Faith Loss Through a Teens Eyes

Today we’re back with Amy who was with her family talking about depression last week.

Amy is a brave young woman for talking with us about many different issues. She serves as our insider speaking from a kid’s or adolescent’s perspective into so many of their issues. Amy, it’s great to have you back with us. Thank you so much. I have a question. Why are you willing to do this?

I Want to Help Others Understand and Grow

That is kind of a tough question for me. I think I’ve always been the type of person to want to help people before myself. After we did the first show, I realized that doing the show and helping other people really helped me grow and begin to overcome these things. It was really beneficial and powerful to speak openly and share with others.

Excellent. We’re hoping that this will help parents. We’re also hoping that we might have some parents who have their kids tune in with them so you could help those kids feel like they’re not alone in some of this as well. It’s great to have you.

A 14 Year Old’s Perspective on Faith Loss

Today we are talking about the loss of faith. There are different studies; some say 60%, 70%, 80% and even as high as 90% of the kids growing up in Christian homes are leaving the faith. I’ve had the privilege of working with about 3000 kids, talking about this topic with them in small groups and one on one interviews. I have a whole bunch of data in the back of my head related to that, but it’s always good to get a current 14 year old’s perspective directly as so many parents worry about this with their kids.

As you think about faith loss, what are some of the things you think about? Why are people your age thinking of not sticking with the faith?

Strict Parenting

One of the main reasons I’ve seen with a lot of my friends is that they have really strict parents who are often forcing religion on their kids instead of engaging with them. Parents should try to explain their faith, the meaning of everything as well as how powerful faith can be.

Student Hypocrisy

Also within the church I found you did in your research, there’s a lot of hypocrisy within the kids in middle school and high school. I’ve even seen it in some of the volunteer leaders. I think it’s hard for somebody who wants to have a really strong faith to see so much opposition to what they’re supposed to believe in the youth group.

Okay. You mentioned two different things, parents and hypocrisy .

So let’s dig into student hypocrisy first.

It’s funny, as I started doing the research sessions, I’d have groups of 25 to 60 kids in the room and I’d be asking these questions. The first couple of times they brought up hypocrisy as an issue, I kind of dismissed it because hypocrisy often is just an excuse. We’re all hypocrites at some level, so why even dig into it?

When it kept coming up, one day I did dig into it. It was fascinating because the second I said, why is hypocrisy such a big issue? They went silent and I figured they’d go, Oh my parents, or the adults in the church. So I asked the group if it was the adults. And they still stayed silent. And I finally said, are you talking about hypocrisy in the youth group? About 60 kids went, Oh yeah!

That kicked off this fascinating conversation. So Amy why don’t you enlighten us about the hypocrisy going on in your youth group?

It’s Bad (the Dual Life)

I think no matter what youth group or how strict or lenient it is, there’s going to be a lot of hypocrisy today. A lot of kids,I bet if you ask them or when they are just with their friends, will admit that they were introduced to drugs the first time or had their first hookup in the youth group. You know like even the bad language, all the way up to, really intense things. Youth group is usually the place where it’s first introduced. I know, Oh no, not in the house of God. No Really, but that’s really where it happens.

Parents are in Shock at what you are Sharing Amy!

Wait a minute, there are a lot of parents right now doing a double take. You just said that youth group is the place where you first get invited to do all sorts of things that are so counter to the faith that it’s not even funny. That’s really hard for a parent to believe because youth groups are where they think they’re going to be encouraged and helped to go in the right direction. So, Amy, what’s gone wrong?

I’ve seen two things. Either the youth leaders and ministers are to a point where they just don’t care anymore and they’re too uninvolved with the kids or it’s completely on the opposite side of the spectrum. They’re forcing so much on the kids that the kids kind of totally back off and go in a different direction. Youth groups are one of the easiest places to do it, because it’s one of the last places parents would expect.

