Every kid who grew up in Sunday school will reach a point in life where they question the very existence of God. This is the point at which belief in God moves from the family column into the personal column. Your teenager questioning God is not a negative: questioning God is part of the natural faith journey every person needs to take. If you’ve presented God as a “must do,” be prepared for your teenager to ask why and test those boundaries.
Some kids will take longer during that spiritual quest than others. Some kids will ask more questions and involve you in a vigorous debate, or punch your religious buttons to see how you react. Other teens will be much more introspective and quiet about their transition from family faith to personal faith.
Your life is a spiritual board. As such, sometimes you’re going to be bounced against it. If you have raised your teen to have faith in God, allow your teen to let go of your faith, so he or she can grab hold of their own faith.
As you think about your teenagers faith, it can be helpful to reflect upon your own. What is your own relationship status with God? Do any of these 5 statuses resonate with you?
Status #1: Ambivalence
If you are ambivalent about God, maybe you think God probably does exist, he has more on his mind than you, so you are fine with his hands-off approach. As long as you are a relatively good person and don’t do something really bad, you figure you can fly under his spiritual radar. You’ll leave him along, and he’ll leave you alone.
Status #2: Absence
Maybe you haven’t been to church in years. Your God experience growing up wasn’t very pleasant, and the idea of your teenager becoming religious makes you slightly nauseous. You haven’t really thought of God in years and prefer it that way. A part of you, even if it’s a very small part, is terrified God might turn out to really exist, and if he does, you are in big trouble. So it’s easier if everyone around you just stayed away from religion.
Status #3: Active Faith
If you are someone with faith, remember the road you took to come to that faith. Allow your teenager to walk their own road, trusting God to show the way. Your job is not to walk behind and push your teen forward. Your job is to back off, trust God, and pray diligently.
Status #4: No Faith
If you are someone who really doesn’t have a personal faith yourself, do not shut down your teenager just because of your decision. Your teenager is not you. You may find living apart from God an acceptable way to live, but faith in God may be the very piece missing from your teenager’s life. Just because you cannot find where that piece fits in your own life, do not try to withhold it from your teen’s life.
Status #5: Painful Past
If you are someone who has had a difficult, painful experience with religion, I can only say how sad that truly is. Too many people I work with in my counseling practice have been harmed by religion. It is important to recognize, however, that it is the action of other people through religion that caused the damage. God does not damage people. God heals other people’s damage.
If you have presented God and faith as a “must not do,” be prepared for your teenager to ask why and test those boundaries. That’s what teenagers do; they test boundaries. They also decide for themselves who they want to be, what they believe, and the roads to take to get to their spiritual destinations.
Teenagers have a way of knocking down the very doors parents lock for their “own good.” Teenagers want to answer for themselves if something is good or not. As a parent, it is your responsibility to share your own experiences, in an age-appropriate way, with your teen. But, don’t forbid your teen’s yearning for spiritual understanding. Perhaps the way back to your own spiritual wholeness will come through sharing your teen’s quest.
Has faith or religion adversely affected you or a family member? The harm felt can last a lifetime. It doesn’t have to. Treatment to work through spiritual issues can help free you and return you to balance and happiness.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered Whole Person Care in the 1980’s and is a world-renowned expert on eating disorders, depression, anxiety, technology addiction, and abuse. He is a leading voice and innovator in Mental Health utilizing a variety of therapies including nutrition, sleep therapy, spiritual counseling, and advanced DBT techniques. Dr. Jantz is a best-selling author of 39 books and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN.