Religious conflict between parents and adolescent child

Religious conflict between parents and adolescent child

The situation of a religious conflict between the parent (s) and the child can most often be manifested in: in abandonment of the pupil’s practice of faith, in resignation from attending church services, in omitting personal prayer, in withdrawing his involvement in the activities of the religious group (if the child has attended meetings), in conversion or apostasy. Usually such a situation takes place during the adolescence of a teenager who contests, resigns, becomes indifferent or even fights with all forms of piety related to the faith professed and practiced, which becomes a new situation for parents along with surprise and lack of understanding. Of course, the child’s resignation from religious commitment does not have to be a single act, but a process by which the son or daughter successively rejects particular practices of piety. How should a parent behave in such a situation? Knowing that every effect must have a cause, one should first try to get to know it, not to criticize it, but to better understand their child. First of all, the period of adolescence is a time of intense changes not only in the biological (somatic) sphere, but also in the psychological area, i.e. in the cognitive and affective sphere. It manifests itself, inter alia, in emotional lability (destabilization), rebellion against the existing rules and norms, negation, succumbing to pressure from a social group, marking one’s own identity, feeling of freedom and the desire for self-determination, which is the result of the process of individuation and separation. This may be the reason for a completely different behavior of a teenager who abandons their current, predictable for parents, way of functioning. Such a situation is not an anomaly, but a natural phenomenon in the majority of adolescents who must be able to search for and try new experiences, test themselves in them in order to gain new competences and, in the future, consciously and consistently assume social roles (including family, professional or religious). Thus, parents should not be surprised that their pupil wants to be released from some rules and restrictions and have more privileges: to come home later, organize free time with a group of friends, attend services at a different time than the parents. The adolescent thus expanding the area of their autonomy that they can control, experiences a positive self-image, which increases their self-esteem. Nevertheless, in the separation process, a sense of acceptance and support from parents plays an important role for young people. Even though it may look completely different, the relationship with parents is still important for adolescents, especially if it have been satisfying so far. Therefore, the parent, despite the decrease in the field of control over the child, should not remove themself from their life by resigning from active participation in it. For adolescent children, the time of puberty seen in changes in body appearance and functioning is a new experience unlike anything that has happened before. That is why family ties play an irreplaceable role in finding oneself at this stage of life, as they make a stable environment for a teenager, provide emotional support and a sense of security, as well as impose clear requirements and define the boundaries of what is allowed and what is not.

When it comes to the religious conflict with an adolescent child, it should not be forgotten that this is the time of shaping their identity and the related exploration of new experiences. This process may include resignation from faith and verification of previous religious beliefs, as well as seeing what consequences these changes will bring. Often a teenager wants to find answers to the questions: „What to believe?”, „What is the sense, is it the only sense and what justifies it?”, „How to resolve these doubts?”. It is certainly not an easy situation for parents who may be worried about their children, but the aforementioned exploration, i.e. trying different possibilities, is a natural behavior in adolescents. They need to know their identity, i.e. define themselves, if they want to find out who they are and what they are, and how the surrounding environment will react to their worldview and standards of behavior that they want to develop or take over from others (which does not mean that parents must agree to all forms of exploration that the child wants to try).

Once the context in which religious conflicts between parents and their child may arise is known, some optimal behaviors and guidelines for caregivers can be mentioned. First of all, parents should be interested in their child's environment, a group of their acquaintances and friends. Through a common and attractive system of values, philosophy and lifestyle, and contact in building a vision of the world, a peer group can have a very strong influence on the behavior of an individual. Therefore, if colleagues are not religious and do not practice faith, they can change the religious behavior of the child. A young person is able to give up pious practices in order not to expose themself to rejection, ridicule and non-acceptance by his peers if they deny the values associated with faith.

A significant person, in whom the adolescent child becomes infatuated, can perform a similar function as a group of friends. The state of being in love is an emotionally very strong experience for adolescents. A teenager wants to show their best side, they wants to show that in addition to the values of physical attractiveness, also the worldview and system of values coincide with the person with whom they fell in love. Therefore, is willing to reject or suspend the practice of faith in order to impress (or conform to) their sympathy if they does not lead a religious life. It should be remembered that such a rejection of religiosity does not necessarily mean a complete negation of the practice of faith. Usually it is temporary and lasts as long as a love relationship. There may also be a case in which religious life is conducted „in conspiracy” so as not to be exposed to the person for whom the practice of faith is not of value. The situation may be similar in relation to other significant people, such as a teacher, educator or trainer, who has an influence on the adolescent. If the aforementioned persons are not believers, they reject or, what is worse, make fun of the faith, then it may also be rejected by the pupil. In such a situation, parents can talk to these people, asking that they leave their views on faith and religion in the private sphere and not counteract the religious education to which parents are entitled.

Another parental action may be to check whether the child’s „anti-religious” behavior is a way of retaliation. Perhaps the child wants to punish the parents by stopping praying, attending services, rejecting religious values. It can be revenge for the restrictions, prohibitions, or previous sanctions imposed on him, or it can be a form of heightened opposition to parental blackmail: „If you don’t go to the service, then…”. Therefore, it is worthwhile for parents to talk to their child about it and to verify their behavior in the light of the suggestions they received. They should also bear in mind the perversity of teenagers who are all the more opposed to what is imposed on them by their guardians.

It may also be helpful to propose new areas of activity to the child, thanks to which they will be able to prove themselves and develop their abilities, as well as fulfill their needs, enter new roles, experience cooperation with other people, especially with those whose parents know that faith is for important to them. The aforementioned proposition increases the likelihood of acceptance by the adolescent when it comes from people important to them, whom they admires and respects. It turns out that an adolescent child is often ashamed to talk to their parents about faith, or feels a lot of discomfort that disappears when talking to outsiders. Properly selected literature and the selection of religious websites can also be helpful, which, when offered to young people, may be helpful in answering the doubts they have.

The presence of parents and their attempts to talk about this problem with their child plays a significant role in coping with the conflict related to the professed faith. This allows a young person who can share their ideas and dilemmas with their parents to relieve their emotions and see that others are also experiencing similar problems and are struggling with similar situations to them. Showing and not imposing on the child possible solutions in various problem and conflict situations and the acceptance of the teenager’s autonomy allows them to learn from their mistakes and take responsibility for the decisions made. It shapes the ability to solve problems on one’s own and helps to perceive reality not only from one’s own perspective.  It allows him to find the answer to the question of who he is and what he is going to, what his faith is and what it should be. It provides a good foundation for a transition from a non-reflective faith to a personally lived, and therefore mature, faith.


fr. dr Sławomir Tykarski

Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń


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Autor: Laboratorium Wolności
Date: 20 April 2021
Financed from the means of the Justice Fund, administered by the Minister of Justice.
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Nicolaus Copernicus University
Pro Futuro Theologiae Foundation
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