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When Children Reach Adolescence (Part 2)

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Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT

The observations and descriptions provided in this column are from the Interfaith Research Project (IRP). They are offered to intermarried spouses and couples who either attend a Greek Orthodox Church or are associated with a Greek Orthodox Church. I hope that this information will help parents and teenagers face the unique challenges that may emerge in an inter-Christian, intercultural household. Intermarried parents who acquaint themselves with the information that follows will be in a better position to address these challenges should they surface when their children reach adolescence.

Early family of origin experiences tend to play an important role in how an adolescent might view culture and religion. Prolonged parental indifference toward religion and culture 'in all probability will have a negative impact on children'’s perception of religion and culture. One focus group participant stated, “They say that hindsight is 20/20. I think this is correct regarding our topic tonight. My wife and I never put church attendance high on our list. Our busy schedules made it easy for us to ignore church attendance. So, now that our children are teenagers, they don’t seem to have much interest in religion or their parent’s ethnic backgrounds.”

Similarly, if children are raised in an intercultural, interfaith family that is conflicted over culture and religion, and this conflict persists unchecked, then it is significantly more probable that they will reject the value of culture and religion altogether when they reach adolescence, or be influenced by their peers'’ perceptions of culture and religion. “There’s no doubt in my mind, our constant bickering over our religious differences soured our teen’s attitude toward religion,” stated one respondent.

Intermarried parents who have a sound understanding of each others'’ religious tradition, and are generally in agreement about religious matters, are in a better position to address their adolescent'’s religious questions. ParentsParents who have been in agreement about their religious and cultural differences and have offered clear messages to their children regarding religion and culture, will likely encounter fewer and less intense challenges. “When we first got married, we both knew that neither of us could change. So, we talked about our religious and cultural differences very carefully to try and develop a good understanding before we had children. These conversations helped because we were able to make many decisions related to our future children’s religious upbringing. We also resolved to help them develop a respect for both parents religious and cultural backgrounds.”

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Prolonged parental indifference or lingering conflict
will have a negative effect on adolescent’s religious development

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Adolescence is a time when everything is questioned, including culture and religion. As such, intermarried parents should expect their teenagers to scrutinize and question their 'parent’s cultural and religious values and beliefs. Parents who lack knowledge about their respective religious traditions, or are conflictedhave mixed conflicted feelings over their religious and cultural differences, will likely fail miserably at addressing their adolescent'’s religious questions and needs. “I don’t really know my religion – not to mention my husband’s religious background,” stated a frustrated mother. “And I know that this has had a bad effect on our kids religious education because I never really have known how to answer their questions.”

Parents must remember that actions speak louder than words. If teenagers discern that their parents are saying one thing to them regarding the value of religion and culture, and demonstrating another, their teenager’s efforts to develop a strong religious and cultural identity will be negatively impacted. When parents fail to celebrate their cultural differences or live out their religious beliefs, their children'’s religious and cultural development will generally be negatively impacted. “When we were young, we went to church because our parent’s made us go. We didn’t ask all these questions that kids ask today. So, I didn’t learn much about my religious background. Today it’s different. Kids question everything, including the value of religion, and if you don’t have good answers, they may take the answers they get from their friends or the TV.”

Permitting adolescents, the latitude to question religious beliefs can prove to be a necessary part of their efforts to personalize their religious beliefs. Inter-Christian parents should welcome questions from their adolescents, and view their questions as opportunities for all members of the family to develop a deeper cultural and religious identity. “Before having children, I think I can safely say that I didn’t know my Orthodox faith,” stated one mother. “When we were blessed with our first child, I decided to educate myself, and now I feel comfortable when I talk to my teenagers about religion. There are really great resources available today to help parents. No Greek Orthodox parent has to be in the dark any longer about the faith. Yes, it takes some effort, but it can make all the difference in the world to a family’s religious and spiritual participation.”

Intermarried parents with adolescents generally try to help them develop a respect for other faith groups, while also helping them grow into a personal faith commitment in the church where they were baptized. When parents remind adolescents that they are part of a rich religious tradition that can facilitate a meaningful relationship with God, this positive emphasis assists them in discerning the value and worth of being religious. If parents spend most of their time disparaging other religions and cultural groups, such activity may simply serve to reduce adolescents’’ respect for their religious and cultural heritage.

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Parents’ knowledge, respect and example will have a positive
impact on their teenager’s religious and cultural development.

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Research also suggests that if only one parent has a strong cultural and/or religious identity, then it is probable that adolescents will embrace the dominant parent'’s cultural and religious preferences. Adolescents who tend to identify with only one parent'’s cultural background may at a later stage in life discover and search out information about the other parent'’s cultural and religious background.

Finally, when parents are in agreement, are knowledgeable and respectful of each other’s religious tradition, information from the IRP suggests that such an approach will have a positive impact on children’s religious and cultural development. This approach will also positively influence their children when they reach adolescence.