Very few other challenges can raise as much anger, panic or emotional turmoil in us as this one can. If you find your self in this situation, here is a suggested course of action that you can take to address the changes you are seeing in your child.

1. First off, do not panic, become defensive, or try to strong am your child back to God. I have listened to the regrets of many parents who have tried to use a heavy-handed approach to getting their teens or young adults back to the church. It will never work. You will only alienate your child further and destroy more or the rest of your influence on him.

2. Pray for God’s enabling and for the Holy Spirit to empower you with all the fruits of the Spirit that you will need to accomplish what I am going to suggest. You will need a humble attitude and a lot of self-control to bridge the gulf between you and your child, so pray for these.

3. Switch into fact finding mode. Find some opportune time when no one is particularly pressed to get to an activity or other responsibility. Perhaps you could treat your child to a meal at his favorite restaurant. Turn off your cell phone. Then, as patiently and as humbly as you possibly can, ask simple questions to probe what your teen believes about God, the Bible, Christianity, etc. Invite your teen to be as honest as possible, and then do your best to be as humble and gracious as possible when he responds. Being in a public place will provide you with an automatic restraint if you feel your emotions are running high- you are less likely to lose it in front of the other patrons!

4. Resist the temptation to become defensive! What you are attempting to do here is to create for your teen a safe place to come to voice his challenges, thoughts and doubts. If you mess up this opportunity, it will be very hard to get another one. First and foremost, you want your child to open up. It is likely that your child has been losing his faith over a long period of time, and you may not have noticed or taken his doubts seriously in the past. Don’t lose your opportunity to do so now. As he talks, only ask what and why questions. For example:

  • What do you believe about God? The Bible? Christianity?
  • What do you not believe about God? The Bible? Christianity?
  • Why do you believe (for example) that God does not exist? That the Bible is inaccurate/irrelevant to today’s society/disproven by science? That Christianity is false?

It is as important to figure out WHAT your child believes as WHY he has come to those conclusions. He may not have answers to why he has come to those conclusions, take note of this as well. In fact, I’d suggest that you take notes of the conversation. If he feels defensive about this, explain that he is tremendously important to you and that you are trying to understand him. You don’t want to forget your conversation and you want to think about what he has said and not mistake his opinions and ideas.

5. Clarify your teen’s thoughts. As your teen talks, repeat back what you are hearing from time to time to ensure that you are understanding him correctly. Use questions like: “Am I understanding you correctly? Did you say that you feel what you have been learning in science class is incompatible with a Biblical account of creation?”

6. Identify any underlying issues that may be unspoken. As you listen, you may sense that your teen has some unspoken issues that he is not raising with you. These could be anything from hurts he experienced while growing up in the church, your own hypocritical behaviour during his childhood, struggles with specific behaviours, etc. If appropriate, ask him if there is anything of this nature that he is also struggling with.

7. End the conversation by thanking him for sharing. I hope that you will feel truly grateful for his honesty. You still must resist judging him or becoming defensive, particularly if some information comes out that is personally hurtful to you. Tell your teen that you want to be a safe place for him to come with his questions and doubts, and that you want to think about them for a while. Then, ask permission to discuss them again sometime, after you have thought about what he has said. Finally, reaffirm your love for your teen. Do your best to make sure he knows and feels loved and valued by you throughout this whole process.

8. Take responsibility for your contribution to your teen’s decline in faith. When you are on your own, review the notes you made during your conversation with your teen. Now is the time to release all of your emotions in prayer to God. Take responsibility for any ways in which you have contributed to your teen’s faith crisis, either through sinful behaviour, neglect of training him, etc. You may have to take a hard look at yourself, your own faith and your parenting approach. Make the changes necessary in your approach. If you need to ask forgiveness of your teen for some of your behaviour, do so.

9. Realize that your teen’s doubts are not the end of the world. Every teen has to question and doubt aspects of their faith sometime. This is the process of making it their own. A child who is living on a borrowed faith is not necessarily better off than another who is teetering off the edge of his. Both need to be helped into making their faith their own.

10. Train yourself. Start with the topics that most challenge your teen’s faith. Begin training yourself on these topics right away. I wouldn’t necessarily mention this to your teen, it may make him defensive. I’ve listed many resources in past posts that you could begin with. Check them out by topic on my categories bar or click here, here and here.

