Relationships are central to making a spiritual impact on children. Children and teenagers tend to embrace their parents’ faith if parents have heart connections (relationships) with them. If a parent and teenager grow distant from each other, the parent will probably have little spiritual impact, even if the parent teaches biblical truth.
Drawing from empirical evidence from more than 230 in-depth interviews, Christian Smith observes: “Parents can be very invested in and intentional about religious transmission, but if they have emotionally distant or critical relationships with their children, their efforts are likely to fail or backfire.”1
James Emery White agrees: “Crucial to the parental transmission of faith to children is having warm, affirming relations with the child. As a parent, you can be heavily invested in, and intentional about, passing on your faith to your child, but if you have an emotionally distant or critical relationship with your child, your efforts will likely fail.” 2
Teenagers tend to reject truth when it comes from someone with whom they have a cold relationship. On the other hand, parents who keep heart connections warm and strong usually see visible evidence that their faith and values are passing to their offspring.
Here is good news that flies in the face of popular thinking: teenagers want genuine relationships with parents. Parents who want warm relationships with their children throughout adolescence need to know the children likely want the same thing. Teenagers tend to embrace the faith of parents who communicate their significance, provide encouragement, and often say, “I love you.”
The Current Situation
Teenagers and parents both tend to report less closeness as children move from older grade school to middle school. During this transition, church leaders can observe less harmony, communication, and expressions of love. As children approach adolescence, parents say “I love you” less, and they show less physical affection.
Sadly, some Christian parents communicate that they never are completely satisfied with what their teenager does. Their teenager may have come to believe the teen can never please the parent. The teenager could be pushing away the parent’s faith only because the teenager finally gave up trying to please the parent.
For a long time, we have known that seemingly happy families often live with injured relationships. “Injured relationships account for the overwhelming majority of long-term parenting problems in Christian families . . . When biblical guidelines for raising godly children have been applied and don’t seem to be working, injured relationships are usually the culprit . . . Injured relationships are the major, hidden force that drives our children away from (Christian) living, and sometimes from the faith altogether.” 3
The Biblical Pattern
God desires to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents. “And he will turn [connect] the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:6, NKJV). The heart connection between parent and child mirrors the relationship between Father God and His children.
Teenagers tend to share strong heart connections with parents who communicate their significance and frequently provide words of encouragement. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
Responding to the Situation
Culture guru Walt Mueller reports that: “Relationships will be shallow where serious issues and deep concerns are never discussed . . . While we might be satisfied with blaming our poor communication on our teens, the burden falls on us as parents to be dissatisfied to the point where we take the burden on ourselves to do what we can to improve our intergenerational communication.” 4
Parents willing to improve relationships must consider several key issues:
- Teenagers sometimes need a parent’s undivided attention.
- Teenagers need a listening ear that does not interrupt.
- Teenagers and parents need empathy and compassion from each other.
- Parents and teenagers need to forgive each other for the injuries they have caused.
- Parents and teenagers need conversations without emotional outbursts.
- Parents and teenagers need to hear words that bless, encourage, and build up.
The statements above are factual. But most church parents and teenagers have drifted so far apart they don’t know how to fix it.
Fortunately, biblical counselors and family life leaders have known for some time what words and experiences have the most potent potential for rebuilding warmth. The key has been placing all those rich insights in the hands of parents and teenagers. Dr. Gus Reyes and I spent months synthesizing the best we know about relationships and then putting that in a usable format for families.
A Proven Solution
Church leaders finally have a simple yet powerful tool to assist their families in restoring relationships—the phone app named 30 Days: Parents and Teens. The use of the app has proven that the hearts of parents and teenagers can be turned toward each other in 30 days.
Previously published in booklet form, thousands of parents and teens recaptured a closer connection with each other, often restoring strained relationships. When 30 Days was published as a booklet, tens of thousands of families gladly paid about $20 for the experience. But by moving to a phone app, the cost now is below $3. A side benefit is that teenagers think using their phones to connect with a parent is cool.
The 30 Days Experience
- The app is available in English and Spanish.
- To download the app for either Apple or Android devices, go to https://qrco.de/bdksni.
- To experience 30 Days, one parent and one teenager commit to spending ten minutes together each evening for thirty evenings.
- The parent and teenager go to a quiet room and pull chairs near each other.
- They open the 30 Days phone app for that night and then see the instructions for that session. Some screens are for the teenager, and some are for the parent.
- By following the instructions in the app, the parent and teenager say and do those things that have the most potential to turn their hearts toward each other.
- Some evenings are marked by laughter and some by tears. Some words bring blessing and affirmation, and some bring forgiveness and healing. One night leads a lost family member toward salvation. Every night prompts prayer in creative and meaningful ways.
Reports from Families
Strong families report this process has taken their relationships to the next level. Weak families report relationships have been restored, and life won’t be the same. Best of all, when the heart connection is restored, then teaching and modeling again have an impact.
South Carolina Dad – “My son and I went through a very difficult time this year. 30 Days brought us closer together. To see him getting ready for our time, even making sure he told me not to forget, makes my heart sing with joy. Praise God and the 30 Days process.”
Daughter — “Me and my father have a background of tension around each other. These meetings that we have had for the past 30 Days have allowed us to be totally open with each other and not worry about the responses coming from the other. It’s easier to open up to him now, and I am happy that we did this. To anybody who wants to improve their relationship with their dad, I recommend it.”
Karen (Mom) — “My son and I have only two days left of our 30 Days. It has been an incredible experience; eye-opening, tear-jerking, heart-tugging, and heart-warming all at the same time.”
Kevin (Teenager) — “During our 30 Days, one night, my mom told me all the things she likes about me. The next day I was put down by some guys at my school. But I could take it better after hearing the good things my mother said to me.”
A Proven Launch Plan
- To mobilize many families, enlist two or three families to begin the 30 Days experience. Choose families who can impact other teenagers and parents.
- Then, plan your church’s largest-ever gathering of parents and teenagers for about thirty days later.
- At that gathering, allow the parents and teenagers who have been through 30 Days to tell their stories. Those stories will touch the hearts of most families.
- Invite all the families to download the app and begin a 30 Days experience together that evening.
Then, look forward to seeing more teenagers looking more like Jesus because of the new spiritual life flowing from parents—just as God intended.
1Smith, Christian and Amy Adamczyk, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation (Oxford Press, 2021), 5.
3Bruce H. Wilkinson, Experiencing Spiritual Breakthroughs (Multnomah Publishers, 1999), 60.
4Walt Mueller, https://cpyu.org/resource/trend-alert-holiday-communication/.