Dear Mr. Dad: It’s been a longstanding tradition in our extended family to attend church on Sunday and then go out to brunch. However, now my 14-year-old daughter says she no longer likes church because she finds that services are boring. My husband says we should force her to go, but I don’t think that would work. What’s your take?
A: If Sunday services have been a family tradition for years, I can certainly understand your disappointment at your daughter’s refusal to go with you. As you can imagine, there are quite a few factors that might have led to this sudden change of heart. Chances are, though, that few if any of them have anything at all to do with religion.
Even under the best of circumstances, it would be truly earth-shattering (and very, very weird) if you and your daughter agreed on everything, and you approved of every choice she made.
To start with, at 14, your daughter is just getting warmed up for her big teenage rebellious stage. You remember that one from when you were her age, right? Part of becoming an adult means getting out there and forging her own identity, one that’s separate (and in many aspects, 180 degrees away) from yours. That means questioning (and often rejecting) the values, beliefs, traditions, and just about anything else that you hold dear. That’s how it looks from your perspective. From yours, however, your once-sweet little girl is morphing into a defiant teen with a mind and opinions (and, probably, a mouth to go with them) that aren’t even close to aligning with yours.
The good news, as we’ve talked about in previous columns, is that this is a normal part of the process of maturing, becoming independent, and learning to make her own choices and decisions. The bad news is that it may not be any fun—for either of you—for a while.
So what should you do? Well, you begin by not doing what your husband suggests. Forcing your daughter to go to church when she really, really doesn’t want to will backfire. Instead of getting her more engaged, you’ll be driving her away and she’ll dislike services even more than she already does.
Instead of criticizing your daughter’s decision, you and your husband need to talk to her about how important the services and religion in general have been to you personally. Have there been times when your faith has given you strength and hope in difficult circumstances? Or when members of your community have provided help and support when you needed them most? If so, share this with your daughter. If she can see the benefits and meaning that your faith and your community have given you, she might be more willing to reconsider her decision.
Her complaints that services are boring, however, are something altogether different. She may, in fact, be right. What’s the average age of people who attend services? If it’s mostly older folks or young families with small children, the sermons and community activities that may be perfect for those groups would be completely irrelevant to a teenager.
As a compromise, could you find a nearby church that offers a youth ministry and outreach programs geared to teens? I’m betting that she’ll be able to relate much better to that type of worship environment than to traditional services, and she’ll be hard pressed to find excuses not to go.
At the very least, your daughter will see that you’re flexible, reasonable, and take her opinions seriously—qualities even the most rebellious teenager will appreciate!