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Should I force my 16-year-old to go to Mass?

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If we force a child to go to school they will grow up hating learning, said no parent ever.

Submit all questions to @askkatrina@aleteia.org

Dear Katrina,

Our 16-year-old son refuses to go to church with the family and says he’s old enough to decide for himself if he should have to go. I am afraid to force the issue because I don’t want him to grow up hating the church but it saddens me that he doesn’t want to go anymore. Should I let it go or persist?

Julia

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Dear Julia,     

You can’t force a person to love something but you can force a person to do something, especially if that person is your child living under your roof. If your 16-year-old son came to you today and said he wanted to quit school because he felt like he was old enough to make that decision for himself, would you be afraid to force the issue?

No? Why? Because you know how important an education is, right?    

Children may not love school, homework, chores, or even vegetables but we make them go to school, do their homework, clean their rooms, and eat their veggies. Healthy food makes for a sound body and an education makes a sound mind. Church, therefore, nourishes the soul.

It’s our parental duty to see that their spiritual development isn’t neglected. I would place a higher importance on faith than I would on vegetables, a clean room, and yes, even good grades.

So when a parent asks me if they should require that their child go to Mass, my answer is always “absolutely.” I have heard the argument that if you force a child to go to church they will grow up hating it, yet we refuse to apply that same logic to other areas of our children’s’ lives. If we force a child to go to school they will grow up hating learning, said no parent ever.

I think the difference here is that children know why we force them to eat vegetables and study hard — they know it’s ultimately for their own good. What as parents are we doing to ensure our children know that going to Mass is also for their own good?

Do we instill in them an appreciation for the Mass? Do they see us, their parents, praying daily and joyfully making Mass a priority? Or do they see us begrudgingly crawl out of bed every Sunday morning wishing we could sleep in? Do our kids know why we go to Mass, and do they know if they don’t go they’re in a state of mortal of sin … and do they even know what that means and what the consequences of sin are?

Have a conversation with your son and ask him why he doesn’t want to go. If he claims he’s old enough to make the decision for himself then he should be old enough to articulate the reasons why he came to that decision.

Does he find Mass boring? Then maybe he needs to understand the biblical meaning and symbolism found in the Mass. Or maybe the Mass you attend lacks the rich traditions of the Church and you need to find a parish that has a more challenging Mass. Young people are intuitive and know when they are being condescended to, which is why so many of them are put off by Masses that try too hard to appeal to a younger generation.

Maybe he has questions about faith and God, doubts even, that he may be embarrassed to admit to you. Suggest he speak with his priest or a spiritual mentor.

Whatever his reasons, earnestly listen to and address those concerns. In the meantime, it’s important to make sure he keeps coming to Mass. Assure him that you will take his concerns as valid and will help him work through them, but also demand that he trust you as his mother to know what is ultimately best for him.

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