Parenting, Relationships

Why Your Teen’s Doubts Shouldn’t Scare You

“Every young person is on a journey toward identity, belonging, and purpose,” says Dr. Kara Powell, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. “And this journey is more complicated now than it was a generation or two ago. As your children move along this journey, it’s important to remember that doubt is not toxic to their faith—silence is toxic to their faith.”

In early October, about 50 parents got together at Blackhawk to kick off a series of parenting workshops. We watched a video interview with Dr. Kara Powell, where she talked about how to make your home a safe place for your children to ask tough questions about their faith.

Why do we need to focus on doubt?

As a faculty member at Fuller Seminary, Powell has conducted a lot of research into faith development and faith transmission among high school and college students. “Doubt plays an important role in faith development for many students,” she says. “Nearly three-quarters of college freshmen surveyed said they have doubts about their faith. When students are in an environment where they feel safe to express and explore their doubts, there is a greater correlation with faith maturity.”

“The home and the church should be the first places young people go to talk about their doubts and to ask their tough questions,” she said.

How can we make our homes safe places for questions? Powell suggests you start by asking yourself these questions:

Am I paying attention to my child’s emotional needs? How connected am I to their heart?

  • Some kids wear their hearts on their sleeve, while others tend to hide their feelings. Ask yourself questions like: Do I know what they enjoy? Do I recognize what makes them sad, embarrasses them, or creates anxiety in them?  There’s no judgment! It’s okay if you can’t answer some of these questions. How you answer will give you a good starting place.

Am I a safe place for my child to come with his or her faith questions and doubts?

  • It can be scary for a parent when their child expresses doubt in God. We desperately desire that our kids have a relationship with God. So when our child expresses doubts in God, or asks questions that make us uncomfortable, it’s easy for us to get defensive or shut down the conversation. How we respond to our child in these difficult conversations will determine whether they keep coming to us.

How can I increase our relational trust and transparency?

  • As we create a safe space for kids to express their thoughts and beliefs, we build trust with them. Listening intently, responding calmly, and moving toward our kids in times of conflict will increase the trust between us and our child. Think about the last time you and your child had a difficult conversation. What was your reaction? What did you say? Brainstorm how you could respond differently next time in a trust-building way.
  • Kids aren’t the only ones who have doubts and questions. We do too! What are some of the questions or doubts you have as an adult? When appropriate, share one or two of these with your child. Your child needs to know that doubt is a part of the journey, and God is big enough to handle our uncertainties.

Are my children connected inter-generationally? Who are their positive adult influences? Do these adults know they play a significant role in my child’s life?

  • Powell talks about the importance of the 5:1 ratio. “Each of your children needs to have five identifiable adults in their lives who are actively pouring into them—adults who are on their team,” Powell said. “Create this team for your children. Identify the adults who are influential in your child’s life. Then, let those adults know that your child has identified them as influential. Ask them to stay invested in your child.” While this could seem like an overwhelming task, it’s best to start small. Make a goal to identify one adult and have a conversation with them in the next 3 months.

Set a time to sit down with your spouse or another important caregiver in your child’s life to talk through these questions.  For more ideas on how to put these concepts into action, check out Kara’s books, Sticky Faith and the Sticky Faith Guide for your family.

About the Author: Steve Rodgers
Steve Rodgers, director of marriage and parenting at Blackhawk Church. After spending most of his career in journalism, Steve started his “second career” at Blackhawk in 2014. Steve and his wife Anne (both Madisonians) started attending Blackhawk in 1980 because they were looking for a small church. They’ve been married 40 years. They have 4 children, 8 grandchildren, and 2 dogs.