5 Simple Strategies to Nurture Your Teen’s Faith [Infographic]

5 Strategies to Nurture Your Teen's Faith

Parenting teens is scary.

I know…I have two!

It gets even scarier for those of us interested in keeping our teens Catholic.

You’ve seen the apathetic look of most teens at Mass. You’ve heard the alarming statistics that 80% of cradle Catholic leave the Church between ages 18-23. You probably have friends with older teens or young adult children who don’t practice anymore.

So what can parents do with teens to make sure they don’t lose their faith?

In my new book, Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making it Stick, I discuss effective strategies for becoming an active part of your children’s faith formation.

Here are five parenting strategies, drawn from the book, to help you nurture your teen’s faith.

1. Engage them in dialogue

The teenage years are a critical time.

Teens are beginning to exert their independence and form their identities. They want to understand their place in the world and figure out what they believe.

To nurture your teen’s faith, you need to be involved in this exploration.

Before they believed what they were taught. Now they need the reasons why they should believe. You need to transition from lectures to dialogue.

I’ve seen parents panic when their teen questions the faith they grew up with. Questioning is not all bad. In my RCIA program I urged questions. I used to say, if they weren’t questioning, they weren’t listening. Questioning means they’re taking the teaching to heart, wrestling with it, and trying to integrate it. That’s very different from rejecting it, but may lead to rejection if not handled well.

Everyone has doubts at some point. Engage those doubts in discussion. Why are they doubting? What are they feeling? What prompted them to think this way? If you can enter into their doubt and understand what’s going on inside their heads, then you can work with it.

Now, by discussion I don’t mean “don’t do this because it’s wrong” or “thou shalt not because the Church says so.” I mean honestly considering cultural and personal issues, then talking about what the Church says and how this relates to their life.

If you want your teens to develop real faith, they have to internalize it. They have to own their faith and make it a part of them. The only way to get there is through dialogue.

2. Be transparent

Transparency goes along with dialogue.

As your kids get older, you must treat them more like adults.

Openness, honesty, and transparency about who you are and what you believe goes a long way toward establishing trust with your teen. Trust is a huge factor in handing on faith. Without it, they’ll doubt your motivation and wonder what’s in it for them.

Transparency literally means letting someone see right through you, letting them know who you are and what’s going on inside. Openness about your life experience builds a kind of authority…a “been there” street cred.

Sharing your journey, your struggles, and how Catholicism changed you will motivate change in your teen. If they see it in your face, they’ll know it’s real.

3. Develop their spiritual muscles

Faith-filled teens practice devotions like Bible reading and prayer. Devotions are like spiritual training. They strengthen spiritual muscles and make teens more receptive to God’s will.

If you did devotions with your teen when they were younger, give them more responsibility now. Set a goal for them to accomplish on their own. If your haven’t done devotions with your teens before, start small. Do it with them at first as a special bonding time. Then set micro goals.

The best way to do something big is to start small. Adopt tiny habits that don’t require serious effort. By doing a little every day, you gradually and incrementally improve.

For instance, have them read the Bible five minutes every night before bed. It doesn’t sound like much, but five minutes every day adds up.

Try going to adoration for 10 minutes after Mass each week. During Advent and Lent, set goals like being kind to one person a day or being generous when asked to help.

These small efforts will pay big dividends over time to nurture your teen’s faith.

4. Get them involved

The teen years are a great time to get kids involved with service and/or helping in ministry.

Ministry and service makes faith bigger. That’s just the way it is. And, often teens who shy away from religious activities will get into service. It’s more concrete and less “church-y.”

I’m convinced that no one reaches their full faith potential unless they’re involved in some kind of ministry or service. You have to give back in some way. God loves us, and we return that love through service to others. As his love moves through us, some of it sticks.

Often teens make time for church activities by combining their social and religious lives. They weave together school, friendships, social time, volunteer work, and worship into a tightly-knit package.

5. Make sure they have Catholic friends

That brings me to the last strategy–friends.

Acceptance is a driving factor in kid’s lives, especially teens. A lot of times friends aren’t chosen; kids just fall into a group that accepts them. That can be dangerous if that group is traveling the wrong path.

Middle school and high school youth programs are a must. Your teens need relationships with other Catholic kids who share the same values and make the same choices.

I’m not saying you should make them go to youth group, but I am…sort of.

Faith-parenting takeaway

This is the time to solidify your teen’s Catholic worldview.

The important thing is to be involved! Some find this time scary, but it’s actually more fun. You can engage them on a more adult level and start discussing real issues, concerns, and Church teachings.

