4 Reasons the Internet May Influence Your Kids’ Faith More Than You

4 Reasons the Internet May Influence Your Kids' Faith More Than You

Hi everyone! I finally finished my book and am now back for regular blogging. It won’t be out until February, but I’ll keep you posted as it gets closer to release. Thanks so much for sticking with me while my blog was quiet.

A couple of years ago, the Fixed Point Foundation launched a nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances or Freethought Societies. These groups are basically the atheist equivalents to Christian clubs. They meet regularly, encourage one another, and even proselytize.

The Foundation found that most of these students had not chosen their worldview from neutral positions, but in reaction to Christianity. They had grown up attending church and had heard all the “traditional” church messages.

But something completely shifted their view of reality.

The researchers wanted to find out what factors had so much influence in that shift. Here’s what they discovered:

“When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism—people, books, seminars, etc.—we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the ‘New Atheists’ [well-known atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens]. We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.”

YouTube.

Website forums.

These were the things that ultimately had more influence on these students’ faith than the years they spent in their Christian homes and at church.

That should sound pretty ludicrous. But, having encountered a lot of atheist content online (in YouTube videos, forums, blogs, and more), I can absolutely see why.

Here are four reasons why the internet may influence your kids’ faith more than you…and what you can do about it.

 

1. Most kids aren’t well grounded in theology, so they can easily fall prey to really bad internet distortions of what Christianity is about.

Consider this YouTube video, for example. In the video, a skeptic poses a “One Question Challenge” to Christians: “Why does blood sacrifice make anything better?” He compares Jesus’ death on the cross to a tribe taking a virgin and tossing her into a volcano to appease the wrath of the volcano gods.

A kid who isn’t well grounded in the nature of the atonement (how Jesus’ death on the cross pays the penalty for our sins) could easily be swayed by this pop logic (“Hey, that’s true, we should be more civilized than thinking we need to sacrifice to a god!”).

The internet is filled with similar theological distortions that make Christianity sound nuts. This can make kids start believing that mom and dad must have been clueless (something they’re naturally predisposed to thinking anyway!). If kids don’t know basic theology, they won’t be able to identify why the distortions are so off-base. If they’re going to reject Christianity, they should at least understand what they’re rejecting.

What you can do: Don’t assume your kids will learn theology at church. Most don’t. They learn basic Bible stories and Christian values. Take the time and study theology at home. Numerous books are available to help.

 

2.  The internet brings the most challenging parts of the Bible front and center.      

Have you read God’s command for the Israelites to kill all the men in battle but “keep the women” for themselves (Deuteronomy 20:10-14)? What about the rape laws that say the rapist has to marry the victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)? Have you read the story about Jepthah sacrificing his daughter because God gave him victory in a battle (Judges 11:29-40)? Are you aware that God said the Israelites could own foreign slaves “as property” and pass them down to their sons “as a possession forever” (Leviticus 25:44-46)?

These examples just scratch the surface of tough passages in the Bible. Atheists are well aware that most Christians don’t have a clue how to respond to these challenges and are eager to “educate” you and your kids about them (see www.evilbible.com as an example).

Kids can be shocked to encounter very different parts of the Bible than they hear about in Sunday school and church sermons—and can easily feel they were fooled by those around them.

What you can do: At an age-appropriate time, be the one to talk to your kids first about tough passages so they know what to do with them. If your kids are old enough, use the evilbible.com website as a topical guide to the problems atheists have with the Bible and work through the passages with them. And (shameless plug), get my book when it comes out in February—I spend three chapters covering what you need to know about slavery, rape, and human sacrifice in the Bible.

 

3. The internet exposes kids to a “treasure trove” of uncritical thinking that sounds right.

I have no way to quantify this, so I’m just going to state it based on observation: Many people have never thought very critically about their beliefs, but they’re more than happy to share what they think online.

For example, how often have you seen simplistic comments like these on social media:

Jesus is all about love, so you shouldn’t judge anyone.

God is all about love, so there can’t be a hell.

All religions are basically the same, so they’re all equally valid paths to salvation.

The problem is that underexamined beliefs often sound right because they’ve been arrived at based on personal preference (what people would like to be true) rather than critical investigation. If kids have underexamined Christian beliefs, they can easily be swayed. What do you think they’ll go with—the “unattractive” beliefs of mom and dad or the “attractive” beliefs that are accepted by an ocean of online peers?

What you can do: The best protection against other people’s underexamined beliefs is making sure your kids don’t have underexamined beliefs. The more you’ve invited them to ask questions, and posed tough questions they haven’t yet thought to ask, the more they’ll be prepared to identify and resist uncritical thinking.

 

4. The internet is a disaster waiting to happen for kids who haven’t been taught how to critically conduct research on spiritual subjects.

Let’s say your kids are having some spiritual doubts, but rather than coming to you with questions, they decide to Google, “Is Christianity true?”

On the first page of search results, they’ll see articles called, “How I figured out Christianity is not real,” “Why Christianity can’t be true,” “20 Reasons to abandon Christianity,” and “40 Problems with Christianity” (amongst a variety of Christian resources).

