Why Your Kids Won't Stay Catholic

Why Your Kids Won't Stay Catholic

Why Your Kids Won’t Stay Catholic

The scenario is familiar to everyone working in parish ministry–8th Grade religious education apathy.

When they’re young, they are so full of natural desire for religion. In 3rd Grade, their eyes light up when talking about God. Even by 6th Grade, you can still see that spark.

However, in 7th Grade it starts to wane, and by 8th Grade it’s almost totally gone. I’m asked all the time how to get kids to come back for the second semester of 8th Grade CCD. Attendance just drops off, and that apathy continues into High School.

Why won’t our kids stay religious? The natural aptitude is there, why does that spark die out?

My wife just read a book called Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. The premise is greatness doesn’t lie in natural talent or abilities. It’s the same message as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Greatness in some sport/job/skill, etc. is more about practice than natural ability. Gladwell says you need “10,000 hours” of practice to become an expert. The greats always practice more than anyone else. That’s what makes them great.

There are some other factors to consider for greatness:

  • Affinity: If they don’t like doing it, they won’t put in the hours to get great.
  • Access: They need facilities, teams, coaching–a way to actually work on the skill. If Lindsey Vonn had grown up in Louisiana, she probably wouldn’t have an Olympic medal in downhill skiing.
  • Youth: They usually started young…like very young! Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was two!

In every case, at some point their parents had to push them. Sometimes it was good. Other times, like in the case of Tiger Woods, not so good (his father drove him relentlessly to be great golfer). Most often it was a parent that made the difference in them sticking with it.

Don’t miss this–in their teenage years these superstars needed some help. Their natural drive couldn’t carry them and they needed outside incentive. Very often, they owed their greatness to their parents pushing, poking, prodding and sometimes forcing them to continue.

What do we do as parents to help/push our children to succeed in the practice of religion?

Parents are the strongest influence on their children’s spiritual formation. They must actively work to foster that formation.

All the above factors for greatness apply to religion:

  • Every child, every person, has a natural affinity for God. But it has to be nurtured in order to grow.
  • Children need access to religious formation and training in order to grow spiritually.
  • They need to start young! If religious practice doesn’t start early, it won’t have enough time to get ingrained and, consequently, it won’t survive adolescence.

Parents, your kids won’t stay Catholic because you don’t encourage them to practice!

Let’s start thinking of religious formation as a critical life-skill. How do our kids get these skills? They must practice! They must put in their 10,000 hours! And, they must start young.

Will they always like it? No! But they don’t always know what they need. They’ll want to skip religious education or youth group because they’re tired or because there friends aren’t there. They need to go!

Even the greats, who had an unusual desire to practice their sport, sometimes needed prodding.

Parents, you are your child’s spiritual life-coach. Don’t let their spark die out! Send them to CCD/youth group. Help them to practice their faith. In the end, they’ll thank you for helping them stay Catholic.

Copyright 2012 Marc Cardaronella


About Author

Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. By day he works as director of the Office of Discipleship & Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. By night he writes about Catholic parenting and how to share the Faith on his personal blog. Marc lives in Kansas City with his beautiful wife and two awesome boys.


  1. Lisa@SoundMindandSpirit on

    Marc – Thank you for that! It is a great reminder of our responsibility as parents. And even though we might see that apathy in the teen years, we can’t give up! Passing this on to my friend who teach middle school religious ed.

    • Marc Cardaronella on

      You are welcome! I know, it can make you want to give up huh? I’m reading through Malcolm Gladwell again and he keeps stressing the role of opportunity in success. Parents and family environment play such a critical part. If kids don’t have access to good teaching and an environment that nurtures their development, even the most talented have a hard time reaching their full potential. We have to provide that knowledge and environment for our kid’s faith development however we can.

  2. Marc,

    Excellent points. Religious formation needs to begin before they are born! Parents need to form themselves before they can pass on the faith to their kids. Daily exercise of prayer – particularly mass and rosary, scripture, and catechetics is important for kids. Another important point is the example they see from their parents. If Mom and Dad pray the rosary every day, the kids will realize its importance. If Mom and Dad don’t know the faith and don’t invest time in learning it, the kids will not do it either. Oh, and don’t forget about the influence of their friends – good friends help build up the faith, are respectful to adults and are a visible presence, bad ones are never around while you are there, are secretive and bring temptation to your kids.

    • Marc Cardaronella on

      Excellent point about friends John! I’m starting to run across that myself with my older son. Friends can exert a huge influence and not always the kind you want. I believe your friends determine the direction and quality of your life. We should teach our kids early on to choose wisely.

      • Can’t remember whom I heard this from but a friend told me that whenever he wanted to hang out with certain friends, his mom would say, “Oh we already have plans to go to xyz/ visit Grandma/ go to a movie, etc.” She never actually said, “No. He’s a bad influence”. My friend said he never really caught on until much later but he thinks his mother was smart for not acting in a way that she knew would trigger his rebellion and instead made it “easy” for him to follow the path she knew was best for him.

  3. Nancy Piccione on

    Marc, Great article! I love the three truths here–affinity, access and youth. Of course, it’s never too young to start, but at the same time it’s never too late. People do have a natural affinity for God, and “practicing” our faith at any age will yield fruit.

    • Marc Cardaronella on

      Great point Nancy! The point about youth was to have enough time to get your “10,000 hours” of practice in. But everyone has that natural affinity and longing for God, and I think he can make up for lost time with anyone if they desire him enough.

  4. I agree, you can’t just hope to be lucky. I am having to learn stuff now that I would have down if it were an ingrained habit.
    Another point I would add as a 20-something Catholic less than a decade into my religious revival, and maybe this is partly a generational thing: “You kept the best stuff from us.” The irresistibly cool stuff that even teenagers appreciate even if they don’t want to admit it. Didn’t teach us how boss the saints were, or that we have a rich intellectual tradition. Didn’t teach us to be aware that there is a spiritual battle going on and prayer is our best weapon. Didn’t teach us that faith is revolutionary and pursuing a life of holiness the greatest adventure. Maybe because our folks weren’t exactly taught it either. Let’s not make these mistakes as we grow up.

    • Marc Cardaronella on

      That is so true! I found myself saying that all the time when I came back to the Church–“why didn’t anyone tell me about this before!” I think we keep stuff from our kids thinking they’re not ready for it or they won’t be interested in it, but you never know. It could be the thing that really floats their boat. I’ve had teens latch onto stuff I said when I didn’t think they were listening at all. Later I find out it changed their lives.

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