Okay. Parents, I hate to say this, but I totally agree with Amy even if you’re in shock. The reality is in my research and in the video taped interviews, I have many kids on camera talking about how the first time they got invited to hook up was at their youth group. The first time they got offered drugs was in their youth group or Christian school. This ties back to the hypocrisy discussed with the kids in the research. They ended up defining it as leading an intentionally deceptive dual life, knowing how to act with mom and dad and then having a totally different thing going on outside. What percentage of the kids in your youth group are living some type of dual life, Amy?

Every Single Kid Has a Dual Life!

From my experience, every single one, I have not met one person in my youth group who I have become friends with who isn’t leading some type of a double life! This means two things. One, do not pull your kids out of youth group immediately. That will end up in a lot of backlash and create even more problems. Two, that doesn’t mean these people you know aren’t good people. We all go through a lot of things and just because we’re all leading dual lives for one reason or the other, that doesn’t mean we’re bad people or we’re bad kids or we deserve punishment. We’re just going through a lot. I’m not just saying that so we can keep doing these things. I just don’t think it’d be that healthy.

I would agree because when parents react, it kicks off the oppositional adolescent nature which makes their kids want it even more.

So let’s tie this a back to faith loss. Amy, why does hypocrisy and the dual life cause young people your age to start to question or doubt the faith?

It’s just seeing so many people who are supposed to be doing the right thing and they’re super duper not doing that. It’s completely opposite and you feel like this place that is supposed to be good is turned so far from that, it’s really discouraging seeing that. This place of worship has become a place where people deal drugs and have their first hookup. Often they are forcing their religion on the kids instead of letting them really try to understand and ask questions. They’re being way too strict. That is really discouraging because of the oppositional adolescent brain. Kids just want to understand. They want to know things. They want to experience things and if something’s constantly being pushed on them, whether the faith or the dual life, they’re going to develop doubts.

According to Amy, the Dual Life Kills Post Moderns’ Faith!

That’s what I found in my research as well. Bottom line, when you’re living in a place where you’re supposed to be encouraged to go the right direction and the peer pressure is higher than at public school to go the wrong direction, it can be really discouraging to the faith. You said a valuable word there. You said experience. Young people want to experience things. Your generation is postmodern, post-Christian; you aren’t so much about truth and knowledge. You’re more about experience, community and authenticity. When you’re in a community that’s supposed to be a faithful community and it doesn’t look or act like one, it really puts the faith in question because your experience doesn’t match the faith. Is that accurate?

Absolutely!!!

Amy continues talking about experience. Parents, you can give your child as much wisdom as you have wanting the absolute best for them, but nine times out of 10 they’re going to want to find out for themselves. Experience nowadays to my generation, in my opinion, is so much more valuable than just being talked at and spewed information. We really learn better from experience. Even if we learn the hard way, even if we get trapped in that experience, it is so much more valuable in my opinion than, you know, lectures.

That so fits with the postmodern mindset. And the challenge we have today is that so many parents are in the modern mindset where it’s all about the knowledge. They think if you just have the right knowledge and do the right knowledge, then everything will be okay. For your generation that is like oil and water.

Exactly!

So, so with that, when we think about faith loss, where are you with your faith, Amy?

My Faith Loss Started in 6th Grade

Oh geez, since sixth grade, I’m a sophomore in high school now, but I have fluctuated so much. Um, my younger years in elementary, we went to church every single Sunday. I had a great relationship with all of my, youth pastors and everything. I had absolutely no questions. And starting in sixth grade when I was starting to go through adolescence, things really changed. Things started going a bit downhill with my parents. I just got a lot of bad things handed to me at once and that was when I saw my first loss of faith.

I really struggled over the summer after my sixth grade year. I got it back. Um, it was a little shaky, but it was okay. Then again, in eighth grade I was forced into a very small private Lutheran Academy where the entire school fifth to tenth grade, not just my class, was 104 kids. They were so strict and forced religion on us every single day. I remember there was one kid who walked in on the first day of school, unapologetically atheist, and by the end of the first semester he had converted over half of my class and many people in other classes too. I really stuck with that for a long time because I was just looking at everything in my life saying there’s no way that there could be a God through all of this.