What will they do with all this? The sky’s the limit…unfortunately. If they haven’t had any guidance on how to do research with a critical eye, the results can be disastrous. (For the record, this goes both ways – they shouldn’t uncritically accept every Christian article, either.)

What you can do: Give your kids some research projects so you can talk through the process with them. For example, you could ask your kids, “How do we know Jesus existed?” Ask them to find both Christian and non-Christian answers online. Also ask them to keep track of their process: What did they do first? What kinds of sites did they end up visiting (blogs? ministries? discussion forums? news articles?)? What differences in information and views did they find between these sources? Which source(s) did they end up trusting for their answer, and why? Projects like this will give them much-needed practice in spiritual discernment.

 

Your turn: How have you seen the internet influence your kids’ faith? I’d love to hear. Please share in the comments.

15 Comments

  1. […] Hi everyone! I finally finished my book and am now back for regular blogging. It won’t be out until February, …read more       […]



  2. Amanda on April 11, 2015 at 8:58 PM

    Hi Natasha,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and giving insight into some important matters in Christian parenting. I am the Mum of an almost two year old boy, who I really want to disciple and teach the Bible. We have a children’s Bible and various Bible story books that we read regularly. We also pray with him daily and talk about Jesus. I am a relatively new Christian, and to be honest, the thought of teaching him theology scares me a little. I was not raised in a Christian home (nor was my husband) and didn’t have this model, so really don’t know where to start???

    I know he is young, but he is smart and soaking in the world around him at a rapid rate. Could you recommend some books or strategies to help with this please? I really enjoy reading your blog and look forward to your book coming out. Will it be available in Australia?

    Thank you and God bless.

    Amanda.



    • Heather on April 12, 2015 at 9:01 AM

      Hi Amanda, just wanted to say congrats on becoming a believer. Welcome to the family. Here are some authors I like that may help you understand theology better so that you can teach your son as he grows. These are not authors for children, but for adults. Josh Mcdowell, J.I. Packer, Erwin Lutzer, Charles Stanley, Tony Evans, James Mcdonald, John Piper, John Ortberg, Charles Colson, Alistair Begg (? spelling), Lee Strobel, RC Sproul, AW Tozer, CS Lewis.

      I know sifting through theological books can be daunting because there are some off-track things out there. But these guys are reliable and on-track. My personal favorite is John Eldredge but his stuff is more relational than theological instruction.

      Also, I read your testimony on your blog. I too have dealt with perfectionistic and self-worth issues. You can read about my journey through this at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com. I hope it brings you encouragement. God bless you on your journey of spiritual growth. The more you grow, the more you live it for your son. Hope these authors help. Some have websites with great posts. God bless!



  3. Brook on April 11, 2015 at 11:51 PM

    This is excellent! I get excited to read your posts and look forward to your book. As parents, we need to think on these things…so insightful! Any tips on teaching theology to 8yrs old and under?



  4. Pat Minagrelli on April 13, 2015 at 8:20 PM

    Show true. It is sad that kids (nor adults) don’t learn theology in church.

    There are many strawman arguments that are perpetuated on the Internet. Those arguments sound really good, but if someone is well rooted in the truth they realize those arguments don’t hold water.



  5. Kris LaBorde on April 14, 2015 at 5:20 AM

    A few years ago, my boys (now teenagers) came up with a brilliant summary of how to shine in elementary Sunday school. All you had to do was sit quietly and know three essential one word responses: Yes! No! Jesus! Not a lot of theology there to work with….



  6. […] Crain posts at her Christian Parenting Blog on how the internet is influencing your children’s faith more […]



  7. Debra Seiling on May 21, 2015 at 3:38 PM

    Natasha, Thank you for sharing this information. I had never really thought about the negative impact of the internet on the faith of the younger generation. Once I read the post topic, I saved it until I had time to read the rest of the post. I do appreciate your suggestions on how to approach these topics with children. Thanks so much! Debbie



  8. Carolyn Schatte on July 5, 2015 at 2:52 PM

    Hi, thank you for your thoughts! Here’s just a thought – when I first got saved in my late 20’s, I had two children (we ended up with 7)- and all I wanted was for our children to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. We threw out the tv – we didn’t watch any movies or tv for about 20 yrs. We started reading the Bible and applying it to our lives – whatever it said, we tried to do. We read great wonderful old books written in the 1800’s – books by Isabella Alden, O F Walton, Hesba Stretton, Howe Benning, Jennie Harrison, Edith Kenyon, Julia Mathews, Susan Warner aka Elizabeth Wetherell, and other authors – the Spanish Brothers by Deborah Alcock, and Under the Southern Cross by Deborah Alcock, Etc – we had reading time after lunch. We loved it. Our children would work on projects while we read – Greasy the Robber, Sunshine Country, Bible in the Wall. We did this for 25 yrs. So, for all those years, the only food they had fed to their spirit was spiritual – plus we homeschooled and they had their own Bible time. Saying all this just to say that we don’t have to have internet or cell phones in our lives. They were much older than many kids today before they ever had any of these devices. I think sometimes as parents we don’t realize that we don’t have to invite the world into our homes. We can keep them out – at least for a season.



