what would you do?

my wife and I have three kids. we attend mass as a family every sunday, we pray the rosary about half the nights each week, our kids participate in youth activities at church, etc.

yesterday, our thirteen-year-old daughter informed my wife that she (our daughter) is an atheist. later, our daughter told me the same thing. obviously, I’m upset to hear this, even though I’m not sure I completely believe it.

my daughter’s best friend, a boy of similar age, lives across the street. he and his entire family are atheists. my daughter is at their house all the time. maybe they have influenced her.

upon hearing from my daughter that she is an atheist, I grounded her “forever” from seeing her atheist friend. did I overreact?

on the one hand, we have to let children be their own people-- I get that. On the other hand, my daughter is 13 years old, not 18.

Need some advice.

I don’t think you can make that stick indefinitely given that the two families live across the street. I do think that a 13-year-old girl shouldn’t be hanging out unsupervised with a similar age teenage boy. Maybe you can say that the boy is welcome at your house, but you’d like to be sure there is adequate supervision?

As to your daughter’s statement that she’s an atheist, maybe reply something like, “That’s nice, dear, but it doesn’t excuse you from doing your religious education and living a virtuous life. There aren’t any free passes for atheists.”

I think I’d pay more attention to her intellectual development in the faith. Maybe find some books, written at a popular level, for developing the intellectual side of her faith, and read them together? C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is a good option, as is his The Four Loves. (There’s some material on sex in both books–you may wish to skip it, but under the circumstances, I think she’d better read some of it.) You should maybe have a Sunday reading night with your older children where you read and discuss some challenging book. (My husband has been doing this with our kids.)

Also, she’s at an age where she will benefit a lot from actively participating in service to others outside the family. I think you should be more conscientious about making sure that she does so regularly and that you talk about it.

Best wishes!

Is it possible that you and mom can take her to speak to a priest or spiritual director? It may help. I will be praying for her and for you who love her and are concerned.

That was certainly a grave error on your part.

However, you are probably not going to be completely successful in keeping her from seeing this boy. This may be a good time for you and your wife to re-examine your family’s spiritual life. Do your kids attend public schools, are they under the influence of unsupervised internet/television?

Yeah, the problem is that you’re letting your teenage daughter hang out with a teenage boy. Girls do absolutely insane things for the affection of boys, and that is especially true at that age.

You can’t ground your daughter for being an atheist. It should first of all be said that she very likely isn’t an atheist at all, but is rather seeking to assert her own unique identity apart from the family. That’s normal, and she is turning to the atheist boy who she may admire very much to fill that identity. Give her a little space and more than anything let her know that you will love her absolutely passionately no matter what she believes or does.

I have a good friend who is a very, very serious Catholic–seven kids, daily Mass, etc.–who has a teenage daughter who informed him that she has no problem with having relations with boys and that she has, in fact, already done as much. You can tell them what to do, but you can’t tell them what to believe.

I was doing voodoo and Wicca at her age in defiance of my nominally Protestant family. My parents never told me what to believe, although they did tell me that I couldn’t do any voodoo or Wicca rituals, so I became Jewish and, eventually, Catholic. And here I am.

It is important to give your daughter enough intellectual space to figure these things out, without actually enabling atheist or Wicca or whatever it might be. It is perfectly acceptable to demand her attendance at Mass. It is fine to require her obedience in moral issues. You can and should tell he what you believe, what the Church teaches, why, and then show her Christ’s love very tangibly in your marriage and in your relationship with your daughter. And pray a lot, right?

And certainly I would discern very carefully and courageously about this atheist boy. I am not sure what to advise in that matter, but it does seem like something must be done that disrupts the status quo a bit.

I wouldn’t forbid her from spending time with him or the family and don’t condescend to her. The more you try to convince her that she’s not an Atheist, the harder she will try to affirm that she is. Lead by example and offer up that you are always available to talk. She is trying something new, but if she finds openness and love from her Catholic family, she will most likely head back there if you catch my drift :slight_smile:

IMO, yes. I think that overrating and grounding her from seeing her friend will push her away from you. She may try to seek them out more so to find the understanding the support she needs while she makes these decisions.

I think what you should do is love her, support her, and pray that she will change her mind. Sometimes we all need to go through a period where we experience different things. There is a certain excitement about it and she may just be curious.

At their age as well, they may be looking for their own identities so they are open to new perspectives. I think the openness to something new shows a lot of maturity and intelligence.

Grounding her from seeing him will, i am 100000000000000% sure, worsen the situation. Dont do that, just convince her that God exists, teach her some stumper questions for atheists and shes ready to go!

Great advice!

All I would add is the fact that this is so very common with teens these days. It is quite “fashionable” to rebel against Christianity. It may have absolutely nothing to do with your neighbors. It happened with my son and he had no such outside influences.

Here is what we did, for better or worse:

  1. Required that he stay in his confirmation class until the point at the end when the teens had their private discussion with the parish priest and stated whether or not they wished to receive the sacrament. (He did not receive. Confirmation cannot be forced.)

  2. Required that he continue to attend Mass with us weekly. He could sit in the back in respectful silence if he wished, but he had to come. (We prayed that the Holy Sprit would speak to him in a special way during the service.)

  3. When he told us that #1 and #2 would not change his mind, we told him why we were insisting. At the time we were married we took a vow to raise our children in the Church, a standard item in the sacrament. Our vow before God was important to us and he respected that. (I’m not sure why he cared that we obey a God who "didn’t exist, but I wasn’t going to ask!) We promised that he could stop attending at 18 if that remained his decision. He was 15 at the time.

