Blaspheming Son

April 28 2019 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: we are the parents of a 17-year-old son who, for the past 3 years or so, has been giving us a hard time. He rarely talks to us, is rude, and has a penchant for blasphemy, in its meaning of “verbally insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” We find this last behavior especially offensive, mainly because we have brought him up in the faith, and we are practicing Catholics. Needless to say he no longer goes to church. Apart from this his behavior at school is good, as well as his grades. What should we do?


It can be both painful and infuriating when our children are disrespectful to us and rejecting of the faith and values we have tried to instill in them.

In my experience, there are two fronts to this problem that need to be addressed; relational and spiritual. Of the two, the relational front is the most important. Why? Because faith evolves in stages throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. A person at each stage of faith-development requires a different kind of spiritual food in order for their faith to mature into the next, more mature stage. Adolescents are in the ‘synthetic-conventional’ or ‘relationship’ stage of faith-development. They are hard-wired to believe that faith is ‘true’ to the degree that it facilitates their relationships and goals, and ‘false’ to the degree that it complicates their relationships or goals.

For instance, a teenager who has been rightly told that premarital sex is sinful might have a crisis of faith when his friend gets pregnant out of wedlock, especially if he believes (wrongly) that his faith somehow would require him to reject this friend, or think less of her. Such a teen would need to be helped to understand what faithful accompaniment looks like. Similarly, a teen might be tempted to reject the faith if he experiences faith as an obstacle, something that exists almost solely to prevent him from achieving the sense of community and belonging that is so essential to adolescent development. A teen in this case would have to be helped to find faithful ways to get his needs for belonging met. Likewise, a teen who sees a friend suffering might become angry at a God who would afflict his friend so unjustly. This teen would need to be helped to understand – on an experiential level, not just an intellectual one – that God does not send suffering, but rather seeks to bring order and healing out of our suffering.

In your case, you describe a teen who is angry and disrespectful to you and is using your faith to attack you. Usually this means that the relationship between the parents and the teen has deteriorated so much that the teen sees the parents in an almost all-encompassing negative light. He thinks, “I think my parents are awful, and they use their faith to justify so much of what they do and think. I can’t believe in a God or a Church that would make somebody be like them.”

Obviously, this is unjust, but it’s common enough, and it is why I am saying that I strongly suspect healing your son’s faith crisis is secondary, and dependent upon, healing the crisis he is having in his relationship with you.

Too often, parents think that it is normal for teens to hate their parents. Rather than seeing their child’s anger as a sign of a deeper problem that needs to be heard and addressed, we content ourselves with muddling through with superficial interventions like telling them to “watch their mouths” or simply giving them a wide berth and hoping they’ll eventually grow out of it.

But this approach tells our children that neither we nor our faith are strong enough to bear their burdens and help them find healthy, godly solutions to the troubles they are experiencing. It is only by taking the time to ask you son hard questions about why he is so angry with you, truly listening to what he has to say even if it is hard and, rather than justifying yourself or explaining away those concerns, working with him to appropriately address those concerns will you rebuild the rapport that will allow you to disciple him back to a healthy relationship with God.

I don’t know what has caused your relationship with your son to break down, but I can tell you that it would be a mistake to simply treat his behavior as a stage he will get through. Make the time to work through his concerns about his relationship with you. If you don’t know how, seek professional family counseling. God has ordained parents to be his face to their children. If you want your kids to have a good relationship with God, make sure to do the work it takes to help them have a good relationship with you.

Updated on April 28 2019