Studies show that a child’s perception of God is influenced by their parents:
When parents are more supportive of a child’s autonomy– giving her a sense that she is control of her own life – a child is more likely to see God as a more forgiving God. God is an authority figure tobe respected, but He is less fearsome.
On the other hand, if parents are extremely strict and punishing – dictating every moment of a child’s life – their children are more likely to believe that God is punishing, angry, and powerful. Girls are more affected by this dynamic than boys, and the way Mom disciplines has more of an affect in this direction than the way Dad does.
And for children who have extremely strained relationships with parents – or when a parent is absent from their lives– scholars have found that children in those relationships increasingly think of God as a surrogate parent. God as the Ultimate Father Figure. They endow God with the traits of an idealized version of the missing parent – someone who is caring, attentive, and highly involved in their day-to-daylives. He’s an understanding, patient confidant, always there to offerencouragement and support.
While those kids may be missing a parent’s influence,most adolescents are struggling to get out from under a parent’s authority. Teens’ need to carve out a domain under their own control is very real. And they bring their frustration with their parents to their relationship with God.
In a recent study by Clark Universityprofessor Lene Arnett Jensen, conservative Protestant adolescents had some very mixed things to say about God.
The God of Adolescents is judgmental, disapproving, andunforgiving. He isn’t very loving. His supernatural gifts are akin to those ofthe Devil. On the whole, adolescents seem more negative – almost hostile– to God than at any other time in their lives.(Sounds to me like their God is a crossbetween a parent, a popular Mean Girl, and a college admissions officer.)