When Children Stray

(The Nationalist, 21 January 2000)

There are not many parents today who don’t have the experience of hearing their teenage children refuse to go to Mass on the grounds that they find it boring. The children reject the Mass, the sacraments, the church and a lot else besides.

Some of this is part of an adolescent revolt against authority dictated by peer pressure. It may also be the consequence of dropping both personal and family prayer; community prayer will not stand alone without those supports. And young people contrast the liveliness of their social life with the apparent lifelessness of church worship.

What can parents do? For a start, don’t make things worse: avoid anger, rows, confrontation and ultimatums. Keep open the lines of communication, especially by listening. Communication is at the heart of relationships, and listening is at the heart of communication. Do you listen with the heart as well as the head? Can you talk to each other? Do you give your children quality time?

If you are able to communicate with your son/daughter then you can share your own faith with them. You can tell them what it means to you. You cannot give them “the faith”; but you can share with them the faith you have. If they see the Christian faith alive in you, helping and motivating you, making you a better human being, that has a lasting impact. If they can see by looking at your life that you are glad to be a Christian, that it is something you value and are grateful for, that counts.

You can always ask questions, for example, about alternatives: are they going to drop the Mass and then do nothing, just leave it at that? If they are serious about God and prayer what will they put in its place? If they drop the Christian faith, what will they replace it with? Pop culture? It has vitality but is self-centred. What about relationships, motivation, values for life, conscience? They probably haven’t thought very much about alternatives.

Above all, keep hope alive. Remember Augustine, the young North African, born of Patrick and Monica into a Christian home, who abandoned the faith at 16, had a baby with his girl-friend and went off to join a sect. After about 15 years living like that, he began to change, though reluctantly; he used to pray, ‘God, make me chaste – but not yet!’ Eventually, influenced by the prayers of his mother, he returned to the faith and went on to become a bishop. He lived in the fifth century and is known to the church today as Saint Augustine; his mother is Saint Monica. And don’t forget prayer: it’s God’s secret weapon.