My 15-year old son begins his complaining about going to church on Saturday night and doesn’t quit even after we’ve forced him to go on Sunday morning. He’s always loved church and he has plenty of friends. I asked him to pray about it and he told me matter-of-factly that he doesn’t even know if he believes God answers prayer. Where is this coming from? And what can I do? –Worried
You are not alone! This is definitely a subject that has worried many a parent over the years. Your sweet, church-loving child hits a certain age 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 important that you handle it right.
I had the chance to interview and survey several thousand teens and pre-teens during the research for my book, For Parents Only. And I heard them talk about what it feels like at this age to suddenly realize that they are their own person and need to have their own beliefs, tastes and goals – but they don’t know what those are yet! It’s a scary feeling!
Picture your teen or pre-teen as if he was 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 him. But suddenly, he needs to figure out who he is – which means he has to pull out each building block to figure out if he wants it in his building. What looks like rejection (“I don’t think God really answers prayer”) may not actually be a statement of firm belief, but 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?”)
Based on the teens told me, I would suggest two things at this point. First, no matter what your son says, don’t (in their words) “freak out.” If you want your son to stay open and keep voicing his questions with you (rather than avoiding you), stay calm. Then affirm what you believe, but be very clear that you appreciate that he has to decide this for himself. (“Bobby, 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.”)
Thankfully, it was clear on the survey that along with a desire for independence, the teens had a deep desire to embrace the strongly held values and heritage of their family. And if a parent will let them go through the questioning process, they are far more likely to come back to those beliefs in the end.