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Oct 15

8 ways parents can build faith in their teenagers

parents

It’s sadly an all too common conversation I have with parents. The pain is evident in their faces as they explain to me how their teenage child has given up on faith, handed back their Bible and refused to come to church in favour of the Sunday lie-in. Every time I hear these stories, I feel painfully sorry for the family. The frustration of the teenager, the disappointment of the parent, the inevitable questioning of where they went wrong or how things could have been different. But could things have been different?

 

Last year I became dad to a teenager. Yes, my children are all growing older and the eldest finally turned 13. I did the responsible thing on the night before and showed her on YouTube what was about to happen. Take a look at this clip from Harry Enfield if you are not aware of ‘Kevin’ becoming a teenager. It certainly was a source for great amusement in our house and is a useful reference point as hormones fluctuate at times.

Having been a youth minister for many years I feel in a very privileged position when it comes to parenting. I have had the privilege to see many examples of truly excellent Christian parenting. I have also, understandably, seen some terrible examples. Here are some tips that I have picked up which I think can help build faith in our teenage children.

1. Share your story

Make sure you tell your children how you came to faith, why you made that decision and what God has been doing in your life since. Share the struggles and doubts as well as the highs and heavenly encounters. Try to make talking about experiences of God as normal in your home as talking about events of the day. You would be surprised how many children don’t know why or how their parents came to faith.

2. Teach spiritual routines

When our kids were young I used to read my Bible after they went to bed. A friend challenged me about this, stating that if I did this my children wouldn’t know how important I consider this daily time to be. I need to not just model spiritual routines, but I need to be seen modelling them as well. So I moved my daily time to during the day, where they can see me and where I can tell them what I am up to, when they ask. Likewise we need to teach about the importance of prayer, of listening to God, of giving biblically, and so on. Our youth leaders will do a great job in teaching these disciplines but if we don’t live them out, our children won’t either.

3. Model faith

It is a sobering reality that research suggests the default values our children inherit when they enter adulthood will be their parents’ values. The way they live out these values might be different but they will be the same core values. Woah! This means it is not enough to model regular church attendance if we then come home and lose our temper, or we don’t give sacrificially or we are as selfish as the non-Christians around us. Put simply, do our children see anything different between our Christian family and the families of their school friends?

4. Pray together

Seize every opportunity to pray together whether that’s ‘grace’ at mealtimes, for healing when someone is unwell or before a day of exams. Pray together. Show them how to pray and encourage them to join in. Invite them to pray for you. It is the most wonderful, humbling experience you can have.

5. Create opportunities

Don’t wait for the difficult conversations to happen. If you do, they won’t ever come. Instead create an environment where it is as natural as possible to have deeper conversations. Whether this is hanging out in their room for a bit, listening to whatever they’re listening to and just asking a few searching questions or as you play on the Xbox together. Make room to chat. I try to take my kids out one at a time for breakfast on a Saturday morning. They love it and I get the chance to find out how they’re doing and what’s a big deal in their life at that moment. My hope is that these trips create an openness between us and as we discuss the small things, we create a safe place for the big things whenever they may come.

6. Serve together

How can you show God’s love to those around you as a family? If you’re musical, can you worship together? If you’re creative, can you make something together to give as an encouragement for someone? Can you serve at church as a family?

7. Share learning

Be interested in what they are learning at church and at their youth group. Find out what their programme is and love their youth leaders as much as you can. Share with your children what you are learning, whether that’s what the sermon was about or what God has been teaching you over the last few days. Model a life of learning, discovery and awe and not a life of having it all wrapped up and a diminishing God.

8. Create a support structure

Finally, be proactive in gathering people around your children who you love and trust to invest in them. I know there will be some experiences in my children’s lives that they may not want to discuss with me. I need to know that they have good, safe people they can go to. I am so grateful to our youth minister who meets up with my daughter from time to time. I am also immensely grateful to a couple of young adults who I have consciously encouraged to mentor her. It is wonderful to see how she loves each of these people and looks forward to spending time with each. I thank God for each one of them!

 

Parenting was never sold as being easy. There is no handbook. If there was, we would never become parents! But we must take primary responsibility for the faith development in our children and not naively hope that others or the Church will do this for us.

 

What other tips do you have for Christian parents? What helped you grow in faith? Please leave a comment or question below.