Friday, August 27, 2010

Faith and Teens

I remember there used to be public service commercials that asked, "It's 9 o'clock, do you know where your child is?"  I think in the age of technology knowing where your child is physically is less critical, and we are now faced with a new question.  Do you know where your child is spiritually?  A recent article from CNN.com "Author:  More Teens Becoming 'Fake' Christians," highlights the research of Kenda Creasy Dean.  Dean says:
more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem. 
Dean, author of the book, "Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church," places the blame squarely on parents and pastors.  Teens who claim the Christian faith are indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.  When faced with the argument that teens are not very articulate anyway, she counters that they can talk about money, sex and relationships, but when they are asked about their faith they cannot articulate much more than God wants them to feel good and do good.

Parents play a bigger role than they think in forming their child's faith.  Often parents feel it is inappropriate to 'force' religion on their children, and in that I would concur, but I think most of the erring in this situation comes from parents who have not articulated their own faith very well.  Dean says,
parents are the most important influence on their children's faith, [and] places the ultimate blame for teens' religious apathy on adults.
So what are the indicators that a child's faith is deeper than surface level?   Dean says committed teens share four basic traits:
  • They have a personal story about God they can share, 
  • a deep connection to a faith community, 
  • a sense of purpose and 
  • a sense of hope about their future.
These teens are more often found in Morman and Evangelical churches, as these groups have done a better job of "instilling religious passion."  I would view it more as giving them the why.  As a United Methodist pastor, I am happy my denomination teaches people to think about faith rather than telling them what to think about faith; however, we have possibly forgotten that children and youth need the foundation in faith before we can build the walls.

Giving our children and youth a deep faith with a solid foundation is critical if we really want to do what is best for our children.  It simply isn't enough that we tell them that God loves them and we should love our neighbor.  Life is rough and there are tough choices they will face.  Where is their shallow, watered-down faith then?  Jesus is the one that meets you in the valleys and shadows and gives you hope that there is light and you don't walk through the terrifying places alone.  

As much as I would like for the church to be able to provide what parents will not or cannot, I am faced with the reality that the parents are the stronger influence.  Do you demonstrate a deep faith that can see your child through the tough times?  How can the church help you parent effectively to deepen your child's faith?

2 comments:

Michael said...

Kenda Dean wrote a follow up to the CNN interview. It helps clarify some statements that were made by the author.
http://kendadean.com/307/cnn-response/

Rev. Sonja said...

Michael,

Thanks for the update. I read that post and am glad she clarified that point. I especially liked her remark regarding just because your teen is a Christian doesn't mean they are safe. After all we are following a guy who died on a cross. Blessings and thanks for reading.

Rev. Sonja