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You want your teenager to go to church, but they have announced they don’t want to. What do you do?

As a licensed marriage and family therapist associate, I’ve worked with teens in their homes, schools, and in my office. I’ve worked to address behaviors from aggression to theft to food fights. The principles I’ve used professionally can be used by parents to address teens who don’t want to attend church.

1. Understand How Their Mind Works

Three developmental patterns in teenagers work together when teens announce they do not want to attend church:

  1. A desire to assert independence
  2. Ability to engage in abstract thinking
  3. Undeveloped long-term thinking

This combination creates a situation where many teens want to explore what rejecting church attendance may look like.

For the first time, teens can contemplate what kinds of beliefs they want and how those will affect their lives. Combined with an inability to see long-term consequences and a desire to differentiate themselves from their parents, teenagers from faithful LDS homes are very likely to say they don’t want to attend church at one point.

Understanding these underlying factors will make you more able to address the issue. Teenagers saying they don’t want to go to church is not a crisis by itself, but one type of normal expression of adolescent development. How we respond to this moment and address the underlying concerns will determine whether or not this develops into a longer-term problem.

2. Determine Family Standards Ahead of Time

You will be in a much stronger position to deal with your teenager, if you’ve already thought through how you will respond.

Take the time to think through your family’s rules and priorities. What reasons are acceptable for not attending church for your family? Sickness, busyness with school work, bullying at church, and lack of testimony are all possibilities to consider.

How do your rules change as the child ages? What compromises are acceptable?

This article is focused on teens, but children younger than twelve or thirteen likely have a clear-cut reason for not wanting to attend that you can address.

Having a family rule in place such as “everyone goes to church except for sickness” will help parents respond when their teenagers first announce they don’t want to attend church, and will give you a better starting place for the ensuing conversation.

3. Find out Why

Your teen definitely has a reason for not wanting to go to church. So ask.

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