Despite what it may feel like for parents and other caring adults—“I’ve done something wrong!” “Clearly his faith isn’t strong enough!” “She’s just going to walk away from her faith!”—when a teen or pre-teen starts asking real questions about faith, God, Christianity, and other belief systems, it’s nothing to panic about. In fact, it’s not only normal, but a very healthy and developmentally appropriate part of spiritual growth.
If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid of doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger.
If your teen is struggling with questions or doubts, he/she is joining a great cloud of witnesses who’ve been on the same journey. From John the Baptist, “Doubting Thomas,” Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis, and Mother Teresa, Christianity is filled with individuals who intellectually and spiritually struggled to believe, but through their authentic struggle, they came to a place of deep trust and reliance upon God. As Kallistos Ware shares, “Doubt can very often coexist with faith. The fact that a person has doubts doesn’t mean they have no faith; it may mean that their faith is alive, that it is struggling, that it is growing.”
Resources for your teen to explore
The process and fruits of doubt can be truly life-changing if we give our teens the tools and resources they need to test their beliefs. If you’re not sure where to point them to, we’ve compiled a list of great resources to get them started. And remember, as they’re working through this stage in their faith, make sure to ask questions and discover truth with your teen. Doubt can feel like an isolating place to be in, especially if social circles, family, or school are all centered on Christianity. So don’t be afraid to enter into these tough conversations with your kid as they learn who they are and what they believe.Read:
- Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists, Sean McDowell.
- The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel.
- Tactics by Gregory Koukl. A game plan for helping Christians learn how to think critically about their faith and discuss big ideas.
- Holman’s Quicksource Guide to Apologetics by Doug Powell. A good primer for answering questions listed here, as well as many more.
- The Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity by Alex McFarland. An introductory book written for teenagers to answer some of the basic questions about God, Christianity, and Jesus.
- Apologetics Study Bible for Students. A study Bible by Dr. Sean McDowell with tons of great articles addressing nearly every critical issue teenagers face today, written with skeptical teens in mind.
- Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi shares how he developed a passion for Islam before discovering, almost against his will, evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God.
- Help My Unbelief: Why doubt is not the enemy of faith, by Barnabas Piper. This book discusses how embracing doubts and questions can help us to get to know God.
Each of these podcasts tackles some of the toughest questions in Christianity. If your teen isn’t much of a reader, these are great resources to start with. Encourage your teen to listen to a few episodes while working out, hanging out in their rooms, doing their morning routines, going for walks, etc.
We hope these resources spark great conversation, purposeful curiosity, and a deeper connection between God and your teen. Do you have any other helpful suggestions? We’d love to hear them, let us know in the comments!
How to Tackle Doubt with Your Teen
Many people look to the generations that came before us as beacons of light in faith and spirituality. The early- to mid-1900s now act as an illustration of the “good ol’ days” of Christianity, when everyone went to church, said their prayers, and practically lived the life many of us feel like we’ve lost as a nation.
Today, we’re in the thick of gender fluidity, social and political unrest, the normalization of pornography, and more. And for many of us, these new norms are scary. We watch our kids go out into a world that praises self-trust instead of trust in God; a world that encourages exploration of faiths, beliefs, and says that the only love we really need is self-love; a world that does not regard Christianity as the one true religion, but rather one path of many to reach an unknown post-mortem destination.
Some of us wonder: Where have we gone wrong?
Doubt in today’s culture
Maybe we haven’t “gone wrong.” Maybe this is exactly where we need to be.
What if those good ol’ days weren’t as wonderful as we remember them to be? What if a large number of people did go to church, but more as a social habit than an expression of true faith and conviction in Christ? There’s never been a time our world has been free from sin, and the year 2021 is no more sin-ridden than the year 1921.
We might argue that though it seems as if more people are walking away from the faith today, in previous generations, these might have been the same ones who kept going out of a sense of mere social obligation. Now, those who stay are often those with a genuine desire to know the Lord. If your teen is no longer surrounded exclusively by Christian influences (like, for example, social media influencers preaching the power of manifestation) but still chooses to believe in God’s power instead of their own, that shows far more conviction, strength, and desire to have faith than those who never had the opportunity to choose.
If your teen is working through doubts, be there for them, but don’t try to short-circuit the process. If they have questions, encourage them to ask. Pushing aside doubt as “just a phase,” or “just a season” is a mistake many Christians make with those who are questioning. Sometimes it will be a phase, and sometimes it won’t; either way, our willingness to listen and sit in the tension when our teens express doubt may play a big part in how things end up.
Instead of wishing we were back in the prime of Christianity, what if we looked forward in hope and anticipation for the new generation of Christians we’re raising up today? Each new generation brings about a new set of questions, issues to address, and changes to make, all of which have the potential to bring new life to the Church. Our teens are the future of the Church, making it a future marked with creative thinkers and stronger believers tested in fires we never felt as teens.
If your teen is pondering some questions that you don’t know how to answer, sit down and research with them. If they wonder whether or not this whole God thing is real, ask them to tell you what’s going through their head and how they feel about that. Yes, our kids are being exposed to more online than we ever experienced, including a diverse culture that isn’t always in favor of Christianity. But the Lord is ever-present, and our kids have the chance to truly choose faith in the face of opposition now more than ever, giving way to stronger, deeper, more impactful faith. After all, do you want your teen to pursue faith because they’re supposed to, or because they’ve tested it and found that it’s true for them?
Exploring difficult questions with your teen
One of the easiest ways to break trust with your kid is to make them feel invalidated, wrong, or even silly for asking questions. But one of the best ways to build trust is by actively pursuing those questions with them as a team. Be an explorer with your kid and live in the wonder and curiosity these conversations can bring. Find answers together; and when answers don’t come, be open to admitting that we don’t know it all.
We need to dive into these sticky places so our kids know they have a safe space to discuss without getting shut down. Our teens’ questions and doubts will always be met with a voice, so let that be yours, not culture’s.
If your teen has brought their doubt to you and you don’t know how to start a conversation with them, here are some questions you can ask:
- You said you’ve had some doubts, can you tell me more about that?
- Does doubt scare you? Why or why not?
- What specific questions do you have about the Bible, God, or Christianity as a whole? Can we explore those things together?
- How can I make you feel respected in this?
- How can I help you to explore doubt?
Be on the lookout for two new resources on doubt coming soon: A Parent’s Guide to Doubt, and our Doubt Conversation Kit. Get it all with Axis Membership!