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What should you do if your teen turns away from God?



Edifa - published on 11/16/20

If your teenager doesn't want to pray with you or go to Mass anymore, don't panic ... there are ways to help.

It is quite common for teens to be reluctant to pray with their families and go to Mass. How should you respond? By staying peaceful and vigilant. We can’t predict teenage rebellions, but they are very normal. They are both a good sign (it’s a sign of growing up, even if it is filled with ups and downs) and a warning: it’s not so easy to go from a child’s piety, very much in sync with that of the parents, to an adult faith. Of course, reality is more nuanced, but it’s true that adolescence marks a decisive stage in a person’s spiritual life.

Listen and observe carefully

Let’s say your child is showing increasing hostility towards family prayer — maybe grinning, sneering, or refusing to participate. Is it the prayer itself they are rejecting, or the family aspect of it? They’re not the same thing. Many teens suddenly find themselves embarrassed to pray with their loved ones. They may also be uncomfortable going to Mass with their whole tribe and prefer to sit at the other end of the church.

Try to accept that the spiritual life they had as a child is gradually slipping away, no longer allowing us a secure hold on it. When they are little, they prayed at our knees, we guide them on the path of faith, marveling at the things they shared with us. But as they grow older, they become silent, as if they are closing the door of a garden to which we no longer have access. And if they do open that door, it is more often than not, for others and not us. This is actually a good thing, even if it’s difficult. Our mission continues, but more and more it is transmitted through others: friends, priests, scout leaders, teachers, and other educators. Hence, the importance of the choice of schools, youth movements, leisure activities, etc.

Having certain responsibilities can help a teen

Set some firm guidelines. Education does not end when children become teenagers. Respecting their personal faith does not in any way prevent us from making certain demands which, in the area of spiritual life just as in others, are like safeguards for guiding and protecting their still novice freedom.

Requiring a young person to go to Mass teaches them that fidelity — in this case, fidelity to their baptism (and to their profession of faith) — means not following their current preference, but probably doing something they don’t “feel like” doing. It helps them persevere. Will they vehemently disagree? Maybe. But it can also help them get through a difficult stage, from which they will emerge stronger in faith. There are many testimonies to this effect: teenagers who grumbled every Sunday and who, as adults, are full of gratitude for their parents way of doing things. But we can make it easier for them — for example, by choosing Mass times they prefer. They will eventually come to realize that the value of a Mass is not measured by the quality of the songs or even the homily.

Having certain responsibilities can help a teenager go to Mass without too much grumbling: taking care of a small child, supervising the altar servers, playing a musical instrument, participating in the choir, giving a reading. Our parish communities should encourage young people to participate (in the liturgical teams, for example).

Try to be consistent. How can we require our children to go to Mass if we don’t go, or we only from time to time? How can we encourage them to participate in parish activities if we put more importance on their academic results than on their spiritual progress? How can we transmit the value of prayer if prayer for us is rote action that has no real influence on our lives? How can we make them understand our joy at seeing them grow if we express only worries and reproaches? Jesus told us: we must sow the seed, but without continually turning around to see if it begins to germinate: we risk destroying the plant. So let us leave the seed alone: God is stronger.

Christine Ponsard


Read more:
The 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit answer our teens’ 7 needs

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