Teenagers, Religion and A New Year

Some days, having teenagers makes me miss the terrible twos. On the other hand, there are things that are very endearing about teens. They wake up, metaphorically speaking. They find and define themselves.

With teens, you have to lay the groundwork early. They don’t like preaching on any topic, religious or otherwise. When they get to a certain age, you stop telling them what to think and how to think. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. They don’t want to listen, and if they are listening, they’re probably going to take the opposite path you’ve suggested.

Of my two kids, I was concerned the younger one would turn to religion and never have an awakening. He seemed to be more of a follower than a leader, afraid of standing out or being separated from the crowd. I didn’t push. I didn’t criticize him for his curiosity about religion: I knew that pushing him could turn him into a hard-core Christian.

I just hoped that my kid wouldn’t grow up to be one of those types of believers, one of those who credited god for saving him from some sort of terrible accident or for giving him hepatitis to save him from a plane crash. That sort of ridiculous logic is self-serving and irrational. God made you sick so that he can save you. It’s the sort of microscopic thinking that focuses on the self rather than on the self’s place among other, equally important selves. Yes, Virginia, there are other people in the world. Some of those folks are asking why your god betrayed them; why he allowed their spouses, girlfriends, children, parents or siblings to be on a plane that went down.

There are other believers, ones that I know, who don’t think god saves. He is a fair god. A rational god. He is out there, just watching. He does not receive blame; he does not receive credit. That sort of god makes more sense. If, at any point in my kids’ lives they are going to believe, I hope they believe like that.

Many times over the past few years, the younger son has pretended to be a Christian so as not to offend or be different from his friends. Like most teens, fitting in was more important than being true to himself or acknowledging his doubts. I figured it was best to let him decide what to believe or not believe, and what to share with his friends.

Yet I was relieved to hear yesterday that, when confronted with a bit of evangelizing about god’s greatness and how He saved a man from near-death, my kid offered his two cents to the conversation: “Yeah. God is so perfect that he tried to create a world without sin and couldn’t.”

This is a big step for him: he’s looked at the god myth and decided that it doesn’t make sense. Rather than swim in the nonsense of someone else’s beliefs, he vocalized his thoughts.

This is the most we can hope for our kids as they grow and mature: that they don’t simply repeat what we say or what their friends say but that they learn to listen, think and question and come to their own conclusions. Our children’s nonbelief—or belief, if that happens to be the choice they make–will be much more solid if they arrived there on their own two feet.

Another year has passed already. Seems like I was just wishing you a happy 2014. I am glad we all made it full circle to this point again, to another New Year’s Eve. I hope all of you have a healthy and happy 2015, filled with large and small wins on the parenting front.

Hugs and cheers,



31 responses to “Teenagers, Religion and A New Year

  1. I, too, pretended to believe for many years, just to get along and fit in. It simply wasn’t important enough to me to make waves. It still isn’t … as long as no one tries to force their belief on me.

    Happy New Year, Deb!

  2. Good for him, and good for you!

  3. I pretended, too, and still do in certain situations. (My Catholic in-laws would be devastated if they knew my husband and I are non-believers. And I would never hear the end of it. So I guess you could call it selfishness on my part because I don’t want to put up with their crap.) I was absolutely astounded when I saw the news this morning that one of the people who missed the AirAsia plane said that god gave her father hepatitis to save her family from the crash. That is just moronic. (Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m just not feeling it this morning.) At any rate, I wish you, Debbie, and all of your readers, a very happy and healthy new year!

    • Thanks so much, Kathy! I wouldn’t say that it’s selfishness because you don’t want to put up with their crap; I’d say you are just sparing their feelings. They’d probably be worried for your “soul.” I’ve heard so many of those, “god is good because he spared me” stories. Yeah. Funny how he’s good for you but not for the rest of the victims.

  4. Kids at any and every age are great, made even more so when they become independent thinkers. That takes a bit of parenting. Well done and I sincerely wish you a happy (and challenging, of course) New Year.

  5. I’m glad he voiced his thoughts, too. And I’m glad you write these wonderful posts. Gives me hope. Happy New Year to you and all.

  6. One of my grandsons admitted to me around age 14 that he’s an atheist. At the time he was in his 8th year of private Catholic education. He went to the masses as demanded by his school and did was else was expected of a practicing Catholic while in the company of Catholic teachers and priests, but still clung to his admitted atheist belief. He’s graduating this year from a public high school that he transferred to after his 10th grade year. So Debbie, it does happen … even in one’s teens. Happy New Year to you and yours too.

  7. Merry Crissmiss and Happy New Year! Thanks for being there…

  8. Thank you for calling out the “g-d gave me hepatitis to save me from a plane crash” meme … what about the other poor schmucks on the plane whom g-d chose not to save? Where they all, like, horrible sinners or something? 😉

  9. Great blog post once again and as always full of valuable insights and commentary! Happy 2015 … And with regard to teens, what an interesting and conflicting dynamic for parents who are ‘believers’, to on one hand attempt to instill a moral compass that includes the promotion of being responsible for one’s own actions, but at the same time also promoting the type of thinking Debbie notes in the piece, that a bad accident such as driving off the road, hitting a tree, and killing a passenger in the car is the work of a deity watching over them! An apparently unrelated incident being linked to a cause/effect based on no logic whatsoever. That is so damaging to the thinking process; far beyond anything else I can imagine. Please keep up the thought-provoking and always civil discourse of your posts throughout 2015, Debbie, and have a safe and enjoyable year as well! Rob P

    • Hi Rob–I guess some believers aren’t really teaching kids to be responsible for their actions if, ultimately, what they tell their children is that all things and all actions are god’s plan, god’s will or god’s gift. Their kids are just conduits for god. Thanks for the comment and Happy New Year to you, too!

