Recently, several teenagers (not my own) have expressed to me some interest in discussing or learning more about atheism (mine act as though they've heard more than enough).
When do people come of age, or reach an age of reason?
Many faiths seem to tie religious maturity to sexual maturity, as their rites of passage coincide with the onset of puberty. Jewish girls bat mitzvah at age 12, while Jewish boys bar mitzvah at 13; Mormon boys can achieve priesthood at age 12; and Catholic children are confirmed as early as the sixth grade (age 11 or 12). A quick Google search reveals that Islamic kids undergo a change in religious responsibilities once they show physical signs of puberty, though no ritual is performed.
It is my sense that many people at that age are still well under the influence of indoctrination and the gravitational pull of parental and social approval, while others are merely rebelling against it. They might not have learned much about cultures and belief systems different from those around them. My own mom claims that I've always been an iconoclast, but I never voiced an objection to doing those things that were expected of me in the Catholic Church.
On the other hand, by that age most kids are in the process of gaining independence of thought and forging their own identities, values, and judgments--ideally, a process that lasts a lifetime. Maybe this is an appropriate age to present an alternative to theism, particularly to someone who has shown a curiosity about it.
I have no interest in "converting" anyone, but I am happy to discuss and debate what I believe. I also hope that by increasing others' knowledge, I could increase tolerance (ooh--there's that bad word again!) and understanding for non-believers such as myself.
Back to my initial point: would it be OK for me to talk to someone else's teenager about atheism? Should I seek permission from a parent? If you think so, do you hold the same opinion for more mainstream belief systems? Do you have a problem with people handing out copies of the new testament as kids leave their elementary schools?
I truly would like to hear your opinions, so I'm posting this jointly on my blog and as a note on Facebook, where it is easier to comment. Please weigh in.