What to Do When Your Teen Wants to Explore a Different Faith

Talk to your child about his desire to explore other religions.
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Whether your family attends a place of worship regularly, or you've never established any clear spiritual practices, your teen may want to try out a new faith on his own. Perhaps he’s heard some friends talking about a new youth group they're attending. Or maybe, he read about some alternative spiritual practice and he's curious to find out more about it.

Exploring new faiths, spiritual practices, and different religions during adolescence can be quite common. Exploring new things and gaining independence is part of becoming an adult, so many teens are interested in learning what other people believe about the universe, a higher power, or the meaning of life. 

Healthy adolescent development involves answering the question ‘Who am I?’ and that largely involves their spiritual beliefs. A teen may be questioning who he is in terms of the grand scheme of the universe.

The request to attend a new church or join a religious organization causes many parents a fair deal of discomfort. But instead of saying no right off—which could lead him to believe you and your religion are closed-minded—sit down for a good talk that may help enhance his faith, and even yours.

Talk It Out

This desire to try a new religion or spiritual practice came from somewhere. Ask him about it—does one of his friends talk about this other spiritual practice? Did your son find out about it after doing some research on his own? What sounds appealing about it?

Ask your teen if there's something about the family's spiritual practice he doesn't like—it may be that your church feels oppressive, too traditional or even boring. Perhaps he's looking for a way to connect with his own beliefs a little more deeply, or in a way he can relate to a little better during everyday life.

Be willing to listen, without passing judgment. Knowing that you’re interested in his point of view can be very reassuring to a teen who feels uncertain about things. Talking things through helps you both understand one's beliefs and what feels spiritually important as individuals.

Assess Your Concerns

It’s important to examine the concerns you have about allowing your child to explore a new faith. Are you worried he may abandon all the beliefs you’ve tried to instill in him? Do you think his curiosity stems from the wrong reasons (like he has a crush on a girl who attends a particular church)?

Or is it something even more serious? Perhaps the religion your teen wants to explore holds certain beliefs or encourages specific practices that are in direct contradiction to what you believe.

Clearly, if another faith goes against your values, you need to talk to your teen about your concerns. And you may need to set some limits on what you allow your teen to do. It’s important to show your teen that your values are important enough that you want to live according to them.

If you don’t know much about the spiritual practices your teen is expressing interest in, be open to learning more. You may find that some of the stereotypes you thought were true or some of the things you’ve heard, aren’t accurate.

Consider a Youth Group

Many churches and spiritual organizations have youth groups aimed to make spiritual practice more appealing to teens.  If your own place of worship has a youth group, perhaps your teenager would be willing to give it a try to see if it helps him explore his own faith a bit more deeply.

Or perhaps a friend at school invited him to a youth group meeting at another church. Ask your child's friend what he finds interesting about the group (if your teen is open to the idea), or call the group's youth leader to find out more information about the group if you're concerned about it.

In many cases, youth groups provide an open forum for teens to discuss issues that affect them, as well as how to deal with the issues in the best possible ways. Even teens that express no interest in religion or spirituality may enjoy the open, non-judgmental setting of a youth group, so it could be a great experience for your teen, especially if he already knows others that attend and enjoy the meetings.

Many youth groups participate in a variety of community activities and youth events. Allowing your teen to get involved, even if you don't share the exact same beliefs, can still be a positive experience.

Worship Services

Attending another place of worship can help your teen better understand his own beliefs. If one of his friends that you know invites him to a service, it could be a good opportunity for your teen to take in the experience without feeling completely alienated.

If you feel a bit alarmed at the prospect, call the friend's parents and ask them a bit about what to expect; this can also help you get a better sense of what they believe and whether you feel comfortable with the concepts.

If you are still unsure about it, consider attending a service along with your teen, then going out for brunch or lunch to discuss how you both felt about what you've experienced. It's also a great opportunity to discuss which aspects were enjoyable or uplifting, which felt familiar and which were completely different than the family norm.

Your support for your teen's desire to explore spirituality will show him that you respect his views and that you understand the importance of the search when it comes to faith. Forcing family beliefs upon a teen can push him away, but support and openness towards his search will  help him find the "soul" food he seeks—even if he finds that the answer was right in front of him, all along. 

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