I got this question from a concerned parent a few weeks ago…
“Should I force my teen to go to Mass?”
I get this question a lot.
This parent was torn because, on the one hand she knew how important it was for her child to attend Mass. At the same time she was worried that forcing him would make Mass a negative thing and turn him off completely.
It’s a dilemma and there’s no easy answer…but I do have a solution. Perhaps we should ask a different question.
To force or not to force...is that the right question?
As parents, we sometimes have to give our kids a gentle, but firm, nudge (read force) to do things they don’t want to do. Service projects, youth group, and Mass definitely fall into this category.
But what if a kid really digs in their heels and fights you every step of the way to Mass?
You could take the hard line and make them go…and they would, begrudgingly. However, I don't think that will give you the outcome you're hoping for. Do you simply want them to be there, or do you want more?
They’ll probably go to keep you appeased, and then when they turn 18 and leave the house, they’ll drop it the first chance they get. It’s the classic thing that happens all the time.
I think what you’re hoping for is going to Mass will change their minds and they'll want to go more. That might happen, but I doubt it.
Mass is not the real issue here. It’s conversion. More than likely, your teen is experiencing some doubt about their faith, some un-conversion. Honestly, Mass is not the right activity for converting an unconverted teen.
I’m not saying you should just let them off the hook, but you need to do something that addresses the real issue or nothing will change. You need to evangelize them.
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You're an evangelist now!
Here’s what your pastor never explicitly told you at your child’s baptism. You’re an evangelist now.
Raising children in the Church really amounts to evangelizing them to be Catholic. Faith is not automatic after Baptism, and don’t assume eight years of parish religious education will do the job.
In my book, Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick, I talk about how faith must be developed, and how parents must continue to nurture and grow it.
As your children get older, they will have doubts and questions. Their attitudes will change. You have to stay on top of that through continual formation. I know, that sounds like a lot. But really it’s not, and it can be quite enjoyable.
So here’s the different question we need to ask…
Instead of “Should I force my teen to go to Mass?” ask, “What can I do to evangelize my teen when he doesn’t want to go to Mass?”
Here are six things you can do with your teen before, or instead of, fighting the Mass battle:
1. Ask questions
The best first step is to ask questions. Why don’t they want to go to Mass? Listen and don’t lecture. Don’t tell them they're wrong. Just listen to their reasons. Then you can address the issues.
2. Cut the boredom
Maybe they just think it’s boring…which may very well be the case.
I love the Mass. It's beautiful. It's the source and summit of Catholic life...one of the most important things we do as Catholics. But let’s face it, the average parish doesn't make Mass enticing for teens. The two elements with potential to entertain, engage, and convert teens--music and preaching--are often lackluster.
I know, Mass is not supposed to be entertaining. You’re right, it’s not. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be.
The truth is there’s tons of adults with the same mindset. Why do you think Mass attendance is so low? They’re turned off by Mass because they find it boring (and they're probably unconverted too).
Is it possible to find a better Mass? Many parishes have Life Teen Masses with contemporary music and exciting preaching geared especially to teens. Going to a Mass like that might solve the problem.
3. Give them some freedom
Do they want more independence? Maybe they would like to go to Mass with friends and not with the family. Give them a choice of which Mass to attend and who they attend with.
4. Study the Mass
Perhaps your teen doesn’t understand the Mass. There are a lot of symbols and hidden meanings in liturgy, most of them biblical. It can be difficult to figure out.
Read a book on the Mass together and discuss it. Watch a video series together explains the Mass to teens. There’s a new video series from Ascension Press called Altaration that looks fantastic. It features several big name youth speakers including Mark Hart. I bought it and plan to watch it with my teenage boys soon. View this video series here at CatholicMom.com!
5. Get down to basics
Perhaps you need to get even more basic. Think in terms of developing their relationship with Jesus instead of just getting the Mass attendance check in the box.
Read the Bible or do a Bible study together. Study about the Eucharist together. Enter into dialogue about their questions. If you don’t know the answers, research it and find out together.
6. Get personal
Personal witness is powerful. Share why the Mass is important to you and why you want them to go.
When my kids ask why they have to do certain religious things, my answer usually comes down to this: I want you to have the best life possible and I believe Catholicism is a road map that leads to a full, abundant life. I’ve lived without it and now with it. I think life with Jesus in the Catholic Church is the best possible way to live.
How can they argue with that?
Should you force your teen to go to Mass? As a rule, yes. However, there might be times when it's counterproductive.
If the opposition is intense and life becomes unbearable because of it, strike a deal. Tell them they can take a break from Mass for a time, but they have to do other things with you. Then work to evangelize them. Find a way to enlighten and enliven their faith in Jesus outside of Mass. Then after a while re-evaluate with them.
Yes, Mass is absolutely important, please don’t misunderstand me there. However, there may be some preparatory steps that need to happen first before your teen can appreciate Mass.
Whatever you do, do it together. Don’t just buy them a book or video and tell them to have at it. Make it a shared experience and discuss it. Your willingness to take time out and learn with them will make all the difference.
Who knows, it might strengthen your own faith and appreciation of Mass in the process.
Have you had to deal with this issue? How did you handle it? Where do you come down on the "force/not force" issue?
Copyright 2016 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.