From The Pastor’s Desk

Continuing from last week, I want to look at young people and religion. Most teenagers practice new skills on their parents, especially arguing for the sake of what we adults might call simply for the sake of arguing, but really they are working at putting new information into ideas. This can be a trying time for parents, especially if what your son/ daughter is rejecting is a part of your family traditions, rituals, and habits. If your adolescent child rejects your religion, the practices he or she was raised with since birth, it’s not just difficult. It can create family discord and personal heartache. The rejection of religion, opposition of practices, questioning doctrine and teachings I have encountered usually around mid-adolescence (13 to 15 years of age). Parents question, teachers question, “what happened”? Young people may argue that religious practice is restrictive, that they do not believe in a god, that practicing the religion without believing is hypocritical. They may refuse to attend holiday dinner or Sunday Mass. They may become belligerent. Parent are usually the target of the rage, opposition, debate, and defiance. And while I was teaching, sometimes me as priest/ teacher. This stage of adolescence is a period when teens question authority—parental, professional, and spiritual. It is completely age-appropriate. How we as adults handle it depends in large part on the young person and their coping skills. In the book, Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence, there are four stages of adolescent rebellion. How you address the rebellion is based on your child’s age but, also on their emotional maturity. In the first stage moving into the teenage years, a young person rejects the old child identity to make way for the more grown up person. Rebellion at this time proclaims: “I refuse to be defined and treated as a child anymore!” They know what/how they do not want to be, but have not discovered what/who they want to be. This is a time for dialog rather than action, as parent/teacher helping them discover who they want to be. It’s the time to help them verbalize their objections, and we as parents need to be willing to listen. Whether the discussion is due to religion, school, or sports, set up some firm family guidelines that are not negotiable, that clearly define your expectations and consequences for not meeting those expectations. Include the rewards for meeting those expectations. The one thing I have to constantly remind myself as I look at 7th and 8th graders all the way through high school, is that tall young person, who sometimes is bigger than me is still a child in a developing body. Some behaviors aren’t going to change through discussion, punishment, or head-to-head combat. You implement rules and consequences to keep them safe. Above all make yourself available to talk. Make it clear to your young person that you want to listen to their objectives, and you need their help to help you understand. Listen without commenting. Validate their complaints by mirroring their sentiments. “I can see how you might feel that way.” At the same time, give them constructive ways to verbalize their anger, frustration, and internal struggle. Carefully helping them to understand at this time you are the parent with what I call “House Rules”.