All of us reached adolescence with childhood beliefs, values and morals that needed evaluation.
Beliefs enter a child’s mind and get established in the mental operating system* without a healthy evaluation of the basis for the belief. In a child’s brain, the ability to reason is not yet fully developed.
When children reach adolescence with little attention given to their childhood beliefs….
- We may hear something like this boy’s explanation: “Faith is believing what you know isn’t so.”
- They are less likely to come to parents, now preferring peers and those outside of the family.
Take Easter–the resurrection of Jesus Christ–for instance.
Christianity maintains that Jesus died on a cross and three days later, came back to life and was seen by multiple eyewitnesses.
I suspect that for many of the 2 billion people who identify as Christians, this doctrine remains a hard-to-understand mystery. Some older children may leave Sunday’s Easter Service concluding that the resurrection is incomprehensible and therefore nonsense.
Preteens beginning to evaluate their beliefs usually want our assistance:
- Begin by listening intently to the child’s belief. Clarify until you can precisely express the child’s belief back to him (and the child says “yes, that’s it”).
- Use the same active listening to unpack the child’s conflict, doubt, question about their belief–so that you can state it precisely and the child says, “yes, that’s it.”
- Brainstorm options for checking the accuracy of the belief–resurrection–in our example (weigh evidence from science, history):
- Ask, “Which option is best for you?”
By allowing the child to own their choice you teach them how to approach doubts and questions when you aren’t around.
*to borrow a phrase from psychiatrist Timothy Jennings.