As they mature, many youths choose to adopt the religion of their parents. (2 Timothy 3:14) Some, however, do not. What can you do if your growing child starts to question your faith? This article will discuss how Jehovah’s Witnesses handle such a challenge.
“I don’t want to follow my parents’ religion anymore. I just feel like giving up.”—Cora, 18. *
YOU are convinced that your religion teaches the truth about God. You believe that the Bible promotes the best way of life. It is only natural, then, that you try to instill your values in your child. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) But what if, as he grows, your child loses interest in spiritual things? * What if he begins questioning the very faith that he seemed to accept eagerly as a child?—Galatians 5:7.
If that is happening, do not conclude that you have failed as a Christian parent. Other factors may be involved, as we will see. However, know this: How you handle your adolescent’s questioning may well determine whether he will choose to draw closer to your faith or pull farther away from it. If you declare war with your adolescent over this issue, you are in for a strenuous battle—a battle that you are almost certain to lose.—Colossians 3:21.
It is far better to heed the admonition of the apostle Paul. “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight,” he wrote, “but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained.” (2 Timothy 2:24) How can you show yourself “qualified to teach” if your adolescent questions your faith?
First, try to discern what factors might be contributing to your adolescent’s view. For example:
Does he feel lonely and friendless in the Christian congregation? “Because I wanted friends, I got close to several schoolmates, and it hindered my spiritual growth for years. I lost interest in spiritual things for the most part because of bad association, and now I have many regrets.”—Lenore, 19.
Does he lack self-confidence, making it difficult for him to speak up about his faith? “When I was in school, I was hesitant to share my beliefs with my classmates. I was afraid that they would view me as weird or as a ‘Bible boy.’ Any kids who were different were rejected, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.”—Ramón, 23.
Does he feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of living up to Christian standards? “I feel as if the Bible’s promise of everlasting life were at the top of a big stairway, and I am not even on the steps; I am far, far away from them. The fear of getting on the stairway has been so big that I have considered giving up my faith.”—Renee, 16.
Talk It Out
What underlying issue might your adolescent be facing? The best way to find out is to ask him! Be careful, though, not to let the discussion deteriorate into an argument. Instead, follow the admonition of James 1:19: “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” Be patient with him. Employ “all long-suffering and art of teaching,” just as you would with someone outside the family.—2 Timothy 4:2.
For example, if your adolescent balks at attending Christian meetings, try to find out if something else is bothering him. But do so with patience. Little good is accomplished by the parent in the following scenario.
Son: I just don’t like going to meetings anymore.
Father: [hostile tone] What do you mean you don’t like going?
Son: I find them boring, that’s all!
Father: Is that how you feel about God? You find him boring? Well, that’s just too bad! As long as you live under our roof, you’re going with us—whether you like it or not!
God requires that parents teach their children about him and that children obey their parents. (Ephesians 6:1) However, you want your child to do more than blindly follow your spiritual routine and reluctantly go with you to Christian meetings. If at all possible, you would like his mind and heart to come along too.
You have a better chance of accomplishing that if you discern any underlying issues that might be contributing to his attitude. With that in mind, consider how the above conversation could have been handled more effectively.
Son: I just don’t like going to meetings anymore.
Father: [calmly] Why do you feel that way?
Son: I find them boring, that’s all!
Father: Sitting for an hour or two can be boring. What do you find most challenging about it?
Son: I don’t know. I guess I just feel like I’d rather be somewhere else.
Father: Is that how your friends feel?
Son: Well, that’s just it! I don’t have any—at least not anymore. Ever since my best friend moved away, I feel like there’s no one to talk to! Everyone else is having a good time. I feel so left out!
By drawing out the adolescent, the father in the above scenario not only gets to the underlying issue—in this case, loneliness—but also builds trust, thus keeping the door open for further discussions.—See the accompanying box “Be Patient!”
In time, many young ones learn that if they confront the issue that is impeding their spiritual growth, they will usually feel better about themselves and their faith. Consider Ramón, the young man quoted earlier who cringed at the thought of identifying himself as a Christian at school. Eventually, Ramón found that speaking up about his faith was not as traumatic as he imagined it would be—even when it resulted in ridicule. He relates:
“On one occasion a boy at school was poking fun at me because of my religion. I got really nervous, and I sensed that the whole class was listening. Then I decided to turn the discussion around and ask him about his faith. To my surprise, he was even more nervous than I was! Then I realized that many young people have religious beliefs, but they don’t understand them. At least I can explain my beliefs. Really, when it comes to talking about faith, my classmates should be the ones who feel awkward—not me!”
TRY THIS: Draw out your adolescent by asking him how he feels about being a Christian. In his own view, what are the benefits? What are the costs? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? If so, how? (Mark 10:29, 30) Your adolescent could write down his thoughts on paper using two columns—the left-hand one for the costs and the right-hand one for the benefits. Seeing his assessment on paper may help your adolescent to identify his problem and work out a solution.
Your Adolescent’s “Power of Reason”
Parents and experts have observed that there is a marked difference between the way young children think and the way adolescents think. (1 Corinthians 13:11) While young children typically think in concrete, black-and-white terms, adolescents tend to reason on things more abstractly. For example, a young child can be taught that God created all things. (Genesis 1:1) However, an adolescent might wrestle with such questions as: ‘How do I know that there is a God? Why would a God of love permit evil? How can it be true that God has always existed?’—Psalm 90:2.
You might feel that such questioning represents a step backward in your adolescent’s faith. In reality, it may well represent a step forward. After all, questioning can be an important aspect of a Christian’s spiritual growth.—Acts 17:2, 3.
Furthermore, your adolescent is learning to use his “power of reason.” (Romans 12:1, 2) As a result, he is able to appreciate “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the Christian faith in a way that he simply could not as a child. (Ephesians 3:18) More than ever, now is the time to help your adolescent reason on his beliefs so that he can develop firm convictions regarding his faith.—Proverbs 14:15; Acts 17:11.
TRY THIS: Go back to the basics with your adolescent, revisiting subjects that you—and he—might have taken for granted. For example, have him think about such questions as: ‘What convinces me that there is a God? What evidence do I observe that shows that God cares about me? Why do I feel that it is always in my best interests to obey God’s laws?’ Be careful not to force your views on your adolescent. Instead, help him develop his own convictions. That way he will find it easier to build confidence in his faith.
“Persuaded to Believe”
The Bible speaks of the young man Timothy who “from infancy” knew the holy writings. Yet, the apostle Paul urged Timothy: “Continue in the things you learned and were persuaded to believe.” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15) Like Timothy, your adolescent may have been educated in Bible standards from birth. Now, though, you need to persuade him so that he develops his own convictions.
The book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, Volume 1, states: “As long as your adolescent lives under your roof, you have the right to require compliance with a spiritual routine. In the end, however, your goal is to instill love for God in your teen’s heart—not simply to elicit some mechanical action.” By keeping that goal in mind, you can help your adolescent become “solid in the faith” so that it becomes his way of life—not just yours. *—1 Peter 5:9.
^ par. 4 Names in this article have been changed.
^ par. 5 For simplicity, we refer to the adolescent as a male in this article. However, the principles discussed apply to both genders.
^ par. 40 For more information, see The Watchtower of May 1, 2009, pages 10-12, and Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work, Volume 1, pages 315-318.
ASK YOURSELF . . .
How do I react when my child questions my beliefs?
How could I use the material in this article to improve the way that I react?