  9. Carolyn Schatte on July 5, 2015 at 3:00 PM

    I neglected to say that those books where christian books and they had a lot of good meat in them. I learned a lot from them myself – like, when you work for someone, your time is not your own during that time – it is your employers, so you don’t want to stop to dilly dally around, etc but rather, work hard as unto the Lord and be diligent and thorough – that is from, The Little Medicine Carrier. : )



  10. Becky on July 30, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    Hi,

    Thank you for this article and for your ministry. Unfortunately, I allowed my children too much access to the internet and this has negatively impacted my 15 year old daughter. She is questioning Christianity and will not even listen to my arguments. I am at a loss for where to begin. We have not studied the Bible together as a family very much. I did devotional books when they were younger but I have trouble gaining especially my daughter’s interest in the Bible. What books would you recommend and how should we begin studying Scripture together at this late stage?



    • Paige on September 19, 2015 at 2:21 PM

      Becky:
      Just to start off, I am NOT a mom, but I experienced something similar to what it seems your daughter is going through right now. I’m only 20 now, and am super on fire for God right now–I’m even the president of an evangelism-focused Christian club on my college campus. But when I was in high school, I was very much going down the same road as your daughter. I started to believe that the Bible was probably only true mostly in a metaphorical way, I was not going to church (despite the nagging of my mother) because I had no interest in church, nor did I have any interest in the Bible. There were other things that were more interesting to me, like watching TV. In any case, it was not until the end of summer before my sophomore year of college that this changed for me. My grandma (who I would not classify as a Christian–she believes that everybody except for the “really bad people” go to heaven, and other gospel sanitization) had rented the movie “Heaven is For Real”, and so my whole family sat down to watch it. I cried through most of it. Awhile before that, my mother had given me the book “Heaven is For Real”, but I had never read it and had no interest in doing so until after watching the movie. So I picked up the book and read it, and my whole life was turned around.

      The campus ministry I’m involved in is called Ratio Christi, and they are specifically a Christian apologetics group that focuses on evangelism. Evangelizing on my campus has brought home to me that, although it’s important for us to have good reasons for what we believe, and to be able to rationally defend Christianity, logic and evidence alone don’t make disciples of anyone. There has to be a heart change. When I was in high school, I wasn’t ready to listen to rational arguments, nor would I have listened to any rational arguments for Christianity, especially if they came from my mother.

      I can’t give you any definitive advice about what to do or what to read because I don’t know your relationship with your daughter–you have to decide what will work best in your situation. What I find works well sometimes, especially with someone who is doubting or falling away from Christianity, is to have an open, honest, low-key conversation with them. Sometimes it’s really tempting to give “why you should believe” mini lectures or try to guilt them into going to church or doing the right thing (I find that I do this because I’m desperately grasping at them, desperately grasping at their faith)–but I’ve found that people usually respond negatively to this. The type of conversation that I find helpful is one where you try to honestly answer their questions, even if it’s from a biblical perspective, without trying to actively persuade them to “your” side (someone once accused me of trying to “win” him). At the very least, this gets people talking instead of being hostile. And, in apologetics conversations in general, I find it helpful to just ask a lot of questions, and let them do the talking most of the time. A lot of times this helps me to identify the underlying “heart” problem, or the underlying event(s) that caused that person’s current beliefs. Another post on Natasha’s blog had this link: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/ . This article talks about how teenagers often fall away from Christianity both because of some sort of logical explanation or reason, but usually this also coincides with some emotional thing or momentous event in their lives. For example, one guy I was blessed enough to witness become a Christian, told me afterwards that one main reason he had resisted Christianity was because that he thought that Christians weren’t very smart–which was a strange belief because his parents are both very strong Christians and are both very intelligent and have degrees in computer science. Clearly, something emotional regarding his parents was going on here that caused him to believe this, independent of pure rational thought. I know that with regards to myself, the more my mother pushed for me to go to church, the more I didn’t want to go.

      So having a conversation with your daughter where you aren’t focused on convincing her, and where you aren’t condemning her, but truly seeking to understand her by asking questions about what she believes and why she believes it (which will involve more listening instead of talking on your part), hopefully will help you be able to figure out what you can do to interest her in Christianity again.

      And remember that prayer is so powerful, and that God works on God’s time, whether that be a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years, 20 years…
      It can be really painful, and I’ve just had experience with a close friend–I have little understanding of how much more painful it can be for a mother–but you have to trust God, and also respect the free will God gave to your daughter.
      I hope that helps some, or at the very least encourages you.



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  12. Timothy on March 8, 2018 at 7:58 PM

    Natasha,
    Thank you for the article. I recently heard you on Stand to Reason with Greg Koukl after getting your most recent book. I can’t wait to start it! You mentioned laying the theological foundation for kids early. I’m doing that with my son who is 4 almost 5 yrs old. Aside from your books what do you recommend for children around his age? Thank you for all you do!



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