Remember, you are your teen’s biggest influencer, whether it feels that way or not.

Use these five strategies to nurture your teen’s faith and help them stay Catholic.

Note: I posted this article originally on CatholicMom.com.

Nurture Your Teen's Faith

Infographic courtesy of Heather Glenn, Ave Maria Press, 2016

Photo by TawnyNina (2011) via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

4 Ways Parents Are Essential for Keeping Kids Catholic [Infographic]

4 Ways Parents Are Essential for Keeping Kids Catholic

Parents, want to know the secret to keeping kids Catholic?

Get involved in their religious formation.

This isn’t a new idea. The Church has said it for decades.

The Vatican II documents say parents are the “first preachers of the faith” to their children, and their influence is “incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.” Yet for the most part, parents don’t know how to do faith formation and parishes don’t help them.

In my new book Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making it Stick, I argue that parents are indispensable in the process of handing on faith to children. And, there’s scientific research to prove it!

From 2002 to 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, conducted a nationwide study of teen religious involvement. Their findings are reported in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Here are four ways, drawn from Smith and Denton’s research, that parents prove essential and irreplaceable for keeping kids catholic.

1. Keeping kids Catholic through influence

Near my house there was a billboard I saw every day. It was the image of a rear-view mirror and in it you could see the face of a sad little girl looking up at you from the backseat.

The caption read something like, “Even when you’re not talking to her, you’re teaching her. Calm down when you’re behind the wheel.”

Ouch! That one used get me because I’m not the calmest (or cleanest-mouthed) driver. It also got me thinking about other areas in my life where I wasn’t a good role model.

Parents matter…a lot! In fact, according to Smith and Denton, it’s not a question of if you are influencing them but what kind of influence you are having. If you’re not careful, it could be negative.

So, lesson #1 for keeping kids Catholic is be a good role model.

“For in the end,” Smith and Denton explain, parents “most likely will get from teens what they as adults themselves are.”

2. Keeping kids Catholic through relationship

Handing on faith effectively requires a strong relationship and deep level of trust. Otherwise, your efforts fall on deaf ears.

The rapport and intimacy you have with your children, poises you perfectly to teach them about life from a religious perspective. Think about that, you can affect them in ways no one else can.

You speak to your kids about sports and movies, you advise them on school and careers, why not teach them about religion? My guess most parents would say because it’s uncomfortable.

I get that. The little voice in your head says you’re too “out of touch” to reach your kids after a certain age, and it’s better to turn them over to the “experts” at the parish. That little voice is wrong.

“Parents,” Smith and Denton write, “need . . .to develop more confidence in teaching youth about their faith traditions and expecting meaningful responses from them.” They found that deep down kids are willing to be taught by parents…even though they don’t act like it.

If you can extend your comfort zone, you have the potential to influence your kids in profound ways.

3. Keeping Kids Catholic through articulation

Here’s another interesting thing that surprised Smith and Denton, teens across the board had a hard time articulating their faith. They easily discussed opinions on drinking, doing drugs, or avoiding STDs, but couldn’t explain their faith in God.

I think it’s because their parents talked to them at length about the consequences of a DUI or loss of virginity, but remained silent about the eternal consequences of a mortal sin or loss of faith?

If you want your kids to have real faith, you have to discuss it with them. And, that doesn’t mean just telling them “don’t do this because it’s wrong.” Your parental relationship puts you in a unique position to do this.

Articulating faith means internalizing it, owning it, and making it a part of you. That requires dialogue.

Above all else the faith must be something personal, not abstract. They must reflect on how a topic affects them, in their lives, not just how it affects people in general.

4. Keeping kids Catholic through religious practices

There’s a direct correlation between increased faith and faith-related activities like daily prayer, Bible study, and charitable service. These religious practices act as faith catalysts, speeding up and propelling faith development to new levels.

Smith and Denton observed this phenomena in religiously active teens saying, “Faith for these teenagers is also activated, practiced, and formed through specific religious and spiritual practices.”

How do you get teens to do these religious practices? At some point, you have to make them. That sounds harsh, but the reality is you are responsible for forming your children in virtue.

If you don’t teach them the value of discipline, service, and time management by making them do hard things, they won’t learn it. Similarly, you have to schedule time for religious activities and build these habits into them.

When they’re young, you are the keeper of the schedule. If you wait until they’re old enough to do it on their own, they won’t.

This essential aspect of religious formation, more than any other, is dependent on parents. The school or parish can’t do this for you. They may schedule the events, but you must get your kids there.

