As our oldest son has become a teenager, he has begun to balk at going to Mass, and he has started to question aspects of the Catholic faith that he has always taken for granted. Should we compel him to go to Mass with us?
Having your sweet little boy become a skeptical young man opens up a whole new parenting challenge. We know, as our oldest is on the verge of turning 13 any day now! One thing we won’t resort to is simply demanding that he go to Mass, no discussion. Mass attendance will be mandatory for anyone living in our house, but we must be willing to engage in conversation about why we do what we do.
Teens are at the point where they must make the faith their own. Younger kids generally take the practice of going to Mass for granted. They may get bored from time to time, but they usually don’t question the veracity of the claims of the Church at age 6. Teens, on the other hand, are all about forming and shaping their own identity apart from Mom and Dad. This is as true about their faith as with anything else.
During the middle- and high-school years is a good time for this, while Mom and Dad are still around to offer guidance. Studies show that the period when people most commonly stop practicing their faith is during college. This should surprise no one. After all, if a young man only went to Mass because of the family, and he never really asked the tough questions, it is unrealistic to think that he would continue to go voluntarily. You aren’t there to make him go. After one or two weeks of missing Mass and not telling you that he isn’t going, and subsequently not getting struck down by lightning, he realizes that sleeping in on Sunday morning after a late Saturday night is awfully convenient. Without a well-formed, personal conviction of the truths of the faith and a love for the Lord, this young man will quickly slip away.
So, be encouraged when your son starts asking questions and challenging you! View it as an opportunity to help him along the path of faith; be grateful he isn’t simply apathetic. Redirecting passion is easier than creating a passion that is not there at all. Give him your undivided attention and share your faith: Explain why you believe as you do. If he asks a question you can’t answer, by all means do not make one up — teens can sniff out falsehood a mile away. Instead, be honest, and tell him that you don’t know the answer, but you will work on finding out what it is together. (And frankly, if he consistently asks questions you can’t answer, maybe it’s time for a little serious brushing up of your own!)
When you’re weary of all the questioning (i.e. arguing), remember that at the wise old age of 14, Tom declared himself an agnostic to the sheer horror of his daily-communicant, daily Rosary-praying parents. Thanks to a wonderful Jesuit priest at Tom’s Catholic high school (and all those prayers from his parents), the Holy Spirit broke through ... and now Tom teaches theology.
More on what to say specifically to your teens next time. Stay tuned.
The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.