Chapter five is here.
Chapter 6 of Keeping Your Kids Catholic by Bert Ghezzi is subtitled Keeping Teenagers Close to Christ. This is a subject near and dear to my heart since my children span the ages of twelve to twenty. However, what is interesting about this chapter is the essays address general communication with teens as much as religion and teens. The discussion questions focus on the overall relationship between parent and teen. Only the final questions asks “How can we bring teenage children closer to Christ?”
This is actually a very important point. Remember, back in chapter two we learned one of the primary reasons young people leave the Church is family tension unrelated to religion. Therefore, nurturing a healthy parent-child relationship makes your teen more receptive to the Faith.
Communication begins with listening. And I mean really attentive listening. Unplug the headphones, turn off the television, get away from the computer screen, and close your book or magazine. Look your teen in the eye and listen. Then respond to what your teen says. Don’t just launch into your own diatribe.
Respect your teen but remember you are the parent. Don’t be afraid of conflict. Some parents are so afraid of falling out of their child’s good graces they work harder to be a buddy than they do to be a parent. Teens are reaching out and testing their independence but they really need the safety net of parental authority. They really do want limits.
Teens are not going to open up on your schedule so you have to be ready to listen at the first hint of a conversation. One of our older boys was quite the night owl. After he had gotten his homework done he would often wander into our bedroom as my husband and I were settling into our bedtime book or music. In spite of my heavy eyelids I made the effort to hear his thoughts and enjoy his company. Now that he has left home for college I treasure the memories of those late night conversations.
Being available is also the reason it became more important for me to be at home as the children got older. It was actually easier in many ways to work outside the home when my children were much younger. Teens often don’t tell me too much about their day but I can read their faces pretty well as they walk in the door after school. In a few hours, all hints of their school emotions will be erased so if I am not there to see them, I will miss important clues.
But how do you bring a teen closer to Christ? Providing the firm foundation at home is critical. Are you close to Christ? Does your Faith seem relevant to your life? Your teens need to see, hear, and feel your own Faith. A Catholic social culture is also key. We are blessed with a very dynamic high school youth group in our parish. The high school activities certainly include fun and games, but it is always done within our Catholic context. The teens are not given a watered down version of Catholicism. They are challenged with straight talk about morals and virtues. They spend time in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They go to Confession. They spend time with our priests and thinking about vocations. They are involved in pro-Life issues. They spend a week doing home repairs for needy families. Don’t be afraid to give them the full truth of Catholicism. The challenge inspires teens. If you hide the Cross, the teens don’t see the value and it is much easier to cast aside their Faith.
Finally, don’t panic when you think your teen is having doubts about God, Catholicism, or religion in general. At some point we all have to question so that our faith becomes our own and not just the faith of our parents. If you have given your children a firm foundation and continue to offer support and prayers, your children may wander a bit but they will very likely find their way home.