I have a seventeen-year-old son who says that he is an atheist. He participates in prayer and religious activities with the family, letting us know that he does it out of respect for us, even though he doesn’t believe in any of it….

I’m not sure if we should continue asking him to participate, or whether we should accept that he withdraw from those times of spiritual activities…. In a few months he will be an adult, and he seems to be more and more convinced of his decision. I’m worried about not doing my job as his mother to teach him the ways of God.

Dear Friend,

It is good to hear that your son respects you, even though he chooses to believe differently than you do. However, we need to let you know that there is nothing in the Bible concerning whether or not parents should exert pressure on their children in cases such as this one. We can only give advice based on general Biblical principles.

Your son has been open and truthful with you, and that is probably a sign that he feels safe confiding in you. A wise parent listens without expressing judgment to an adult, or almost adult, child. That allows the adult child to freely share his feelings and not become alienated as he would from harsh or judgmental parents.

Is it easy to listen without expressing judgment or arguing? Certainly not! Loving parents grieve when learning that their adult child is not on a good path. But that grief and passion should never lead us to try and force our children to believe what we want them to believe, or to pressure them to follow the path that we think is best for them to follow.

Unfortunately, many people who stop believing in God do so because they have observed those who claim to be religious yet disregard the teachings of the Bible. Your son may well have experienced leaders or teachers in the church whose actions outside of church didn’t match their words inside the church.

The most important questions that you must ask yourself are these: Has our child experienced the love of God in our home and in our community? Do our actions as parents match the way we act and talk in church? Has our child seen how our belief in God has caused us to want to follow the teachings of the Bible, both in our attitudes and our actions? If you can answer these questions affirmatively, then you can be sure that you have taught your son about God through both your words and your actions.

However, as long as your son is financially supported by you and lives in your home, he should continue to contribute to family household responsibilities, follow household rules, and participate in most family activities. When he is financially able to live on his own, he will be able to escape from those things. In the meantime, he doesn’t have to like the responsibilities, rules, or activities. All that is simply part of being a financially supported family member.

We wish you well,