The scenario is familiar to everyone working in parish ministry--8th Grade religious education apathy.
When they're young, they are so full of natural desire for religion. In 3rd Grade, their eyes light up when talking about God. Even by 6th Grade, you can still see that spark.
However, in 7th Grade it starts to wane, and by 8th Grade it's almost totally gone. I'm asked all the time how to get kids to come back for the second semester of 8th Grade CCD. Attendance just drops off, and that apathy continues into High School.
Why won't our kids stay religious? The natural aptitude is there, why does that spark die out?
My wife just read a book called Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. The premise is greatness doesn't lie in natural talent or abilities. It's the same message as Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Greatness in some sport/job/skill, etc. is more about practice than natural ability. Gladwell says you need "10,000 hours" of practice to become an expert. The greats always practice more than anyone else. That's what makes them great.
There are some other factors to consider for greatness:
- Affinity: If they don't like doing it, they won't put in the hours to get great.
- Access: They need facilities, teams, coaching--a way to actually work on the skill. If Lindsey Vonn had grown up in Louisiana, she probably wouldn't have an Olympic medal in downhill skiing.
- Youth: They usually started young...like very young! Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was two!
In every case, at some point their parents had to push them. Sometimes it was good. Other times, like in the case of Tiger Woods, not so good (his father drove him relentlessly to be great golfer). Most often it was a parent that made the difference in them sticking with it.
Don't miss this--in their teenage years these superstars needed some help. Their natural drive couldn't carry them and they needed outside incentive. Very often, they owed their greatness to their parents pushing, poking, prodding and sometimes forcing them to continue.
What do we do as parents to help/push our children to succeed in the practice of religion?
Parents are the strongest influence on their children's spiritual formation. They must actively work to foster that formation.
All the above factors for greatness apply to religion:
- Every child, every person, has a natural affinity for God. But it has to be nurtured in order to grow.
- Children need access to religious formation and training in order to grow spiritually.
- They need to start young! If religious practice doesn't start early, it won't have enough time to get ingrained and, consequently, it won't survive adolescence.
Parents, your kids won't stay Catholic because you don't encourage them to practice!
Let's start thinking of religious formation as a critical life-skill. How do our kids get these skills? They must practice! They must put in their 10,000 hours! And, they must start young.
Will they always like it? No! But they don't always know what they need. They'll want to skip religious education or youth group because they're tired or because there friends aren't there. They need to go!
Even the greats, who had an unusual desire to practice their sport, sometimes needed prodding.
Parents, you are your child's spiritual life-coach. Don't let their spark die out! Send them to CCD/youth group. Help them to practice their faith. In the end, they'll thank you for helping them stay Catholic.
Copyright 2012 Marc Cardaronella
About the Author
Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. Marc directs catechist and discipleship leader formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. He is married, has two teen boys, and writes about Catholic spirituality and how to share the Faith on his personal blog.