Parents frequently approach me about what resource they might pass along to their young adult child who is struggling with doubts about their faith. Reasons to Believe offers an array of resources for those who are searching for solid answers to their questions. However, by the time a person’s childhood faith is at this level of crisis, it can be much harder to salvage.
As I probe deeper into the events leading to a crisis of faith, a cluster of symptoms usually emerges. It’s not uncommon for parents to report that their child’s inquisitiveness began at a young age. Precocious questions such as, “Where is heaven?” and “Who made God?” were often met with unintentional devaluing of the questions themselves (“I don’t know where she comes up with that stuff”) and (implied or overt) exhortations to blind faith. Kids can sense the extent to which it’s acceptable for them to delve into the “why” and “how” questions of their faith. This intuition inadvertently sets teens up for later difficulty.
Rather than waiting for a crisis to surface and then reacting, I recommend a more proactive approach. This involves two specific actions.
1. Parental preparation. Parents pose the first line of defense in a child’s inquiry into their faith. Outside resources such as a youth pastor or teacher can offer support, but parents set the tone for what kinds of inquiries are acceptable. When parents take the time to adequately equip themselves to address complex questions, they will have the resources in place to naturally respond to their children’s inquiries.
If you are not yet ready for this level of engagement with your child, it’s never too soon to gear up for the task. Reasons to Believe offers multiple resources, including online classes, to prepare parents to engage students in science-faith conversations at the deepest level.
2. Active inquiry. Parents should also consider raising controversial questions that their child hasn’t even thought of yet. This effort is especially important for those children who are not as inquisitive as others. Just as parents initiate conversations with their children about sex, drugs, and the importance of choosing friends carefully, so also they ought to initiate discussions about challenges to the Christian faith.
The goal is to transition students, slowly but deliberately, from blind faith to logical inquiry. The teenage years present the ideal time to capitalize on students’ natural desire to build their own identities. Adults in a student’s life can prompt the student to consider common objections raised by nonbelievers. This exercise then provides a means by which students can safely explore the deeper aspects of their own beliefs and grow from simple conceptions of faith to internalized ownership.
Teens inclined to ask the tougher, deeper questions are particularly vulnerable to struggling with doubts later in life, especially when their inquiries are not respectfully addressed. Conversations that explore a teen’s questions and even raise new ones send a positive message that questions are okay and that answers are available and can be researched together. Time spent this way can reap huge rewards later.