I am the mom of seven children between nine and twenty-one years of age. I want the best for my children, even on the days I am off-the-charts frustrated. Ultimately, “the best” is for them to live with Christ in heaven — but the world is filled with so many glittering distractions. How can we compete with the siren’s call of entertainment, texting or even the latest trendy jeans?
Thus the eternal challenge: to instill the faith and nurture its growth within a teenaged soul. My husband and I chose to focus on integrating our faith into daily living with joy, so our children might fall in love with the faith instead of looking at it as a set of rules and restrictions.
How do we do this with teenagers?
- Pray for your children and as a family. Pray the family rosary. Pray at dinner. God hears our prayers, even when the kids are fidgeting or when we have to resort to praying in the car. Don’t skip it because you can’t carve out an evening to light candles and incense the family room (perhaps an exaggeration, but you get my drift).
- Learn about the faith. We can never completely know the faith — so study Church history, the Bible, the saints, traditions….There are endless avenues to explore. The key is to keep learning and to share what you learn.
- Know your priests, other faithful families, your children and their friends.
Our children know our priests, and our priests know them. We open our home to priests, so our children are comfortable with them and will seek counsel should they feel the need. We likewise spend time with other faithful families within our community. It is easier for teens to retain their faith when they enjoy time spent with other faithful families.
My husband and I also invest time in our children and support their interests. I have spent countless hours at competitions, performances and sporting events. Participation in activities helps children practice their faith through good sportsmanship, perseverance, cooperation….The list goes on.
And don’t forget that friendships have a significant influence. Do you know your children’s friends? Are they virtuous? Respectful? Moral? Prayer helps to discern good friends from poor ones; if you can’t shake a nagging feeling, it might be the Holy Spirit prompting you. Help them choose friends who will lift them up.
- Attend Mass and confession regularly. Attending Mass together strengthens the faith and family ties. Confession not only reconciles us to God but also gives us grace. What better model for a teenager than to see their parents on their knees praying?
- Venerate Mary. She is our Mother. We can always run to Mary, ask for her help, thank her and ask her to lead us to her Son. Share her with your children.
- Celebrate the faith as a family. Keep reminders of our heavenly family in your home: Christmas nativities, holy statues, crucifixes, icons. We look to the seasons of the Church for the rhythm of our home. Advent and Lent are times for spiritual exercises and preparation for celebration. Carnival, nestled between Christmas and Lent, is a season that lasts longer than Fat Tuesday. May and August are months of Mary, and November’s focus on the saints and All Souls reminds us to pray for those who have gone before us. The Church calendar is rich in celebrations. Observe feast days with Mass, desserts, family outings and even small gifts.
- Counsel your children. Open the windows to the world a little while the kids are at home to better manage the breeze that may come in. For example, we enrolled our oldest two in community college for high school. They encountered some anti-Church discussions and students whose lifestyles were at odds with ours. Resulting questions were addressed while they were at home versus once they were in another state at college.
- Trust your children when they go to college, but don’t let them fly out of the nest blindly. Check out the chaplains and Catholic resources at the colleges they are considering. Is there a FOCUS presence? Great! Encourage your child to get involved! They will not only find support but will grow in the faith through FOCUS. (I speak from experience as a mom of a FOCUS student leader at one campus and of a faithful Catholic student at a college that is not directly served by FOCUS.)
Also, don’t nag when they are home on break — but do remember your children are still your children, even though they may be away at college. Make sure they have been (or get) to reconciliation, are praying the rosary and are attending Mass regularly. Continue to talk with them about the faith with joy and celebrate with them, even if the miles separate you.
Is this a magic list that will guarantee your child will make it through the teen and college years with faith not only intact, but on fire? No. God made us all with free will, so ultimately your child will choose to follow or leave the faith. But as parents, we can plant seeds and help make the soil rich.
God bless you on this wonderful journey of parenthood as a faithful Catholic!
Copyright 2016 Kathleen Neuheardt, Senior Director of Finance at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)