April 15, 2018

The Pain of Atheist Teens

Teen AngstAt the outset, I think it is important to acknowledge that many atheist teenagers are perfectly happy, well-adjusted, and living with supportive families who accept them despite their atheism. What I am going to address in this brief post are those who are having a very different experience, most often because they live with devout Christian families. Their stories are a regular occurrence on reddit/r/atheism, and many of them bring tears to my eyes. Many conceal their atheism because they are scared of what their Christian parents might do. As a result, many experience great emotional pain because it feels like they are having to lie to people who are supposed to love them.

When I read these accounts, my attention is usually focused on what the teen is going through. I rarely feel like I can be of much help except to empathize and reinforce much of what has already been said (I'm not a regular enough visitor to be one of the first to comment). It is encouraging to see the level of support others offer. It seems like there is a real community here, and that's great.

After reading a recent account from a teenager struggling with mental health issues he or she says have emerged from this sense of living a lie and being terrified of being discovered, I found my thoughts momentarily shifting to the family. My guess is that this family and many like it have no idea what their kids are going through. Most families do not want their children to suffer. Most families would hate the thought of their kids struggling with mental health issues alone because they are too afraid to express themselves. Some of these children will kill themselves, leaving behind a family struggling to understand how things could have gotten so bad without them realizing it.

Atheists have set up various programs designed to reach out and provide support to atheist teens who are struggling, and I consider these to be vital. While I'm not sure what it would look like or whether it would have any chances of success, I cannot help but think that there should be similar efforts aimed at the religious families of these children. If nothing else, it seems like it might be important to help religious families understand the damage some of them are doing to their atheist children before it is too late.

What would this look like? Honestly, I have little idea. Perhaps some sort of public awareness campaign might be a place to start. It could explain what atheism is and dispel some of the worst misconceptions about atheism, but I'd think the primary focus would need to be on attempting to help religious parents understand what it is like to be an atheist teen living in a religious home. I suppose some sort of outreach program could be tried where atheists might deliver presentations at various churches, but I'm not optimistic that this would be well-received. Maybe there already is something like this. If not, it seems like there should be.