Thanks for sharing that Amy. It’s hard to hear as parents, but vital.

We’re talking about faith loss today with Amy, a 14 year old. You mentioned some things related to parents, that parents really impact faith loss. One of the questions I often ask kids your age is, “Is this your faith or is it your parents’ faith?” And I think I asked you that this week as we’ve been doing some of our coaching around your depression and family. I think you answered, “It’s my parents’ faith. Did you answer that way, Amy, and why?”

I did definitely answer that. It’s not an insult or anything. It’s just that so many parent have gone through the experience and they want the best for their kid. So they’re going to take whatever, knowledge and faith they’ve acquired and you know, try and pour it into their kid for the best outcome possible. I understand that’s the thought process they would have. But only knowing that one thing and having it kind of forced on me was really difficult because no questions were allowed. Even though my parents were super encouraging and everything, if that’s the only thing I really know, obviously I’m going to wonder.

Just with my household and the way it was kind of set up, my parents said mistakes were allowed a lot and they were forgiven because it’s in the Bible, but those phrases versus their actions/reactions were two completely different things. It was a lot stricter than even my parents realized, which led to a lot of faith loss for me.

75% of Kids at Christian Schools Tell Me It Is Their Parents’ Faith

It wasn’t too long ago, I was in Texas with a group at a really prestigious Christian high school. I spoke with their juniors and seniors and got them to be very honest. I finally asked the question, how many of you would say this was your parents’ faith? Unfortunately, 75% of the hands in the room went up and the administrators and teachers in the back of the room were astounded, thinking this can’t be. But it’s what I’ve consistently seen wherever I go.

Reprimanding Damages Post Moderns’ Faith

When we talk about parents, you’ve brought up being strict a couple of times, but what other things do parents do at times to cause kids who are wrestling, doubting, and questioning their faith to turn away or dismiss the faith even further?

Reprimanding. I have noticed when I stray a little bit instead of my parents asking really important questions, I get lectured or punished. Parents need to ask questions and listen, like:

What are you feeling to make you do this?

Is this really what you believe?

Instead of really understanding their child, they switch around and try and force their religion on them because they believe that’s right. And you know, from my experience and a lot of other my friends, just because the parents say it, not to undermine you guys, but it doesn’t mean it’s always right.

One of the things I’ve seen is that we’ve got a focus in parenting on boundaries and consequences. I‘ve found from talking to so many different students that when this equation is in place, it conflicts with the reality of the oppositional adolescent brain, which leads to a breakdown in the relationship that can be significant. When that relationship breaks down, it causes kids to question almost anything a parent says, and maybe even more so the faith. How does that relate to your experience?

You kind of just described all of my years from sixth grade to now. I was in sixth grade losing faith. When this one kid transformed us all into like atheists or whatever, I found it best to keep that from my parents. I didn’t want to have to deal with lectures or being taken more to church and having more forced on me. So just from the past with my parents and knowing I was different from them and how they wanted me to be, that was like the first real sever in the relationship, especially with my mom. That’s when I started really distancing myself. And that’s also when my dual life really started to kick in.

Parents Contribute to Their Kids Dual Life?

Parents contribute to the dual life a lot more than they think. I’ve found I can talk to an audience of parents and tell them that 75 to 80% of the kids we talked to are leading some form of dual life and the parents would come up and say, “Well, it’s not my kid, right?”
Amy interrupts… “Oh yeah, no, I’m sorry. It’s definitely your kid.”

Was there a disconnect for you at all when your parents would have rules and consequences and then you would go to church and hear about forgiveness and grace? Was that confusing? What did that do?

It Felt Like Having to Perform to Receive Love

Yeah, extremely. I grew up in a household where I felt I had to perform to receive love and affection. There were such, you know, strict consequences for the slightest mistakes and then going to church and hearing that grace and forgiveness should always be the answer. I felt like I couldn’t even talk to my parents about that confusion because, you know, they’re the parents, they’re the authoritative figures. It was just a really lonely time in my life to feel like I didn’t have anyone to go to.

