Most days, young children bombard their parents with a series of rapid-fire questions. From the situational (“Why do I have to go to bed at 7:30?”), to the theoretical (“Do you think I could fly off the roof if I made a set of wings?”), to the theological (“Why didn’t God protect me from falling off my bike?”), most parents spend their days offering up answers, advice, and wisdom to satisfy the natural curiosity of their kids.
Once the teen years hit, however, young adults start searching for new sources of information. Parents are no longer seen as the fount of all wisdom. In fact, for many teens, parents are the last place they want to take their questions—especially when it comes to matters of faith. They often internalize or verbalize the words of Will Smith: “Take it from me; parents just don’t understand.” (Although most of them are too young to remember his singing days.)
As our teens search for answers, how can we foster home environments where they can bring their questions, doubts, and insecurities to us? How can we proactively create spaces for discussions and respond to their doubts and questions with a listening ear and prayerful heart?
Here are a few ways we can build homes that allow our children to wrestle with questions of faith.
Proactively: Create an Environment for Spiritual Discussion
If your children are still young, one of the best ways to prepare for spiritual discussions in the teen years is to build a regularly scheduled time of Bible reading in your home. Talk often about God as you go throughout your day. Memorize Bible verses together and discuss what they mean. Let the names of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and Ruth be as familiar to them as their friends in preschool. Pray before meals, for people you love, and for comfort when they fear the monsters under the bed. Beginning spiritual conversations in the early years builds a foundation for conversations to continue in the teen years.
Beginning spiritual conversations in the early years builds a foundation for conversations to continue in the teen years.
If your children are older, it’s not too late. You can start reading the Bible and learning from it together. If you feel unsure about how to study or what questions to ask, tell your teen your fears. Your honesty and humility may disarm their natural resistance. Search together for a Bible study. Ask friends or ministry leaders what studies they’ve used. It’s never too late to start spiritual discussions in your home. Be willing to search the Bible with them to seek answers to their spiritual questions. Let the Bible be the authority—allow it to speak within the walls of your home.
Reactively: Argue Less, Question More
When teens begin to pose their theological questions, it’s tempting to jump in with all the right answers—which can lead to arguing and debating all sorts of topics that might not be the real issue. Doubting teens (and adults) usually have deeper struggles behind their stated concerns or theological nitpicking.
Asking questions can help you understand your teen rather than just answer your teen. If your child is doubting the inerrancy of the Bible, questions like “When did you first start having doubts about the Bible?” and “Is there something the Bible teaches that is bothering you and making you unsure about God’s goodness?” can provide needed insight.
Asking questions can help you understand your teen rather than just answer your teen.
If they’re doubting God exists, probe into their concerns: “If God doesn’t exist, what do you think is the purpose of life?” Seek to know and understand your child in the midst of doubts. Asking questions communicates your willingness to listen, as well as respect for them as an individual. It helps keep the conversation going and promotes further discussion.
Proactively: Help Them Question Before They Question
During family devotions, my husband and I regularly ask our kids the questions we know they’ll probably hear one day: “How would you answer someone who reads this passage and says there’s no way Jesus could have walked on water; it was probably just a sandbar?” or “What would you say to someone who says it’s not fair for God to judge someone who’s never heard about Jesus?”
Questions help teens read the Bible with increased thoughtfulness. While studying the book of John, I asked our kids, “If you want people to believe a lie, would you give a lot of specific details or just tell a general story of what happened?” After concluding that the best way to lie is to give as few details as possible (trust me, there was a point to this exercise!), I told them to be on the lookout for the multitude of specific details John offered his readers. He mentions names of people and where they lived. He tells the specific places that miracles happened. If John was telling a big lie about Jesus, why would he include so many specific details? Well, John was either a really bad liar or perhaps he was telling the truth—as unbelievable as it may have been.
Asking teens questions is one of the best ways to engage their minds and encourage learning. Questioning them before they question you can proactively answer some of their doubts, as well as let them know your home is an inviting place for questions.
Reactively: Don’t Fear (or Freak Out!) When They Question
If our children start questioning biblical teaching, we often jump to offer quick answers—because we are fearful. We mistakenly view our teen’s acceptance of Christianity as evidence of our parenting. If our children have faith, then we’ve parented them correctly. If our children don’t believe, then we’ve failed. We also may fear because we assume their questions are the first step toward inevitable apostasy.
To answer these fears, we must continually remind ourselves that everyone is saved by grace and by grace alone. Period. No caveats. If our children come to faith, it’s because God chose them before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and rescued them from the dominion of darkness (Col. 1:13). God adopts our children through the work of Christ, not the work of our parenting. And they persevere in the faith not because we keep them, but because he does.
Believing children persevere not because we keep them, but because he does.
Yes, Christian parents are often a means by which God works, but it’s always his plan, his power, and his grace alone that saves our children.
So when your teens start to wrestle with their faith, don’t freak out. Don’t get angry. Don’t be insecure. Don’t fret. Don’t be condescending. Take your concerns to God and entrust your fears to him. Be patient and prayerful, loving and kind. Help your teen find answers to their questions, but know that only the Spirit can give discernment (1 Cor. 2:14). Let them know that just because they have questions they can’t answer (or perhaps you can’t answer) doesn’t mean there aren’t answers. Involve the community of the church—seek advice from pastors or ministry leaders. Find relevant books to help them in their thinking and processing.
Building an inviting home for questions of faith takes time, energy, availability, and prayer. Our children need our presence just as much in the teen years as they do the little years. In the rush of sporting events, dance recitals, and homework, it takes effort to create an environment for discussing questions.
My greatest desire is that my children will always seek the Lord. I hope they walk with God, obey his commands, and find abundant life in Jesus. However, I also want them to know I’ll listen to their doubts, care about their concerns, and love them all their days.