What do you think about the notion that forcing adolescents to attend church against their will only breeds more resistance and eventually could deaden their faith altogether?
I think it is clichéd, illogical, infinitely stupid and soul jeopardizing. (We shrink types are trained to communicate our opinions in soft, affirming language.)
So many utterly shallow notions now dominate the parenting landscape, for little reason other than that they're endlessly repeated and seldom challenged. They become mantras. For instance, “Don't force a child to do anything he strongly opposes because he'll only rebel further.”
The thinking is, it's better to negotiate, compromise or follow the child's lead so that what you desire for him will gradually become his desire for him. Push too hard, so goes the warning, and he'll only push back harder. He won't personally come to accept your way of thinking or doing.
I don't think it's an overstatement to assert that, for almost all of human history — except perhaps until now — parents instinctively understood that, if they wanted a child to embrace a way of life, they had to expose him to it, often against his will. They realized he was not in a position to know better than a parent what was in his long-range good. Did all those people in all those times and places get it wrong, and we moderns finally figured out how kids really need to be guided?
Next, let's check the logic of your notion. If a child resists healthy food and seeks mainly candy and cupcakes, by mandating good nutrition will you risk shaping her into a raging sugar addict who will someday regurgitate all your forced feeding? Similarly, suppose a youngster needs long-term medical treatment but struggles against it, becoming more frustrated with time. If you insist and, yes, force him to take his medicine, will he begrudgingly swallow it for now, persevering only until he is old enough to chuck it all? Or, as he matures, will he come to see the need, indeed the value, of what you made him do? Alas, it is the nature of children — even adults — to initially fight against the things that will do us the most good.
Then, too, the theory you're testing is stupid. And soul jeopardizing, to boot. Nothing compares in importance to a child's infinite well being. Everything is of no ultimate matter if it does not lead a person closer to God. To allow a child to retreat from a relationship with the Almighty because he wants to, or because he's bored, or because he sees little value in it, is to cooperate in a decision with results that neither the child nor the parent can remotely foresee. It allows a child to ignore and potentially reject her very reason for existing.
Further, just being present for worship, however marginally, offers a chance for a homily to shape thoughts and a prayer to soften a heart — in essence, to give God's grace room to work. Simply put, the risks of not visiting God far outweigh the risks of temporarily being forced to visit him.
Okay, so it's off to church, whether or not a youngster wants to go. Then what? Then comes the critical part. We must be able to convey to our children why the Catholic faith is of infinite worth — the logic, the meaning, the depth of it all. Which means we must educate ourselves about it all. We can't give to our kids what we don't ourselves possess. We must learn, know and understand the reasons why we worship as we do. As we give these to our children, their resistance will slowly be replaced by their own understanding and their own commitment.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a psychologist, author and father of 10. Reach him at DrRay.com.