A recent story in The Atlantic suggested "children who are raised to have strong beliefs are also more likely to rebel against those views as they age." A study has shown that not only do indoctrinated children talk more about politics and thus engage other opinions more often, they also seem more willing to reject rigid beliefs and declare independence from parents, especially in college years. The focus of the article is on political beliefs, but what are the implications of this for raising kids in faith? How do we strike a balance that will foster genuine, lasting belief?
Christian Smith, conducting research on teens and faith for Soul Searching, found that even into young adulthood, parents have the most influence on the spirituality of their children. While peers may seem influential in the sphere of teens, when it comes to faith, parents count more.
The Atlantic article focused on extreme parenting that micromanages from an early age, determined to push kids into confronting others with the strong political beliefs of the parents. Since other studies have shown that this type of over-parenting can be as harmful as neglectful or under-parenting, it is not surprising that kids tend to rebel against it.
Many Christian parents are passionate about their convictions and want to pass them along to their children. But how do you do this without creating rebellion? This is not a new question. Moses, for instance, was very focused on how we pass faith along to the next generation. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
So how do we keep this from becoming overbearing? A few suggestions:
Live your beliefs
The model in Deuteronomy begins with you. Your children’s beliefs will echo the depth of your own faith. If you love God with all your head, heart and hands, your kids will desire that faith.
Allow for conversation
Conversations are dialogues, not monologues, so that belief is being processed, not forced. In the Atlantic study, parents who disallowed discussion raised kids who mimicked but had not internalized the parents’ values, making it easy to rebel against those beliefs when they grew older. Let kids wrestle with tough questions as their faith becomes their own. Don’t be afraid of doubt, as exploration is often a path to richer, deeper faith.
Talk about faith
Faith conversations should be a natural part of everyday activity. If we don’t normalize faith discussions, the world gets to set expectations and values for our kids instead of us. Help your children to see God active and working in all different aspects of life. Invite them to be active in His kingdom.
Engage your kids in spiritual practice
Waking, walking, sitting and lying down are all times to point your kids to God. It can be light or subtle, but it never stops. Pray, read, listen, talk, serve, wonder, sing. As kids engage with Scripture and prayer they will develop their own relationship that is separate from their parents.
Share your own learning
We are all on a path of growing in our faith. Be transparent and let your kids hear how God is working in your life. If we pretend we have our act together, we will only show that we are phony. Allowing our brokenness to show gives Christ the spotlight instead of us.
Christian Smith says, “We get what we are.” If our faith is simply rules to follow without loving conversation, it will never be compelling to our kids.