When teens ask hard questions, sometimes parents can go into panic mode. They either don’t know the answers themselves, lack the confidence to discuss them, or simply don’t want to deal with such banter. But as parents, fielding those questions is part of our responsibility.
Instead of avoiding the difficult questions or fearing our kids’ knowledge of our own insufficiency, we can respond in a way that honors God, promotes their continued curiosity and reverence toward God, and equips them to serve Him and others more thoroughly.
Don’t Answer in a Monologue
Some parents, afraid of having their ignorance or uncertainty exposed, simply steamroll the conversation, using a technique similar to a political filibuster to discourage any meaningful discussion.
Your teen wants — we might even argue that he or she needs — to discuss difficult topics, and that’s not quite the same as being lectured or “preached at” about them. Some personalities are particularly drawn toward dialogue as a means to discovering truth, and if anything, such engagement is preferable to a one-sided presentation.
Don’t Get Defensive
Perhaps a secondary reason parents are tempted to respond in monologues is that the only other scenario they can imagine is being pelted with more questions, as if they’re the ones being interrogated — perhaps on God’s behalf.
Regardless of our lack of knowledge or confidence about a topic, we don’t have to resort to a question & answer format. Make it a discussion. Keep a few questions of your own at-the-ready — not to use in order to change the topic, but to challenge your teen to think through the issue more thoroughly.
Here are a few of my favorites:
• Why is it important to understand this issue? (or What makes this issue significant to you?)
• What difference does/would it make? (or What are the implications?)
• Why do you think God would have refrained from directly addressing this issue in Scripture?
Don’t Feel Obligated
While I Peter 3:15 says we need to be prepared to explain the hope we have in Christ, 2 Timothy 2:23 and Ecclesiastes 7:10 both mention the idea of pointless or unwise questions, and Matthew 7:6 communicates the foolishness of sharing wisdom with someone who doesn’t really care to listen. You can probably tell if your teen is trying to be contentious or simply voicing concerns or curiosities. In such cases, parents may be wise to avoid a discussion.
Even if we do discuss hard questions, sometimes (most times?) we really don’t know the answers. And that’s okay. Isaiah 55:9 speaks of God’s transcendence: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
It’s okay for us to be in awe, for us to be confused, and for us to admit that He is God; it’s okay for us to admit that the disparity between our understanding and His is far greater than the disparity between us and our kids has ever been. If we leave our children with a lower view of us and a higher view of God, that’s actually a good thing. Really good.