Should I Make My Teen Go to Church?

Forcing teens to go to church won't necessarily change their spiritual beliefs.
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The teenage years are the time when adolescents assert their independence, and the thought of sitting through a lengthy service doesn’t appeal to some teens. But, deciding whether to force a teen to attend services at a church, temple, synagogue or other place of worship, isn’t always a cut-and-dry decision.

The teenage years a time that could easily commit a teen to his faith or veer him off-track as he enters adulthood.

Before you put your foot down and force him into the car, ask yourself a few questions about whether you’re making the right decision.

How Old is Your Teen?

If your teen is 13, you have a little more control over whether she attends church than you do an 18-year-old.  But in addition to your teen’s age, it’s important to take your teen’s maturity level into account. An immature teen likely wants to skip church because she simply doesn’t feel like getting up in the morning, while a more mature teen might have bigger questions about faith.

Many parents will have to deal at some point with their teenager questioning the church, and it’s your role to answer these questions truthfully. This isn’t the time to shove your child in the car and tell her to believe, like it or not. That’s the type of attitude that could cause her to stop attending church as soon as she goes off to college.

Although you want your teen to share your spiritual beliefs, it’s important that she makes that decision personally.

If it requires her taking a Sunday or two off to think about her beliefs, consider allowing her to do so.

What Does Your Teen Like or Dislike About Church?

Don’t accept “it’s boring” as an answer. What about it is boring? If he doesn’t like the music or the sermon, find out if your church has an upbeat, teen-friendly service (often on Sunday evenings rather than Sunday mornings).

If he doesn’t have any friends at the church, suggest that he invite someone to a service. Check into youth groups that meet during the week, as well. If your teen feels like he has a group of friends that also show up to a service every week, he’ll be more inclined to enjoy attending, too.

Of course, it might be an activity at church that your teen is trying to avoid. Perhaps he doesn’t like attending the portion of the service where teens break off into small groups or he agonizes over participating in the Christmas program each year. Allowing him to opt out of portions of the church-going process might make the experience more positive overall.

What Does Your Teen Want to do Instead?

Find out what your teen plans to do if he doesn’t go to church. No matter what your teen’s age, he shouldn’t be allowed to stay at home from church to watch TV, sleep in, or play video games (unless, of course, he’s sick).

If he says he wants to sleep in, consider making his Saturday evening curfew earlier so he can wake up on time. Or, if he says he needs to do homework, turn it into an opportunity to help him manage his time better.

What are Your Teen's Beliefs?

Have open discussions with your teen about his spiritual beliefs.

If he’s questioning his faith or is confused about certain aspects of your religion, he may be hesitant to attend services with you.

Talk to your teen about his beliefs. Understand that it’s normal for teens to question their values and spirituality as they gain independence. If your teen asks questions you can’t answer, consider directing him to a pastor or youth leader who may be able to offer more information.

Are You Living According to Your Values?

The best way to instill your values - spiritual and otherwise - is to live according them. Your teen will learn a lot more from what you do, rather than what you say, or what she hears someone else say in church.

Ultimately, your decision about whether to make your teen go to church is personal. While some parents make going to church a mandatory household rule, other parents worry that forcing a child to go will backfire later in life.

Either way, it’s important to acknowledge you can make your teen attend a worship service, but ultimately, you can’t force your teen to believe the same way you do. Being a good spiritual role model is the best way to encourage your teen to adopt your faith.

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