From Johnny Rotten to Johnny Reverent

There is a one-step solution to turning your bored-at-Mass son into a willing participant ...

Dear Katrina,

I just can’t seem to get my 14-year-old son interested in Mass. Since about the age of 10 his interest has been waning. While he’s physically present at Mass, it’s obvious his mind is elsewhere. He does the lazy half kneel with his bottom on the edge of the pew and mumbles the responses, if he says them at all. Everything about his demeanor and attitude says he couldn’t care less. He’s not a disrespectful kid, I promise; he just takes the same attitude with Mass as he does with chores or a visit to the dentist.

I’m not expecting miracles or for him to be the next pope, but it would nice for him at least pretend he’s interested. What’s a mom to do? I just want to shake him.

—Frustrated Mom.

Dear Frustrated Mom,

Go ahead, shake him. He’s 14; it won’t do any real damage.

Listen, I completely empathize with your frustration. You thought, after years of struggling with an infant and toddler during Mass, you’d finally be rewarded with a child who would let you have a peaceful experience. All you’ve done is traded toddler tantrums with slouching and eye rolling. Instead of hissing “sit still” to an antsy child, you’re hissing “sit up straight” to a teenager.

Let me be the first to tell you there is hope. Your son can go from Johnny Rotten to Johnny Reverent in one step. The secret to this magic transformation is to make your son be an altar server.

I don’t care if he wails and kicks and says you live to make his life miserable. Of course you do. That’s beside the point. Engage your Catholic Mom Guilt powers and insist he make this one sacrifice for the Lord our God who died on the cross for his ungrateful hump.

Ask him how many waking hours he spends a day watching TV, staring at his cell phone, playing video games, hanging out with friends or playing sports. Then ask him how many of those same waking hours he uses in prayer. Bust out your saddest, most disappointed mom face and ask why he can’t make time for Sweet Baby Jesus to serve at his altar.

If getting him good and “guilted” doesn’t work, appeal to his boy senses. Tell them there’ll be fire. And smoke. Lots of smoke.

If that doesn’t work, who cares? He’s a 14-year-old kid and doesn’t know any better, as made evident by his sloppy attitude at Mass. You’re the parent: make him. And when he whines and asks why, give him the mother of all reasons: the reason that’s been used for all of time, since your parents and their parents before them.

Because you said so.

Trust me, it’s worth the fight, the aggravation, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Do whatever it takes. They tell you to pick your battles as a parent, and this is one of those battles definitely worth picking. And it will be a battle. Hey, I promised one step, not one easy step.

Be prepared — people are not going to have your back on this. Family, friends and even other parishioners will tell you you’re going to make him hate the Church forever. They may tell you to wait until he’s a little older and more mature. But I tell you, maturity doesn’t come from age, it comes from experience.

Eventually, over time, your son will learn his protests are futile, and he’ll begrudgingly succumb. And when he does, something marvelous will happen. He’ll learn the Mass better than any way you can teach him, learning all the parts of the liturgy and their significance. He’ll even learn to take pride in his appearance. But most importantly, your son will learn holy reverence and respect.


Katrina Fernandez has a PhD in being single, and a master’s in single parenting with a concentration in Catholic guilt. She’s been writing about these and other life-survival topics for more than a decade. Submit all questions to