Chris Hitzelberger, Director of Youth Ministry, Blessed Sacrament Parish
A common question I get from parents is, “My teens say they don’t want to go to Mass anymore. I don’t want to force them to come, but I know it is important for them to be connected to their faith. What should I do?” We all know that as children become teenagers they naturally pull away from their parents and family as they begin to define who they are and what is important to them. Often teens reject things that are important to parents as a way to distinguish themselves as different from their parents. This is normal. However, there is nothing wrong with insisting that your teen still do things with your family because it is important. Family meals, social time together, family prayer, Mass, etc. are all good and healthy ways for teens to be connected with their family.
If Mass is a priority for your family, it is good to make it a priority for your teenager. So, how do you do it? Here are four steps I would take if I had a teenager who was not interested in attending Mass with the family:
1. Check what is my own attitude about Mass. If Mass is simply an obligation and not something I see as essential to my spiritual life, then it will be difficult to encourage Mass attendance for my child. Our faith should culminate in Sunday Mass – it shouldn’t be just another thing on our list of things to do.
2. Be prepared. Read the Sunday readings on Wednesday evening (or another night) as a family. Talk about them at dinner (even if that is while you are eating McDonald's on the way home from some sports practice). The more you know about something, the more interested you become in it.
3. Linger. We spend more time on important things. I can think of many times when I have had a meal with a friend where we spent time after the meal just talking, even if it made me a little late for my next activity. Don’t rush to get to Mass – give yourself plenty of time so you can be in good spirits when you arrive, and don’t make it a habit of leaving right after Mass. If you seem ready to bolt as soon as the priest leaves, your teens will be eager as well. Sit for a bit after Mass (even if your teens head out for donuts). Take some time to walk in the courtyard or chat with another parishioner. Our days are so rushed that taking it a little slower will make Mass stand out as a restful and welcome break from the rush.
4. Finally, talk to your teen. Have an honest conversation. Tell them that Sunday Mass is the most important thing they do all week. Tell them you care more about them coming to Mass than about any other thing they do all week – it is that important in your view.
Ask them what is really important to them – maybe it is sports, friends, video games, who knows what. Tell them if they are disregarding going to Sunday Mass, they are disregarding you, because the Mass is so important to you, as well as neglecting their own relationship with God. Our souls need nourishment, just like our bodies do, and at Mass our souls are fed by God. To put it very simply, God has given us everything and we owe him our thanks and praise. We are so limited and life is so fragile. Yet God is eternal and almighty, and he has become one of us in Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God the Father saves us from sin and death. As we say at Mass, “it is right and just” that we raise our minds and hearts in prayer to God, who is our origin and final destiny. The gift of Jesus in his Word proclaimed at Mass and in the Eucharist, his actual Real Presence given at every Mass, is the greatest gift we as human beings have – Jesus himself is the Bread of Everlasting Life.
Hopefully this gives you some insight, or at least one suggestion, as to how to deal with this common issue with teenage kids.