My whole life I’ve also really struggled with communicating with God. I’ve always felt a disconnect. So I felt like I didn’t even have Him to turn to. Isolation was kind of my coping mechanism and that wasn’t healthy and just led to more bad things.

What bad things came into your life Amy?

I started to go downhill into depression, anxiety, you know, a couple of eating disorders, working myself really, really, really hard to a point of unhealthy fatigue, lack of relationships, lack of friendships. Like I said, a lot of isolation from people important in my life and overall just not really caring about anything at all.

So getting numb?

Yup.

Parents love their kids. They want to do what’s best. In many ways they’re doing what so many parenting programs tell them to do. But what you’re saying is that the way parents approach their kids can actually harm their faith.

Absolutely. And I’m not saying this to undermine any parents. It’s just this generation is becoming so unhealthy and so isolated. We’re trying to make a positive difference for generations in the future.

What do parents need to do differently? How can they help their kid with their questions and doubts about the faith? What do they need to set up in their home so that their kids will even talk with them about it.

Something that’s been really helpful in my family is just an easy button or a pause button in any conversation that gets too heated or isn’t going anywhere. You can just pause the conversation. Then come back and ask important and engaging questions, like How does that make you feel? Did we do anything to get you there?

Then also consider the consequences. I feel a lot of my friends have gone through households where questioning anything would lead to either being reprimanded or punished. And we’re just trying to understand. So I don’t believe it’s very healthy for the relationship or the faith..

In many ways what you described is that we’ve been stuck in a form of parenting that’s comes out of the old Testament where it was laws and sacrifices, or rules and consequences. They are very parallel. What it led to in the old Testament was complete failure, a silence of the prophets for 300 years. And then Jesus came and kind of did a reset. But somehow in parenting we’ve missed that reset. We’ve missed that Jesus led very differently than old Testament leaders. He wasn’t about rules and consequences.

We Want Love and Encouragement

Given your ups and downs in the faith and everything, when you consider what Jesus did, how he interacted with people, what do you see?

I see somebody who’s extremely forgiving and willing to let people be different. Jesus didn’t go around forcing everyone into his religion. He was there to enlighten people, love them, unconditionally, provide for them and give them what they needed. Ultimately He was there to just love and care for them. I think if parents had that mindset, it would be so much more powerful than just constant talking at and talking down to you. We want that love and encouragement that kids so desperately need. A lot of times our dual lives are just bad habits and are cries for help saying, where’s the emotional connection that I need from my parents like Jesus had with his disciples?

That’s a powerful statement when we think about Jesus and how He led. He had 5,000 chasing him around the lake when he was trying to get away. How many kids are chasing their parents around the lake today? Very few to none that I’ve seen. If parents are running one way, the kids are running the other. It’s a bad cycle that is very unhealthy. Ideally we must go back to having our kids be like the disciples chasing Jesus, chasing after their parents instead of running in the opposite direction.

I know Revive Family has been instrumental in your family helping you make some of these changes. How are the changes your parents are making impacting your life?

I am seeing my parents change

I am really seeing and understanding that my parents are changing and I’ve built a lot better communication and relationship with them. I’ve really, really tried coming out of my shell and ending that isolation period.

Okay. And that’s hard. It’s an up and down cycle. I’ve seen you making a lot of progress as we’re working through the coaching and it’s a lot of fun to see.

Parents, here’s the bottom line. We play a big role in our kids’ faith loss. And just because you’ve heard what’s really going on in youth groups, don’t react. Don’t yank your kids out. It’s time to engage and start talking with them and and wrestling with them around these topics as opposed to getting upset with them about them.

Amy interrupts saying, Absolutely.

Parents if you re looking for a better way please go to our site at revivefamily.com and sign up for Influential Parenting. If you contact me, I will give you a coupon code to go through it for free

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