I’ll say it again: Dan Savage is the only advice columnist worth reading.
This advice columnist, who works in the town next to mine, should have just skipped over this question or passed it along to someone more qualified.
Here’s the letter sent to “licensed clinical professional counselor” Doreen A. Zaborac:
Dear Counselor: I have a 15-year-old son who has always been a great kid. He obeys the rules, gets good grades, and never causes any problems. Lately, he has been more defiant and rejecting all the good values we have taught him. Worst of all, he is declaring himself to be an atheist and is telling everyone, including his 8-year-old brother, that he no longer believes in God.
My husband and I have raised our two children in the protestant church and have always tried to model Christian behavior in our home. We are devastated by our son’s determination to walk away from his faith. The more we try to argue our point or convince him he is making a horrible mistake, the more he talks about his disbelief. We are also concerned about how his younger brother looks up to him and may follow his lead. What should we do? – Concerned Parents
Here’s the answer she could have given:
Dear Concerned parents,
Your son sounds like he’s doing just fine.
Being defiant isn’t that atypical for a teenage boy. You’re making it into a much larger issue than it needs to be.
You’re also vague about what “values” he’s rejecting, but they can’t be too bad since, according to you, his becoming an atheist is the “worst” of the problems.
He’s telling your other son about his atheism? Good for him! For most teenagers, coming out to anyone about being an atheist is a difficult thing to do. It’s impressive that he’s taking those steps.
This is much different than, say, your teenager actively trying to turn your other son against you and using arguments against faith to do it. All he’s doing is telling your other son he’s not religious.
I understand you’re devastated he won’t grow up in the Christian faith, but he’s old enough to think about religion critically.
And unlike the idiotic copywriter who wrote the headline to this column, your son is not “trying on” an identity. This isn’t a phase. He’s not going back to church. He’s not making a “horrible mistake.”
Once you go Bright, you’ve seen the light.
Arguing with him is the wrong move. It’ll just push him further away from you.
Instead, listen to him. Find out why he’s now an atheist. You might learn something in the process. If your Christianity-talking-points are coming from your pastor, you may want to try a different source. Those arguments rarely hold up and your teenager will most likely have a counter-argument for everything.
If your eight-year-old has given any thought to the matter, he probably has rebuttals as well.
Your only concern should be whether he’s still the boy you raised him to be (minus the religion). Is he still respectful of others? Is he still maintaining his grades? Believe it or not, many Christian “values” are shared by atheists, too.
You can expect *some* backlash from him as he grows into his newfound atheism. He’s going to be upset/angry with you and his (former) church for some time still… that should pass.
He just needs time to work through his new understanding of the world and rejigger what he’s been taught in the past.
In the meantime, the last thing you want to do is have another Christian “talk” to him.
As for your younger son, you should be so lucky if he’s intelligent enough to ask honest questions about the faith in which you’re raising him.
Hopefully, you’ll be prepared with some solid responses.
That’s what Zaborac could have written.
Let’s see what the expert said instead:
… As teens begin to separate from mom and dad, they often adopt different opinions and beliefs than their parents. They “try on” different looks and identities and want to be seen as unique individuals. Even kids who have conformed to please parents begin asserting themselves and often rebel against parental control.
… You also may want to set a limit with your teen in terms of sharing his atheism with his younger brother.
The teen years are a time of experimentation that can include risky behaviors and erratic thinking. It is always ideal to discuss all of the potential outcomes of your teen’s decisions with him…
What the hell…
Atheism is not synonymous with risky behavior. If this kid is acting erratically, something else is the issue.
This counselor knows next to nothing about atheism. And I would hope a “professional” might limit her answers to areas she knows a little bit about.
Of course, I am just picking out the parts Zaborac’s response which stuck out to me. To her credit, she does promote the idea of honest and open communication, and she urges the parents to not lecture their son. But essentially, she advises them on how to deal with a rebellious teenager, not a teenager who’s finally thinking rationally and has chosen to walk away from his faith.