Has My Teen Lost His Faith?

Has My Teen Lost His Faith? February 10, 2014

Sad young man

Dear Shaunti,

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

Dear 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 hisbuilding.  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.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.

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  • Thin-ice

    Please don’t worry. The absolute best thing you can hope for is that, if he has faith, it is his OWN faith, and not a second-hand faith from his parents.

    I was a missionary in Europe, and an evangelical for 46 years. Our family attended church 3 times a week, wherever in the world we happened to be. When my two sons were about 14 and 17, I took them aside and said this: “If you are Christian” (and they had accepted Jesus and been baptised) “then you should be Christians because you have examined and weighed the evidence, NOT just because your mother and me are Christians.”

    Well, to make a long story short, they both eventually decided they couldn’t believe it any more, saying much the same as your son said to you. Whenever they asked honest questions about some difficult stories in the OT during youth group, they were branded as “having an attitude”. And three years later, I gave up my faith, and unknown to me, my wife as well. None of us believe in Christianity any more, and our two sons are just the best human beings anyone could be. I think the best thing any parent could want for their children is for them to turn out to be honest, caring, kind, generous, and loving, first and foremost. Whether or not they believe in your spiritual paradigm is not very important. And of course, it helps a lot to not believe in Hell and that a “loving” God will send anyone there for eternity who simply doesn’t believe something correctly.

    It’s not the end of the world. It could be the opening up of a whole new world! And of course, if your God answers prayers (Jesus said whatever you pray in his name and with faith will happen, even moving mountains!), your son WILL end up believing the same as you.

  • Jeff

    Church on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning? Forcing him (Worried’s choice of word) to go? Sounds to me like you’re just pushing too hard. I mean, you’re making him give up a significant portion of his weekend in the name of forcing him to participate in *your* hobby. Of *course* he’s going to hate it. I hated it when my mom made me go. Church is boring. God could spice it up in any number of exciting ways, and it’s suspicious that he doesn’t.

    Actually, a lot of what god does is suspicious. Or “mysterious,” as believers like to call it. God works in mysterious ways and all that. God answers prayers so mysteriously that it’s unclear if he actually did anything at all. God is so mysterious that his non-existence becomes a reasonable assumption, and believing that he does exist is a total leap of faith.

    Cast your suspicion on god. He’s the one who’s dropping the ball here.

  • hkameya

    I think your son is going through a very common phase.
    I’m halfway through Michael Dowd’s “Thank God for Evolution” book, and it presents concepts that unifies religion and science.
    I also just read Bishop John Spong’s “Reclaiming the Bible for a non-religious world”. Bishop Spong attempts to present a more realistic understanding of the Bible that your son would appreciate.
    I think a discussion with your son on 1) the importance of having some belief in a higher power in life, and 2) the general topic of “what items in the Bible do you have difficulty believing”, might take you and your son on an exciting journey together.

  • Good reply Shaunti. Wow! Hard for me to step into the shoes of a parent who wants to control their child so much that they even want to control their thoughts. That’s not parenting, it’s brainwashing. A teenager has no faith in anything until they can have their own doubts and questions about it. A parent who won’t support their child’s doubts and questions and their child’s journey of inquiry and exploration is a parent who doesn’t want their child to grow into an adult maturity.

  • Thin-ice

    Precisely! Couldn’t have said it better myself . . .

  • Ryan Hite

    Have you perhaps tried to tell your child to see religion in a new way? They may not stay in your church, but I am sure that there is some form of belief system that they want to hold on to. Religion serves as a powerful extension for spiritual life. I think that your child is seeing it in the wrong way. I encourage you to expose your child to different beliefs and to see what they want to believe in. They will believe in something if they choose to, but they will not stay in as long as you are forcing your child to stay in a particular belief system. http://www.amazon.com/Virtues-Vices-Ryan-Hite-ebook/dp/B00IFRF9RY/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1392344503&sr=1-2&keywords=virtues+and+vices

  • Zeke

    This intelligent boy has simply developed the courage to act according to rational thinking and shake off the superstitions of his parents. He realizes that, quite correctly, that had he been born to non-Christian parents, they would be telling him that Allah or some other invisible deity answers prayers, using the exact same evidence to support such nonsense. The letter writer should consider the same.

  • Mo86

    Why would you tell a 15-year-old to pray about their not wanting to go to church?

    Why not instead ask him why he no longer wants to go? Why not ask him if he’s having problems with people there? Why not ask him if he’s got some difficult questions about Christianity that he hasn’t had addressed and then look for resources that can help him?