The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

4 Steps to Help Kids Ask Questions Stuck in their Heads


Every survey and researcher says that students have a lot of questions about their faith. This seems to essentially define Millennials and Gen Y from older generations. Whereas older generations were content with certain presuppositions about faith, youth today are suspicious and often doubtful of these things. But here’s a funny thing. I get the privilege to speak regularly to students about faith and apologetics. At these events, there will occasionally be a Q and A time. When it is thrown open for questions, it’s very often the case that there is…awkward silence (crickets in the background). (whispering) Psst, where’s all the questions? What’s going on?

What is going on here? Well I don’t think the researchers have it wrong. I do think students have questions and they can, often times, be burdened by these. I think it is that the questions haven’t always coalesced in their minds into English language yet.

This can be a really rough place to be. One has a question that’s bothering them and creating cognitive dissonance, but they cannot even ask the question that’s there. It can be especially rough since that question may continue to nag them and even create further doubts. If they could just ask the question, it may be there’s a really good answer waiting in the wings. But it’s currently stuck and, thus, they are currently stuck.

We must get our kids asking their questions and seeing the resources of the Christian faith. An important role for youth leaders and parents to play is to help their kids articulate the questions they in fact have. To be clear, this isn’t telling your kids what to think. It is not telling them what questions they should have. It is helping them surface and articulate their questions.

Here are 4 steps to help kids ask the questions stuck in their heads.

  1. Enter into their world.

The first thing is to enter their world. This is perhaps the most difficult step, especially if you haven’t done this much to date. But we’ve got to meet them where they are at. We need to notice what they like, what bothers them, what repulses them, what do they tend to emphasize, what sorts of things change their mind on issues, etc. Every generation is different. There is said to be one of the greatest generation gaps that has ever existed today. I’m not sure if that’s right or even how that is measured, but it seems clear the world they move in is substantively different and you need to get to know it to help the ask their questions.

  1. Listen and affirm them in the questions they ask.

I want to also suggest you create a safe space for them to ask any question at all. This is perhaps the scariest part. My wife and I have always told our kids they can ask us any question in the world and we’ll do our best to answer it (always in age appropriate ways) without any condemnation. There is, for us, no question that is off limits.

Now you have to cultivate the art of listening in these situations. Listen to them. Listen to what they are saying on their terms. Listen especially to what they are not saying. It’s often that the good stuff hangs just behind what they say.

Now it’s not my view that every question is a good one. There are dumb questions. But any question, insofar as it is a genuine question, is good to ask. And again, ill-formed questions will often stand just on the outside of a great question. Thus I think we should always affirm our kids in the questions they ask. If it is interesting to my kids, it is thereby interesting to me. If you make them feel bad in asking a question, they will start going elsewhere for answers.

  1. Ask clarifying questions and push them to dig deeper.

If they’ve begun to ask some questions, great. But it may not be the question that’s bothering them. Clarify what they are saying. State their question back to them in different words to make sure you’ve got it. “I hear you asking…” and be ready to have missed their point.

If they still don’t know what to ask, give them some prompts. I find that I can typically start in talking about God or the Bible and the questions often come. By pushing them to dig deeper, they’ll find things that don’t make sense to them.

  1. Walk together in dialogue as you search for answers together.

Chances are you will get thrown for a loop. I know I do all the time with students. I often have to give my best stab at something and then apologize and promise to get back to them. But I make it a point to get back to them. And this is the good stuff. Walking together in a dialogue (rather than preaching at them in monologue form) will draw you closer together and help both of you to clarify your thoughts and believe in more rational ways.



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One Reply

  1. Really nice post, Travis. I bet kids love interacting with you. I think your emphasis on creating safety and allowing them to ask anything without getting shamed, coupled with your belief that there are often answers, is a perfect balance and very likely to be helpful. God’s blessings to you!