Passing along spirituality to others can be fraught with many pitfalls and misconceptions. We must never try to force or convince, yet must still be open to those who are curious and seeking– especially when the seekers are the children in our lives.

Notice the approach this parent chooses with her preteen.

Recognizing spiritual development is an ongoing process, here’s a story about how one mom handled a difficult question from her 12-year-old. Your answer, and any alternative viewpoints you cite, might have been different, as you’d be speaking from your own beliefs.

12yearold boy1“So Mom, do you think there’s a hell?”

The question came out of nowhere, as far as I could tell. We had a movie on and it was paused for a bathroom break. This is when my son decides to ask me about hell.

Although we periodically attend a Protestant Christian Church, I don’t have very formed ideas about hell. It is just not a subject that comes up much. So I first decided to see where the question was coming from: “Why do you ask?” “Well, Max from church said that people who are bad go to hell.”

Okay, I thought to myself, so the question is theoretical and not related to anyone specific dying. Now how do I answer when I’m not sure myself? Here’s what I came up with:

“Honestly, I am not really sure.

“I can tell you what I think, but I may be wrong. I do think heaven and hell exist, but I think that God would not force anyone to be with him in heaven who didn’t want to be with him. If someone didn’t want to be with God, they could choose not to be. Hell—I think—is the absence of God rather than fiery flames. Now some people think hell is literal fiery flames, and some people think it doesn’t exist at all.

“What do you think?”

My son then went on to think out loud about the idea of hell being so horrible, but also about the need to punish bad people, like Hitler. He seemed conflicted, and I could see that this conversation—like many other spiritual topics—would need to be an ongoing one as he thought through what he believed. I committed then to try to serve as a safe sounding board for him as he would think things through over the years. Then maybe in the future he would serve as a safe sounding board for others.

Tweetable: One mom does a good job handling her 12-year-old son’s question about hell. Here’s what she said. Click to Tweet