It’s time to turn the tide

Most Catholic parents aren’t interested in being a part of their children’s faith formation. I understand. We’re all busy and none of this is easy. However, our kids are leaving the Church once they leave the house, and at that point we’re nearly powerless.

The current religious education system is largely failing, but we’re asking it to do too much. The most effective aspects of faith formation need the involvement of parents.

We can turn this around, but it’s going to take a shift in thinking–a partnership between parish and parents.

When we parents take our rightful place in our children’s faith formation, by doing what only we can do, we will be successful in keeping our kids Catholic.

Note: This article was originally posted on CatholicMom.com

5 Ways to Parents are Essential for Keeping Kids Catholic

Infographic courtesy of Heather Glenn, Ave Maria Press.

Image credit: Drew Hayes (2015) via Unsplash, CC0

Of Suicide, Culture, & The Essential Mission of Catholic Parents


Two days ago, my administrative assistant talked a friend out of committing suicide.

It was midnight when he called. When she got there he was on the floor of his bedroom, curled up in the fetal position with a knife in his hand. Until a few months ago, he had no religion. He wasn’t baptized. Last summer he started going to Mass with her and then joined the RCIA. Now, as he got closer to joining the Church, the spiritual warfare was rampant.

He was bombarded by doubts, fears, and messages of despair. He was alone, he told her. He was worthless and no one loved him, he cried.

Lies, she told him. All lies. Exactly the message Satan, and the world, wanted him to hear. Exactly the opposite of what God wanted him to know…that he was planned from the beginning of time, that he would never be alone if he was with God, and that he was worth so much Jesus died for him.

Sometimes, I get discouraged. So many people outside the Church reject this message. So many people inside the Church are indifferent to it. I wonder if it really is making a difference in the world, if people really need it.

I know how much of a difference Christianity has made in my own life. I know in my heart that following your own course through life, or the one the world maps out for you, is often destructive. And, I say it often…but am I exaggerating? Is it actually not that bad?

Then I run across a story like this and I know it’s true. Catholicism is a true roadmap for life. Life charted by our fallen whims and desires does not fulfill in the end. It can lead to dissolution and despair, sometimes even to the brink of suicide.

No, people do need Christ and the Truth he reveals through the Church. Of this there is no doubt. And, while proclaiming this in foreign countries, door-to-door in your neighborhood, or even to co-workers in your office is admirable, as Catholic parents your primary mission field is your home.

Your first duty is to your children. You have to make sure they get this message and not the counter-message of the culture. It’s not enough that they go to CCD at the parish. You can’t be sure they’ll get it there. They may learn lots of great things about God, but not the way they’ll learn it from you.

You have to teach your kids. You can’t afford to leave this up to chance. The culture is toxic. They must know their great worth in God. Their faith must be nurtured and grown to maturity by someone who knows them. Eventually they must face the world on their own, but not before they’re prepared.

This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Are you ready?

Image credit: Volkan Olmez, Unsplash.com, Creative Commons

This post first appeared on CatholicMom.com.

Family Advent Devotion: Jotham’s Journey

Jotham's Journey image

“Over and over Jotham screamed for his family, but there was no one to hear him. They had vanished. He was alone. Where had they gone? How long ago did they leave? Through quick stabbing sobs, Jotham told himself, ‘I must look for my family. I must search until I find them.” And so his journey began.”

Several years ago, my wife got a book to read aloud to the kids for Advent. We’d done several different Advent devotions over the years that involved reading a little something every day: Advent calendars, sticker storybooks, Jesse trees, so I thought, “Cool!” and didn’t think much more about it. Then we started reading this book, Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide, and entered a whole new level of Family Advent devotion.

The book follows Jotham, a 10 year-old Jewish shepherd boy living with his family in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth. Jotham desperately wants to accompany his older brothers on a trip to Hebron because he’s captivated by the sights and sounds of big cities. When his father flatly denies this request because he’s too young, Jotham runs away to prove he’s old enough to take care of himself. However, when his anger cools and his fear rises during the night, he returns home the next day to find his family has packed up the tents and taken off…without him!

Jotham discovers his family thinks he’s dead, killed by a wild animal. But why did they go? Mystery. And that launches the story and his journey to find them. This is a really great tale. Jotham gets into all kinds of adventures, falls in and out of all kinds of trouble, and experiences all the variances of first century Jewish culture in the people he meets. Along the way, his story cleverly intertwines with the characters and story of Jesus’ birth.

