I walked into the kitchen and saw my 14-year-old daughter, Amelia, looking as if she had something serious on her mind.
“What’s up?” I asked.
She made eye contact, shrugged then looked away. “Do you ever wonder about what the Bible says? I know God’s real. It’s the other stuff I struggle with. Like will I really go to heaven? Maybe we all just die, and it ends.”
This question came from my girl who in her elementary-school years was so passionate about her faith that she’d laid out a classmate’s eternal destination to him in no uncertain terms. Now seven years later, she was struggling with doubts.
As parents we have the opportunity to help our teens work through their reservations. Handling doubt well encourages the transition from a lackluster “I’m a Christian because my parents are Christians” belief into a deeply rooted faith our teens can hold as their own.
When Amelia admitted her concerns, my impulse was to convince her that she shouldn’t feel that way. That would have been the worst thing for her. Teens have deep questions about their faith. They bury or hide most of them for fear of being a bad Christian or of not wanting to disappoint their parents. So if your teen vocalizes doubt, don’t panic. Instead, expect it.
It’s crucial to maintain outward composure even with sirens screeching within. Consider the strong bond of trust your teen has offered you by sharing her innermost fears. That means instead of saying, “How could you say that?” say, “That’s an interesting question. How long have you been thinking about this? Did something specific happen that got you thinking this way?” These questions demonstrate genuine interest, will keep the dialogue going and will help you know what’s really going on and how to help.
Help your teen process information
Alicia grew up in a Christian home. She believed everything she learned at church — until her sophomore year, when she wondered whether the Bible was true. When she confessed her concerns to her parents, she walked away disappointed. Her dad had tried to offer help, but her mom said that she just had to believe.
Fortunately, though her parents acknowledged their inability to meet Alicia’s need for more intellectual “proof,” they found a program at a nearby Christian university, which addressed the historical facts of Scripture as well as credibility issues. Once Alicia understood more about the Bible, her faith grew stronger.
Doubts spring from different sources, so pay attention to your teens. Given their disposition, what would likely cause their distrust? For some, like Alicia, it may be a need for intellectual proof. Other teens express more relational or emotional concerns connected to good, evil and suffering. While you can’t always address every doubt directly, you can provide direction to beneficial resources. Read an apologetics book with your teen or view videos, such as those in the “TrueU” series or “That the World May Know” series. Do an internet search on “Christian Apologetics for Teens.” Make sure, of course, you’re looking at a biblically solid source.
Apologetics resources provide all kinds of answers, but for some teens a good story builds faith. Think about your teen years. Did you have a solid faith? Did you struggle? Who or what helped you? Share specific instances in your life when you experienced God’s presence or had an answered prayer.
Connect your teen with believers
Years ago, I mentored my senior pastor’s daughter. One day her mom thanked me for spending time with her daughter. She said, “My husband and I know we can’t be everything to her and are so grateful she feels comfortable sharing with you.” The influence of a respected adult who demonstrates faith builds a teen’s faith and buffers doubt.
Never underestimate your influence on your teen, but at the same time, realize a mentor supports your teen’s spiritual development in a different manner than parents. And since teens fear disappointing parents, they may open up to a mentor and share what would be difficult to tell you. Look for mentors among church friends, neighbors and relatives who have similar interests as your child.
After pursuing Amelia’s doubt, I discovered that her struggle centered more on feelings of unworthiness than doubts about the Bible’s authenticity. That’s not an issue we can fix with a quick answer. Her demonstration of trust to share her doubts allowed us to continue conversations, helped me know better how to pray for her and how to build truth into her life. Our teens’ doubts can be scary, but with acceptance firmly in place, resources, prayer, mentors and patience, that doubt can help them move into a firmly established faith.