It’s terribly hard to be a Christian parent these days. For many parents, even with their best efforts to raise their kids with Christian principals and faith, some polls say that the number of young adults who have grown up in Christian homes who have lost or walked away from their faith is as high as 50%!

We all know these kids….kids who were raised in a home where Christ has been at the forefront, but then somewhere along the way, they lose their interest in Christianity and sometimes even run in the other direction, and typically this begins in high school, although many parents do not see the falling away until the young person goes off to college or moves out and has the freedom to live in line with what they feel is important…and many times it is not as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

As a Christian psychotherapist, you can imagine that I see these scenarios in my office all the time….parents who bring their kids in to see me because they are concerned that their son or daughter is not interested in going to church or hanging out with other Christian kids…they really don’t seem to care about living out of their faith.

Now a lot of people think this is because the young person never really came to a saving faith in Christ. And at times this is true. But often these kids are saved, but they are not interested in walking as a disciple.

So why is this? And what can parents do help their kids develop a faith that is vibrant and real? Why do kids walk away from their faith?

There are several reasons for this. I have two young adult kids and I asked them this question and I thought their answers were right on:

  1. My daughter said that she has had friends who had real questions about Christianity and their faith, and yet, because they did not feel there was anyone they could bring these doubts and concerns to, they became disillusioned and discouraged. Kids need logical and believable answers and explanations for their hard questions, and so often parents get scared when their kids have doubts and so they discourage these types of conversations. The parent-older child relationship needs to be one in which there is honesty and openness and the young person needs to believe that he or she will not be ridiculed or shut down if they ask questions they really need answered.

    If you as a parent are not comfortable with hard questions asked, you either need to learn to get comfortable with them or make sure your kids have strong mentors they do feel safe with who will give them the time they need in their struggle and confusion.

    Kids can have doubts which are theological, intellectual, academic or practical. We as parents need to make sure that we welcome questions about our kids’ faith and if we don’t know the answer that we will explore the answer together!

  2. Another reason kids lose their faith is that they can’t find the meaning or the joy or peace that Christianity claims to bring. It’s very challenging when others around you seem to be filled with this supernatural power or joy, and you feel like you are just not getting it….it can be extremely discouraging. This I see in kids AND adults….it’s so important to talk to people who seem to have a vibrant faith and ask them how they have gotten to that point. Kids need to know that there are people in their lives that have this kind of faith and that they can talk to parents and others about how to grow their faith when it seems like God might not be there.
  3. Many times young people start to lose interest in their faith because other things just seem to be more important….either they get instantaneous gratification from the other things or they just have more fun or interest in other areas, and then those other things push out faith and elements of growing in Christ and our priorities shift…sometimes this happens quickly, but more often it starts to happen over time.

    For ex:…your son is in baseball, and Sunday mornings are when the games are. When we as parents forego church for sports or other activities, it shows our kids that making church that top priority just isn’t that important.

    Or even schoolwork….these days there is so much pressure on kids to perform and succeed, they don’t feel they can give up a Wednesday night for youth group or a weekend for a church camp retreat….this really is a societal issue but we as parents need to keep our priorities right….that if we want our kids to value their faith and walk in the Lord, that we need to make those opportunities for growth THE priority in the family.

  4. The #1 reason though as to why kids walk away from their faith that I have observed in my practice is that these kids have never personally owned their faith. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are not Christians…they have just put lots of other things in place of their walk. 10 years ago we started a Christian discipleship middle school for this very reason. We would see too many kids living double lives in high school…being compliant and outwardly Christian-like, but actually doing many things under the radar that were anything but Christian. See, we parents cannot police our kids 24 hours a day…and really our job as parents is to work ourselves out of a job, so that our kids parent themselves and if they have fully integrated their faith and internalized it as their own, then we can trust that our kids are not going to go off the deep end when they are not in our sight.

    Kids need to not just play the part of being a Christian…sure they can go to church, youth group, speak Christian-eze, even lead a Bible study, but if these same kids have not made their belief system REAL to them and tested it out, it will not last…it will wither because it has not become their own. Our kids cannot ride on our Christian coat tails….they need to know WHAT they believe and WHY they believe it. It has to make sense to them.

    Many kids today are not faced with significant challenges when they are young…in fact we live in a bubble wrap society, where we as parents tend to protect our kids from ANY pain or discomfort. When we do this, we are doing our kids a disservice! Kids NEED to be challenged in their life, so they can see if God and His ways hold up to the pressure. We need to allow our kids to struggle….they need to wrestle with hard things in life and with their belief system!