This is historical fiction so, while you’re enjoying an engaging yarn, you’re also learning about the people, places, and lifestyle of first century Israel. As well, the story of Christ’s birth slowly unfolds as you approach Christmas. You read a chapter a day all the way through Advent, and each chapter ends with a reflection that ties the story to a teaching about Advent and the coming of Jesus. Additionally, the book guides you in using an Advent wreath. It instructs you to light the appropriate Advent candle before reading the chapter. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter’s reflection:

“Today we begin the Advent season by lighting the first violet candle. This candle reminds us of God’s promise that, though like Israel we have been disobedient children who are lost and alone in the desert, he has sent a Messiah, a shining light, a Savior, to lead us back to God. Like Jotham, we each have a long journey ahead of us—a journey that unfolds day by day. But, also like Jotham, we can be confident that no matter what we encounter along the way, we can have hope and faith in a God who loves us, and who desires only the best for us. If only we seek him.”

The reflections include psalms and passages from the Old Testament that prophesy and prefigure the coming of the Messiah, and they teach how Jesus is their fulfillment. It’s an excellent learning tool! While enjoying a wonderful story, you understand the meaning of Advent and how it affects your life. Your children will be eager to read every day and find out what happens next. And, you’ll be pretty interested yourself.

I highly recommend Jotham’s Journey for your family’s Advent devotions. It’s great for kids up to 10 years old, but this year, my wife pulled it out again and my 13 year-old is still enjoying it. It had been a while since they read it and everything is new and exciting again. I saw people comment on the Amazon website saying they used it successfully with middle-schoolers, so obviously it has a wide appeal.

This was Ytreeide’s first book, but he wrote several others after this one involving other characters from Jotham’s story in parallel adventures.There are two other Advent stories and one set around the time of the Crucifixion that tells the Easter story. That’s several years worth of good family Advent devotions.

Note: This post originally appeared on CatholicMom.com. Unfortunately, this review comes a little late for this year’s Advent devotions. If I had my stuff together, I would have told you about this about a month ago–before Advent started. Alas, no such productivity. You’ll have to settle for doing this next year. But think about it, you’re already ahead of the game for next Advent. 

Breaking the Silence: Forming Intentional Disciples and the Catholic Family


In my last post, I related some insights from a one-day workshop I attended that was given by Sherry Weddell.

Again, her book Forming Intentional Disciples is really creating quite a stir in the catechetical world.

It’s getting diocesan staffs and parish leadership councils all over the country thinking about discipleship and considering parish evangelization in new ways.

Sherry presented some alarming statistics at her workshop about Catholic belief. The situation’s not good.

But one problem she highlighted particularly struck me, and I wanted to consider it in different terms, beyond the parish. I wanted to think of it in terms of the family.
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Get Your Kids Reading the Bible (And Not Hating It)


Do you want your kids to grow up reading the Bible?

Yes, I know you’re Catholic. That’s why I’m asking.

The Bible is central to the Church’s theology and devotional life, but we don’t teach our kids to read it.

Here’s a plan I developed over several years by trial and error to get my kids into the habit of reading the Bible daily. And they actually like it…most of the time.

It’s not complicated and I’m sure you’ll be able to use it too.

First step: Read to them

I first got my kids reading the Bible for a family catechesis program I was running at my parish.

A large part of it was Bible reading. The kids were to record the minutes read each month, and turn them in for various prizes. There was also an award at the end of the year for the number of minutes read. So, I came up with this plan out of desperation. I couldn’t run the program and not have my kids do well.

At first it was kind of easy. They were too young to read. The program, however, counted minutes I read to them. So I did.

At night, before they went to bed, I read them Bible stories. I started with children’s storybook Bibles. These Bibles tell the stories of major players like Noah, Moses, Abraham, and David in the Old Testament…and of course Jesus in the New. The Beginner’s Bible was one of the first. Short and simple. Every story is just a couple of pages. Perfect for very young kids. When we finished one, I’d get another. I used Catholic and Protestant Bibles. At that level, there’s really nothing to worry about. There’s no real difference.

As they got older, I moved up to reading longer storybook Bibles. These added more stories and more detail. Again, there are some good Catholic versions but the Protestant selection is fantastic. My favorite ever is the The Jesus Storybook Bible. The subtitle is “Every Story Whispers His Name.” That just about says it all. This is how it’s meant to be done. It presents the Bible as a unified whole, and every story fits together to form the larger, overarching story. Every Old Testament story makes the connection to how Jesus is prefigured, and the New Testament stories connect back how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament.

At this level, you have to be careful with Protestant materials, though. More theology is mixed into the stories and sometimes they’re wrong. For instance, in The Jesus Storybook Bible, at the Last Supper Jesus says, “This is like my body.” You’ll have to correct that when you read or point out the differences in Catholic belief.

