In my practice, teenagers routinely talk about their religion. They frequently question it, bash it or experiment with new ones. Sometimes, when they express their thoughts and feelings about religion, parents and other adults can be taken aback. But during therapy, religion is simply another topic of investigation.
What I usually find is that questioning religion is part of their identity formation process and a normal emotional distancing from their parents. While parents may freak out, I see it as a normal part of testing limits during adolescence.
Experimenting with religions can also be a personal test. “Will my parents and/or my therapist still accept me when I tell them that I’m into Wicca now?” Personally, I don’t mind what religion you are or if you’re exploring your spirituality by trying a few on for size. Good — see what works for you. Part of the beauty of living in America is that your religion is your business.
Parents of stern religious upbringing might find the idea objectionable but the reality is that your teenager has the freedom to completely reject their inherited religion. In my experience, the parents who freak out the most can inadvertently make it harder for their teenagers to come back through that door later. Another reason to experiment with religion can be a test for parents: how much will my parents respect my right to make my own decisions, even when they don’t agree.
Atheism is another big testing ground for teenagers. For deeply religious parents, this can be very difficult to accept. The thought of their teenager going to hell is understandably frightening.
Drastic differences in spirituality can cover something deeper, rejection or an expression of anger. One way families can try to side step the religious freedom issue is by getting to the root of things and talking about what’s going on with the relationship that the teenager has with their parents. The point I’m trying to make is that since teenagers are not very good at expressing their feelings and thoughts with clarity, their actions may misrepresent a more complicated emotion. Talking with your teenager may be the first step toward uncovering the problem.
By Miguel Brown