    In the book of Habakkuk…it’s a good example of this. Basically the name Habakkuk means “the wrestling one”. Habakkuk struggled with why heathens were treating the jews so badly. He wrestled with God over why the wicked seem to prosper and the righteous suffer. Probably like many of us. But through his struggle he realized that God IS just and loving, even though he couldn’t understand all His ways. In the end He trusts God, but only after wrestling and working through his questions. This is a necessary process for all of us to strengthen and make real our faith! We can’t as parents be afraid of our kids and their struggles with God.

So what can we as parents do to help our kids have an unshakable faith?

  1. I think the most important thing we as parents can do is have a real relationship with our kids….one in which they know that we have their back, we love them, and we are for them. Our kids need to know that we want to KNOW them…that we know and believe that their concerns, questions and struggles are valid and we want to dialogue with them about those issues. In my counseling office, what I work with parents so often on is building and maintaining a healthy and honest relationship with each of their kids. And each young person needs something different from each parent…so doing the work to build this kind of relationship is the most important thing a parent can do to ensure that their son or daughter is going to go through the ups and downs of their life and faith and that there will be a soft place to land.

    So when our kids come to us with the tough questions, we need to show them that Christianity offers a world view that answers all the questions we all have about suffering, sexuality, science etc. We need to remember that we have nothing to fear when it comes to our kids’ tough questions…

  2. We also need to learn to be vulnerable with our kids. My daughter, who is 18, and I sometimes butt heads…but when I have not listened as I should have, or made some other mistake, I do my best to be quick to own it and she also owns where she has gone wrong. It allows us to reconnect quickly and get our relationship back on track. My husband and I have made it a point to ensure that our relationships with our kids are super strong through all of their growing up years. We want them to know that they can come to us with anything and even when we might disagree on something, we will hear them out and they will give us the same respect. We are so grateful for the deep relationships the Lord has allowed us to cultivate with our kids.

    We also need to be vulnerable with our kids regarding our own faith. That at times we also doubt and have difficulty with some aspects of what the Bible says…but we help our kids to see that even though we might struggle, that God has proven Himself over and over and that we can trust Him no matter what. Allow your kids to wrestle with aspects of their faith…but not in despair and loneliness…as parents, give your kids direction and hope!

    It is imperative to come alongside your child and build that relationship in all areas….you need to be that safe person emotionally for them. You also need to KNOW your kid…who are they? How do they learn? What do they need to build their faith? I have one kid who really needs the philosophical and intellectual answers, and another kid who just kind of accepts what the Bible says and has that deep trust.

    But what else specifically can parents do to build good relationships with their kids?

    Spend time with your kids….you need to maintain an open dialogue relationship. Sometimes those drives in the car to and from school can be rich times for hearing what’s going on with your child. Or sometimes, just plopping down on their bed and just hanging out with them….sometimes great conversations happen when you are just available!

    Dads: do things that your son or daughter wants to do…get into THEIR world for a change….don’t just have them go on errands with you or join YOU on YOUR outings.

    Moms: Take your daughter out for a special shopping trip…a new dress or shoes….so many girls eat this up. Or do a fun “spa” day….take her to get a manicure and pedicure, or take her out to lunch…just the 2 of you! And have it be a no phone zone!!

    Parents need to be consistent models of living out their faith in a real and tangible and attainable way! Parents with a vibrant and lived out faith (which is observable and discussed) leads to developing young adults who have the same kind of faith!

    One research study said that in the last 20 years, significantly less numbers of parents are taking seriously their role in the spiritual formation of their kids!

    Proverbs 22:6 says : Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
    This is not for the pastor, or the youth worker, this is a directive for each parent.

    Don’t turn your child’s spiritual upbringing over to the church. Take this role very seriously and make it your number one priority. But remember: the more “regular” and real and human a parent is, the more effective he or she will be in the training up of the child!

  3. Make sure your kids have a solid friend group of other kids taking their faith seriously and living it out. Sometimes this can be very difficult to find. But as parents it is our job to find an environment for our kids, and this starts early, where they are surrounded by like minded kids and families who you can do life with. When kids feel that their values and belief system are supported by others in their life, it really helps to solidify their faith in the Lord. Having Christian peers and young mentors who are actively living out their faith is essential to keep kids on the right track as they get older.

The bottom line is that unless we as parents are modeling a personal dynamic relationship with the Lord, and unless our kids internalize that this type of faith is possible, then what they believe will feel ritualistic, empty and be just religion. Instead, even though they might not have all the answers, to KNOW that the God of the Universe is good and loves them and desires relationship with them, and to experience that relationship in a real and tangible way, then we can trust that our kids’ faith will stand the test of time!

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