Another good Bible at this level is the My First Message Bible. The Message is kind of controversial because it uses very colloquial language. Whatever your opinion on that, it works well for children. This one is nice because presents the story in a lectio divina format and asks appropriate questions in each section to spark discussion. My kids really got into this. We had some great conversations while reading this Bible.

Next step: They read to themselves

Don’t give those storybook Bibles away after you’ve read them because you can use them again.

When your kids start reading, they are the perfect level. They can begin with the simplest ones and work their way up.

We established a routine of reading the Bible before bedtime. Their goal was five minutes a day. Of course, they could read more if they so desired. Often they did. Five minutes doesn’t like much, but it adds up. And it’s not that taxing.

Finally, graduate to a real Bible

When they outgrew the story Bibles, perhaps around 5th grade, I got them real Bibles.

I started with paraphrase translations like The Good News Bible. Some disagree and think kids should have a “real” real Bible, like the New American translation. I think the best Bible is the one you’ll actually read. If the language is too literal and stuffy, kids will be turned off and reading will become a chore. You don’t want that. Catholics are notorious for having beautiful, leather bound Bibles that look great and never get read. Don’t get your kids a keepsake. Get them a Bible they’ll enjoy reading.

So, there’s my plan. It’s worked out great with my kids. Along with this, we did The Great Adventure Kids study to help them understand the biblical big picture. That’s an essential step for helping kids understand what they’re reading. Over the years, mine have built up quite a bit of Bible knowledge. I’m often surprised by how much they know.

Parenting Takeaway

It’s essential to develop a habit of Bible reading in your children to help them stay active in their faith. Studies have shown that regular devotional activities like reading the Bible are significant factors in the lives of religiously active teens. Teens need that concrete, active expression to stay in touch with God.

Bible reading is so vital for every Catholic’s spiritual life. We’re supposed to love Jesus and have a relationship with him. But how can you love someone you don’t even know? The Bible makes relationship with Jesus real because you can truly encounter him there.

What’s your experience with children and Bible reading? Do you have any other strategies or plans for helping your kids develop this habit? Let me know in the comments. 

Photo Credit: abcdz2000 via Compfight cc

This post originally appeared on CatholicMom.com as part of my Parents as First Educators series.

How to Pray the Examen with Your Children

“I think the examen protects our children not only from drinking and premature sexuality, but also from getting caught up in the violence of our culture…the examen has taught our children to face the violence of their own shadow sides and bring it into the light for healing.” Sleeping with Bread

sleeping-with-breadMy oldest son just turned 12, and I’ve seen a lot of changes come quick.

He’s starting to notice more of the world.

He’s becoming more influenced by his friends and what they do. Being popular and well liked has become an issue now.

And, along with that, the latest shooter video games, pop music, and more adult movies occupy his mind.

But as these new interests capture his attention and imagination, I’ve also noticed them dulling his enthusiasm for God.

Religion is not as exhilarating. Video games are engrossing, the Mass is not. God is doing amazing things in his life, but they are harder for him to see.

So, I’ve been thinking lately about how to foster more of a relationship with Jesus in my son and help him recognize God in his life. To do that we started praying the examen prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola.
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Is It Time You Started Blessing Your Children?


Do you give your children blessings?

I was speaking to a group of parents recently and mentioned how I bless my kids with holy water every night.

I got blank stares.

“Do you bless your kids holy water?” I asked.

Blank stares again. They’d never heard of it.

Most of the time we think of priests giving blessings. And, of course, that’s what they do.

However, as a parent, you can use blessings too. Fathers and mothers have the spiritual authority to bless their children.

Here’s a few thoughts on the blessings of blessing your children. Hopefully, by the end of this post, I’ll have you stopping by the parish office on your way home to pick up some holy water and start today.
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Children and Adoration: The Overlooked Strategy for Faith-filled Kids

Note: This originally appeared as a guest post on CatholicMom.com. I’ve been privileged to contribute there since October and really love it. In addition to evangelization and catechesis, I’m also passionate about how parents can more effectively pass on the Faith to their kids. I hope you like it.

Kids and adoration? At Adoration

Aren’t you supposed to be quiet in adoration? Kids make noise.

What will they do? They won’t get anything out of it.

While it might be bucking conventional wisdom to take kids to adoration, I think all Catholic parents should consider this an essential part of raising faith-filled kids.

We’ve slowly worked adoration into our family life and it’s been very rewarding. Here’s a couple of tips for taking kids to adoration and making it enjoyable as well.
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