Tips for opening the conversation, and possible reasons your teen may be struggling with his/her faith -- it may not be what you think!
When our faith means everything to us, the possibility that a teen may be rejecting that can bring a range of overwhelming emotions. It's natural to feel afraid, hurt, disappointed, or even angry. When change leads to uncertainty, God can help us overcome our initial reactions making it possible to truly "be there" for a struggling teen.
Tips for Talking with a Teen
Who is Struggling with Their Faith
Before attempting a discussion
Are you hurt, afraid, angry? Pray for help calming intense feelings.
Does your teen know you care about them, not just their behavior?
Consider the possibility that you don't have all the information. Unanswered questions, peer pressure, bullying at church, and/or a traumatic event at church may be at the root of the issue.
Opening the conversation
Try starting with an open-ended, non-threatening question. For example, "What is your greatest concern right now with church?"
Set aside your desire for a quick fix. This may feel counter-intuitive, but if a teen thinks you only care about desired changes, they may feel unheard, hurt, or manipulated.
Truly "being there"
Allowing your teen to do most of the talking. Repeat back your understanding of things, ask if you've got it right, then listen again.
Stay calm - even if what they share frightens you or brings other negative feelings. Your reactions show if you can handle honesty. Pray for help, if needed!
With all the will power that is within you, resist the urge to fast-track the conversation to solutions. Don't tell them why they've "got it wrong," or how they've misunderstood something -- validate, empathize, and express love.
Finding answers together
Once you're on the same page, the door may naturally open for addressing issues together. Things to keep in mind:
What are your teen's ideas for next steps and solutions? What are the pros and cons? Avoid immediately providing all the answers for them.
Before sharing ideas, ask "I have some thoughts, would you like to hear them?" If your teen angrily/defeatedly replies,"No!" it may be a sign they're overwhelmed. Express your love and try repeating the former approach at another time.
If your teen is open to hearing ideas -- don't hijack the conversation. Don't worry if mistakes are made; the goal is to keep the communication open.
Reasons a Teen May Be
Struggling with Their Faith
Theological doubts and questions
Questions are good! They are opportunities to increase personal understanding and learn what God wants to teach us. Tips for finding answers to questions together:
Encourage your teen to "Ask in faith believing they will receive" (James 1:5-6).
Let your teen know God has given them the ability to reason. Encourage them to diligently study the word of God with their questions in mind, as you do the same.
Agree to regularly share with each other what you learn. Do so in normal and natural ways so that your teen doesn't get overwhelmed.
As they seek for more answers, encourage your teen to continue living according to the religious teachings they cherish.
Encourage an eternal perspective when pondering questions.
Remember that conversion is personal and is a process that can't be forced.
Is your teen in uncomfortable situations where their beliefs are ridiculed or challenged? Let them know this is a common problem, even amongst adults. Once you understand the situation, here's some ideas for finding solutions together:
What choices/beliefs are being challenged? Is further exploration of these topics needed so your teen can answer questions or feel more confident?
Do your teen's friends know your teen isn't judging them for not having the same beliefs/standards? What are some ways to address this in a non-threatening way?
Is there a way for your teen to stand up for their beliefs without causing contention?
What firm but kind responses might be helpful? Check in to see if it helped.
Have an exit strategy in place for overwhelming situations. A "safe phrase" can communicate the need for a quick pickup with no questions asked.
If none of the above is working, your teen is repeatedly upset, and they don't want to get other adults involved, it may be time to talk about relationship changes. Can other relationships be developed so your teen has more choices socially?
Bullying at Church or Church Trauma
If your teen wants to talk about bullying or an incident of trauma, let them speak openly -- taking this personally doesn't help. Healing can occur once such things are addressed. Tips:
In the case of a criminal act (such as physical or sexual abuse), immediately report it to law enforcement. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself, "If my teen doesn't have my help, whose help do they have?"
Remember that people are imperfect - even church leaders. Don't discount your teen's feelings/experiences because it involves a "nice family" or a likable leader.
Create protection plans together; prepare them with phrases and exit strategies.
Comfort your teen. Let them know this is an opportunity to learn important skills.
Use your faith. Pray with your teen for help navigating the situation.
Discourage gossip about the bullying as this may only make the situation worse.
More than anything:
Trust that God has all the information and then seek for answers. He can help us know when it's appropriate to stand up, set boundaries, put distance between ourselves and those who repeatedly hurt us, or reach out in love.
If things escalate, be willing to step in.
When all is said and done
If your teen ends up rejecting their (and your) faith, it doesn't mean they are rejecting you or your family. Love them.