What to do Before Your Kids Leave Home

In an interview with Marilyn Stewart in December 2013, Nancy Pearcy, author of Total Truth and Saving Leonardo, describes the importance of providing a place to doubt and wrestle through tough questions and how that relates to why many youth lose their once-affirmed Christian convictions after they leave home.

In Saving Leonardo I describe a multi-year study by Fuller Seminary asking why so many young people lose their Christian convictions when they leave home. In the process, the researchers uncovered the single factor most significant in helping young people keep their faith. And it’s not what most of us might expect. I would have guessed it was joining a campus Bible study or prayer group. But as important as those things are, what made the biggest difference was whether the teens had a place to wrestle with doubts and questions before leaving home. The study concluded, “The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher [their] levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity.”

In other words, the only way teens become truly “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks” (1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling personally with the questions. Ironically, those who have never grappled with diverse worldviews are actually the most likely to be swept away by them. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, ideas can be dangerous — but they are far more dangerous to the person who has never studied them. The untrained person has no mental filter, no critical grid. Hence a new idea will “fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaler.” He is much more likely to be intoxicated.

The Fuller study gives empirical evidence that students actually grow more confident in their Christian commitment when the adults in their life — parents, pastors, teachers — guide them in exploring questions and grappling with the challenges posed by prevailing secular worldviews.