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This News Note is available in packets of 100 and packets of 1000.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST TO RECOGNIZE THE MYRIAD CHALLENGES—emotional, mental, spiritual, physical—facing teenagers today. Being a child on the verge of adulthood has never been easy, but now, in a world where so much of life is lived out in the fishbowl of social media, the pressure to conform, to push boundaries, and to adopt the self-centered credo of the popular culture has reached new and sometimes frightening levels. Having a strong foundation in faith, however, can keep teens moving in the right direction, serving as rudder, compass, anchor, and mooring all at once. For parents of teens, it’s key to provide a delicate balance of structure and independence, guidance and self-direction. Often times the children who most successfully walk the path toward adulthood with confidence, kindness, and good judgment are those who come from homes where faith and family take center stage. Even when teens rebel or wander, the foundation built for them over a lifetime keeps them grounded and gives them a place to return to when the time is right. Although there are no guarantees that doing a particular thing will ensure that a teen will always make the right choice, there are at least some basic and simple practices—eating meals together as a family, praying together, serving others—that go a long way toward molding children into caring adults.

Start at the Beginning

“Family life is where the two most powerful realities of existence, namely life and love, join together to create and add to the great harmonies of the universe.”
David M. Thomas, A Community of Love: Spirituality of Family Life

  Of course, we can’t wait until a child turns thirteen to start instilling faith and good judgment. That’s a lifelong process. Marge Fenelon, author of Strengthening Your Family: A Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home, says that parents need to start laying the groundwork for the teenage years in toddlerhood with simple practices that have longlasting impact.

  “Mark and I would have the kids choose two or three toys they’d like to play with, and when they’d finished with those, they could choose two or three more, but they’d have to put the other ones away first. Then, we’d let them choose their own outfits, as long as they were in reasonable limits (no shorts in winter, for example). As the kids got older, we’d give them more decision-making responsibility, but would never allow them to make decisions outside of Church, morality, or Fenelon Clan rules,” she explains.

  So in a perfect world, you’ve already done the legwork for rearing a teen. But what if your teen is making you doubt what you’ve done? What if the angst and surliness and rebellion that often surfaces during those teenage years has you ready to scream words of warning as your teen slams the front door behind him rather than sit down with your teen for a meaningful conversation over that night’s meatloaf? Is there a way to get through to teens who are sure they know better?

  “Find what inspires your teen and work with that,” says Fenelon. “Establish a common ground on which you can communicate, and ease into the difficult topics as your relationship allows. Primary is not only telling, but showing your teens that you love them no matter what. Unconditional love is essential.”

  As is faith. But it’s not enough to simply teach the faith; parents have to live it every day.

  Even the inevitable struggles can serve as a good lesson for teens if parents approach them from a place of faith.

  “The reality is, things don’t always make perfect sense, but we must show our kids day-to-day that we hold on to our faith. What we as parents have to do, and what we have to lead our kids into doing, is to ask frankly, sincerely, ‘Lord, what are you asking of me?’ Even more, we have to help our kids to be confident in God’s love for them,” says Fenelon, who adds that parents should continue to carry on prayer times and family faith traditions even if rebellious teens refuse to participate. “Just keep doing it for yourselves. That will show them the importance. Eventually, they’ll come back. Just be patient.”

  Fenelon says that today’s teens are “lost in an ambiguous abyss” of relativism where there is no right or wrong. They can benefit from service projects which bring teens out of themselves, from family prayer, and from that constant presence of love—“love for God, from God, and about God.” “Above all else, parents must daily pray and sacrifice for their children,” she says.

Signs of Hope

“When we sense a teenager is suffering from a lack of balance, we might first want to encourage him to examine for himself what is working and what is not working in his life, and to find his own creative solutions. At times, however, it may be necessary for us as parents to step in and initiate either major or minor changes.” —Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting

  Every other year, more than 25,000 teens gather for the National Catholic Youth Conference, an inspiring event that not only offers a glimpse of teenagers at their very best but provides incredible hope for the future of the faith and the future of our world. Everyone should have a chance to eavesdrop on thousands of teens shouting, “God is good, all the time,” in a call and response or to witness them lining up by the hundreds for confession or Adoration, or to attend a workshop with them and hear them witness to their faith in front of their peers. It is at once enlightening, uplifting, and humbling.

  Although the NCYC experience is not the norm, these same kids are living out their faith day by day back home, making a difference in their communities, in their parishes, in their schools, and in their families. The one thing they all share is a commitment to their faith, a reminder that with God all things are possible, even during the teenage years. These teens aren’t so different from their more secular counterparts. They text rather than talk much of the time. They use Instagram and Twitter. They like the latest pop stars and fashions. But they understand that they are part of something bigger, that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that they have a duty as Christians to look beyond their little corner of the world.

  “It’s dangerous to make a child the hero of a story that’s too small. The paradox is that if life is ‘all about me,’ then life doesn’t have all that much meaning. But if I’m part of a grand story with meaning and purpose, no matter how small my role is, my life shares in that meaning and purpose,” says Tom McGrath in Raising Faith-Filled Kids: Ordinary Opportunities to Nurture Spirituality at Home.

  McGrath suggests helping children find their “true identity” by letting them know that they are part of a “magnificent story” that runs counter to what the rest of the culture tries to tell them.

  “When I look at the world we present to kids in popular media, I cringe. The worst of it is not the sex or the violence or the self-centeredness per se. The worst of it is the emptiness of the life we hold out to them,” he explains. “Those who have tried it will tell you that rampant sexual promiscuity leaves you empty and totally alone…Being the center of your own universe makes for a petty and cramped life. ‘Is that all I’m worth?’ our kids are asking us.”

  It’s up to parents, then, to counter the “shabby and empty promises of modern culture” with the truth of the Gospel, he says, and with a family life that demonstrates a powerful belief in God through everyday love, compassion, joy, and forgiveness at home.


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