You could take the approach that a dad took in Colson and Pearcy’s book How Now Shall We Live? This father had a conversation similar to what I’ve described above with his daughter who was drifting from the faith because of doubts created in her mind through her high school science classes. The father ended the conversation by saying that he’d investigate her claims and if they proved to be right, then he’d give up his faith too. Now, that’s laying on the line. I loved the teen’s response; she didn’t want to destroy his faith on account of hers. The father responded: “But everything is at stake here, Katy. That’s what you’ve got to realize. Everything is at stake. Look, if Christianity is true, then its not about my belief or your mother’s belief. It’s the truth about reality, what is ultimately real. …” (p.50)

This is an important point. The truth about God’s existence, the accuracy of the Bible and Christianity are either true for everyone or true for no one. Let your investigation rest on that and God bless you as you begin your journey.

I am grateful to Brett Kunkle for solidifying some of these ideas for me. Hear some of Brett’s advice for handling tough questions for your teens, or creating a strategy for training your kids on this Google podcast. The video takes a few moments to start up, so please be patient!

Have a teen who doesn’t open up much? Learn what unspoken questions your teens may have in this post.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you!

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4 Comments

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  1. anton / Nov 12 2014 10:55 am

    Great article. Totally relevant to those families that have been able to provide a Christian environment for their children. I don’t have a teenager, but I work with many college and university students. I often hear and interact with many students who have had a variety of experience regarding the faith of their parents and making it their own, or dismissing it.
    I’m interested in what you have to say about (practically) about the transition to college and university for young adults.

    • BTM / Dec 3 2014 5:24 pm

      Thanks very much Anton. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and something I see others thinking about more seriously as well. The transition from high school to college/university depends a lot on what environment you are going from and what one you are going to. If you’ve been in a closed environment (like the person in my previous post entitled “What I wish I’d known before going to university”), you will definitely be in for a surprise. If you move away from home for the first time and have had no preparation for college/university, you also will be surprised. How much preparation and on what topics is so dependent on the kind of family you are and the kind of child you have. I think we all have to appreciate that the transition from child to adult and from a ‘borrowed’ faith to embracing faith for themselves is going to be rough and difficult. And yet, some kids sail through that too. I happened to leave home for university and that turned to to be the best thing for my faith, believe it or not. I personally like what Stand to Reason is trying to achieve through their ReThink Apologetics (http://rethinkapologetics.com/) and Julie Loos work with Ratio Christi trying to prepare parents and teens for college/university http://ratiochristi.org/collegeprep. I’m sure others are doing great work on this as well. If you have any comments on this, I’d love to hear them. Not sure if this is answering your question or not? If not, can you further clarify?

  2. Joe Bigliogo / Sep 7 2016 11:34 pm

    One thing to be cautious of… if you ask your teen to justify his disbelief, you are necessarily shifting the burden of proof. “what do you believe or not believe about “X” and why?, etc.”, You could ask the same questions for each and every religion you wish to defend… Please understand, it’s the one who makes the positive claim who has the burden of proof, not the skeptic who disbelieves it. The more astute teen will realize this and point it out to you one way or another.
    Skeptics will tell you they require compelling reasons to believe things… and they don’t need a reason NOT to believe them. Throwing apologetics at them will accomplish little and may well backfire on you and solidify their skeptical/atheist position. They may well will throw some counter-apologetics right back at you and there is plenty of it around the net. Don’t underestimate young people’s intelligence or their resourcefulness. A good percentage atheist teens have already heard and considered the arguments for Christianity but the simple fact is they find the atheist arguments the more compelling. My advice is to respect them and their skepticism. You pretty much have to if you want their respect in return. Also, don’t tell them that in order to be Christian they must reject Darwinian evolution and embrace young earth creationism. Fundamentalist literalism is one of the chief reasons why so many young people are rejecting the Christian faith.

    • BTM / Oct 1 2016 4:02 pm

      Thanks for your reply. I’m certainly not advocating disrespect, but I am looking for reasons why someone who may have once believed in Christianity does not any longer. In this case, they are advocating a positive case (and hold the burden of proof: Mom, I don’t believe in God any more). I say that is a positive statement – a statement of disbelief – and it should be based on something just like belief in something should be based on something. I think all beliefs about an important truth should be based on something or they are not very valuable. All I’m interested in is: What is it based on? Not to jump down their throat, but to better understand them. If it never gets discussed, that’s ignoring it, rather than respecting it. If you knew me personally, you’d know I don’t pick fights over these kinds of things and am not aggressive. I’m merely looking for a conversation. As you say, kids are smart and I think they can handle the questions.

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