Catholic Tips for Parenting Teens and Tweens

BOOK PICK: Greg and Lisa Popcak bring readers an enhanced guide focused on the adolescent years.

‘Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace’
‘Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace’ (photo: Our Sunday Visitor)

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace

By Greg and Lisa Popcak

Our Sunday Visitor, 2021

280 pages, $15.95

To order:

Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of their bestselling Parenting With Grace, Greg and Lisa Popcak bring readers an enhanced guide focused on the adolescent years: Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace. Having now parented multiple teens in their own family, they combine their own experiences with recent research on child development in an encouraging and energizing guide to raising faithful, Catholic adults.

The Popcaks write with the conviction that parenting should not be a “fly by the seat of your pants” endeavor, but, rather, an intentional living out of a specific vocation. Armed with this confidence, they have written not just a parenting book, but “a guide to encountering God’s love more fully in your home and changing the world through the ministry of parenting.” Every chapter closes with a prayer and discussion questions, which encourage readers to reflect and apply the Popcaks’ advice to their own homes.

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace is rooted in both faith and reason. “Biology is theology,” the Popcaks write in the introduction, and they draw on both the revealed truths of the Church as well as the social sciences to understand this period of child development.

In the first part, the Popcaks make a compelling case for the difference the Catholic faith makes in family homes and practices. They outline the basic principles (first introduced in the original Parenting With Grace), demonstrating that “the Catholic theology of family calls Catholic parents to create a different sort of relationship — a discipleship relationship — with their children.” 

First, Catholic parents never have to parent alone: “God is our co-parent.” The grace of the sacrament of marriage creates a threefold love that is life-giving. The Catholic home is a Trinitarian home, a “domestic church.” God himself is truly present as the strength, joy and love of the human family, in which its members encounter God and worship him. 

The Popcaks also offer concrete practical advice for living out these principles: Pray with your spouse, and pray with your children. Incorporate your teens and tweens into the rhythm of daily life and give them responsibilities that demonstrate their irreplaceable roles in the family’s mission to the world: “Adolescence is a time when kids become much more sensitive to the need to find their mission and calling. Raising them in a Catholic household where the idea of mission is woven into the daily life of the family is the best way to help your teens understand what living life as Christian disciples really looks like.”

Being a missionary begins “when you open your eyes in the morning. Your mission serves as the basis of all your relationships,” and the Popcaks want to encourage all parents that tweens and teens to first discover their mission in the relationships in their own family. 

In Part II, the Popcaks apply these basic principles to the challenges of forming and disciplining adolescents. They are already known for advocating “attachment parenting,” which most people associate with infant-care methods such as co-sleeping and prolonged breastfeeding. 

The actual foundation of attachment parenting, however, is the idea of “discipleship”: Your relationship with your child at any stage is founded primarily on your God-given vocation to lead them to Jesus Christ. In the teen years, “attachment is best understood as your teen’s gut-level conviction (for beyond a merely intellectual appreciation) that you are the primary person to whom they can confidently and consistently turn for help in meeting their needs and living their best life.” 

In other words, bonding with your children doesn’t end when they hit the teen years. It is an ongoing process that parents must undertake every day with courage to strengthen relationships and trust. “A securely attached teen will be more likely to ask respectful questions and work through any objections or concerns they might have about what you’re saying.” 

The Popcaks back up their claims with biology, explaining the neuro-mechanisms of attachment in the developing brain and connecting those mechanisms to both psychological and spiritual well-being. 

At this point, readers may think, “This sounds great, but how do I do it in my home?” The book does not disappoint, outlining a variety of healthy strategies, reflection questions and case studies parents can apply to foster a disciple relationship with their children.

Part III builds on the first sections of the book by “filling your discipleship toolbox” with tried-and-true techniques for transforming your home from a “rules and consequences” model to a discipleship model: “When children get to about age ten, they are much less naturally inclined to do something because their mom and dad said so. This isn’t defiance. It represents the fact that their brains have developed to the point that they need to understand why they are doing something. … They need to learn how to apply the lessons you are trying to teach when you aren’t there to tell them what to do.” 

The following mini chapters offer brief synopses and situational examples of tools such as family routines, parental follow-up, time-outs and time-ins and logical consequences. 

Part IV applies all of these ideas to “specific discipline challenges,” considering pre-teens and teens separately. This section will help parents hone the particular challenges they are facing currently (or preview what’s to come!).

The Popcaks have provided a great service to parents entering (or feeling lost in the midst of) the teenage years. In a culture that typically offers condolences to these parents, the Popcaks display an inspiring enthusiasm for the great gift of childhood in all its various stages. Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace is clear, joyful and hopeful, even as it confronts head-on the very real challenges of parenting this age group.