  10. This makes good common sense. A peaceful, rational new year.

  11. We have two almost teens (my princess turns 12 in a couple of weeks) and they have drifted away from religiousness in a similar fashion as believing in Santa. Zero drama.
    I cannot even begin to grasp what the separation from the peeps of “The Good Book” consitutes as in here it is not far from not being a member of a particular sporting club.

    I wish you all the best – may 2015 be the best year ever. We peeps are the only ones capable of making it such.

  12. Very nice and hopeful – perfect for a new year. 🙂

  13. Response to blog writer – Raising kids without religion

    In many ways I agree with your overall concept. Religion is man-made, and thus, it is undeniably corrupt. Men and Women are the leaders of Religion and all men and women have the ability to make bad choices and to be driven by selfish motives.

    But I am left hanging by your position. Raising children is so important – I believe the single most important work any parent has been granted. How can it be focused on something that is not? How can it be focused on something that is without?

    I admire your courage and your drive to stand against the damaging effects of religion. Those that are focused on religion steal a person’s right to choice. But how are those who are focused on religion different from those who are focused on lack thereof?

    Can we raise our children from a position that is positive? In what feels like a God-forsaken world at times, can we not instil hope in our children to believe in someTHING? Start from a point of belief and be teachable and humble and malleable in hopes for a better world for our children and their children.

    I think we know when something is true. We don’t have to prove it or push it on someone. I listen to my children and they know, like only the innocent can, that this world was made by someone so big they don’t understand it and they are ok with that. Everyday they try to figure it out, but they never will. And that’s ok. Can we not just wonder with them? Can we not just stay open and listen to what that spirit inside of us is saying?

    I have endured heartache. I have lost children. But I am so thankful that I have stayed open and positive and for the children that I have left in my care on this planet, I pray that I always will.

  14. Dear Debbie,
    I trust it is okay to post a comment from this post in reference to a post I made on my blog. I posted the url address by the comment “Of my two kids, I was concerned the younger one would turn to religion and never have an awakening. He seemed to be more of a follower than a leader, afraid of standing out or being separated from the crowd. I didn’t push. I didn’t criticize him for his curiosity about religion: I knew that pushing him could turn him into a hard-core Christian.” So anyone could reference the full context of the statement, if you wish I will remove it. I found your site as I was doing research to post a blog on just the opposite as your post.

    I looked over several of the comments and it seems very few Christians have posted a response, I suppose many don’t read it. It seems by your comments your view of Christians are very low, I wondered why that is? I read about abuses by Christians parents in some of the comments, but it was as if you had to be a Christian to be abusive. I would make an appeal to those who read your blog and are unbelievers to grant some mercy to us as we are people too. We care about our Children and want to best for them in life. We do want them to be moral, but more than that we want them to know and experience faith and the God of the Bible. That is why we teach them Christians values and Scripture. But we know ultimately they will either believe or choose not to believe.

  15. Popping in to say “Hi!” to you and the crew. I know you’ve been busy, Deb. Hope things are going great (for everyone).

  16. “This is a big step for him: he’s looked at the god myth and decided that it doesn’t make sense. Rather than swim in the nonsense of someone else’s beliefs, he vocalized his thoughts.”

    No, he didn’t. He vocalized YOUR thoughts that you taught him!

    “Free thinking” parents make me laugh. You want the exact same thing that religious parents want. You want your kids to grow up believing the same things that you do, the same things that you taught them.

    The only difference is that religious parents are honest with themselves and others about it. “Free thinking” parents can’t acknowledge to themselves that wanting their child to continue to believe religion is a myth, as they taught them, is not actually allowing them to be free thinkers.

    I’ve yet to meet a “free thinking” parent who was ok with their child growing up to be religious. If you really wanted your child to be a free thinker, you’d be ok no matter their freely thought themselves into as an adult.

    That’s what free thinking SHOULD be. Instead, today’s free thinking only means that believing religion is false, not actually being free to think otherwise.

    • Well, Beep, you make a tremendous amount of assumptions. I think that most parents who read and write here are okay with their children choosing religion. We leave that up to them. In fact, my younger child DID believe in God until recently, and I was okay with that, too.

      I won’t address *why* you make so many ass-umptions. After all, you’re clearly angry and indoctrinated. Perhaps you have children who consider themselves part of the growing segment called the Nones. All I can do is shake my head. You’re just so typical of those folks who think their belief system is the one and only way that they lash out at everyone who’s not like them–or they write manifestos–or they take their guns into prayer meetings.

      See I’m okay with you believing in whatever fairies and goblins you’d like. Live and let live. I am NOT okay when people like you consult your fairies to make rules for our society. I am NOT okay with you bringing your myths and your narcissistic viewpoints into the classroom to influence our kids. I am not okay with you deciding who others should love. That sort of stuff.

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