  4. We supported him when he wanted to play and cantor at Mass. (Who doesn’t want an atheist/agnostic saxophonist leading the music? LOL (He did a GREAT job and was well-received by the members.)

  5. We talked about it whenever we had an opportunity, but not incessantly or frequently. Nagging does not work and can make things far worse!

  6. When he turned 18 he stopped attending and we respected his decision and kept our word with heavy but hopeful hearts.

  7. We prayed, prayed, prayed. We received the assistance of his RE Teacher and our priest.

It has been a long, long process, but he is slowly turning around. These things do not happen overnight in all cases, but we do see progress. At this point he believes, but is not practicing. Not great, but it is a good start. We know the Holy Spirit is at work.


Sometimes as parents we have to take drastic measures to protect our children but I am not sure you will be able to keep your daughter away from this family forever. In addition, they may have influenced her to a certain degree. Ut that is probably not the whole story. Try very hard to talk this over with her and see if you can get to the bottom of why she feels this way. Then, try very hard to be patient as this may just be part of her finding herself teenage years. Many teenagers go through a phase that can be very difficult for them and for you. I will pray for this to be a faith building time for all of you.

great post. thank you.

If your daughter thinks she is an atheist you aren’t going to change her mind by banning her from associating with the neighbor boy. In fact, it may even reinforce the idea that religion is a bad thing by creating separations among people. You can insist that she attend Mass because she’s part of the family and that is what your family does. I don’t think bringing in the big guns and getting a priest to talk to her is going to work either unless the priest is someone she already knows and trusts. If there’s someone closer to her own age who can talk with her about it, that may work better.

  1. Your daughter is a teenager (and we all know they go through phases)

  2. Part of being a teenager is testing different identities/images and seeing what works and doesn’t work for them.

  3. Obviously, this boy has a lot of influence on her life…I would be non-judgmental and ask questions and just listen to the answers. You might be able to form a picture of what’s really motivating the desire to be an atheist and gently answer her questions. Asking questions is a natural part of faith. Some of us ask more than others.

I was lucky, my kids chosen form of rebellion and asserting themselves was leaving their rooms messy, and dying their hair various shades. I just closed the door, and waited for their hair to grow out, or the next color change.

I would insist she continue to attend religious education. That’s not optional, at baptism I promised to raise them in the faith–to me that meant up through confirmation preparation. I didn’t insist they get confirmed, only that they completed the preparations. They all chose to.

You can not shield her from all influences in the world. Sit down and talk through why she doesn’t believe in God. Engage in that conversation. Provide her some books on the subject. You can’t force belief, even God doesn’t do that. She’s forming an opinion, give her more information to base that opinion on.

I wouldn’t have grounded her for being an atheist, but I would have challenged her to defend that belief. If you really think the family is a bad influence, than trust your judgement.

A bit of levity for this thread:

I rebelled religiously as a teenager, too. My father was/is a Protestant minister. At 16 I started going to Catholic Mass with my best friend. :stuck_out_tongue: My family wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but they got over it! I was then Methodist for a bit before getting baptized Episcopalian – still traveling the path back towards Catholic. :slight_smile: Your daughter will probably “try on” many different faith identity, so try not to be too worried. Keep her in your prayers.

If this were my daughter, I would tell her that if she wanted to see him again that he would have to come over to my house. See how they like it when the shoe is on the other foot.

When he comes over, start a casual conversation with your wife about how Nicolaus Steno shows the Bible at work in nature or alternatively something that discredits atheism. For example see this link: creation.com/great-creation-scientists-nicolas-steno

Most children at this age having studied a bit of science at school seem to look for scientific proofs of the existence or non-existence of GOD. When we can finally convince them that such proofs do not exist or that such arguments are circular, is when we can start to get them on the path of faith.

Things are worse than I thought. My daughter professes to be a total atheist. She won’t listen to me try to convince her otherwise. Says she doesn’t want to believe. Says she hates God (yes I see the irony).

She doesn’t want to go to Mass anymore. Doesn’t want to pray the Rosary.

Not sure she wants me to be her dad anymore.

My world has been rocked.

What do I do?

Keep in mind, she is 13.

Stop arguing with her–she wasn’t argued into her old beliefs and she won’t be argued out. Give her some space, but with love. Come up with a list of minimal behavior that you expect from her (Mass attendance, basic chores, homework, basic civility to household members, etc.) and point out to her that she is a minor, you have a lot of legal rights over her until she is 18, and if she wants help with college, she’s going to have to toe the line in various respects. Remind her that as of 18, any material help you provide her will be of your own free choice. Perhaps remind her what her professional goals are and talk to her about how she is planning to get there. And tell her you love her.

If things get too heated between her and you, hand off to mom. If things get too heated between her and mom, you go back on duty.

Also, consider having a friendly chat with the neighbor parents (without daughter, of course) and appeal to their better angels. If they see that you aren’t ogres (and have a healthy respect for parental karma), they may speak up in your defense.

Dear sir, in all kindness and with total sincerity, I suggest this is the very best thing you can do right now. Hopefully in twenty or so years from now, the two of you will look back and laugh over what she is about to put you through for at least the next five years just as I can now (finally) do with my grown sons.

If i were you , I would listen to your wife and go together through what may be going on at home that made you and you daughter " ground each other forever" without talking it over peacefully before.
She knows you and her better.
Peace ! And God bless you:)

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