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Modeling our faith to young teenagers

I tend to believe that I have a fairly strong memory, but for some reason, I can only ever recall one vivid memory from the time when I was 13 years old.
Perhaps in an effort to fit in, 13-year-old Adam Ganucheau desperately wanted to see the movie “Titanic,” the blockbuster film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. My parents, in their prudent wisdom, denied this request as they had heard it featured a few questionable scenes involving the dashing Jack and the debonair Rose.
“I’m 13 years old! The movie is PG-13, therefore I’m entitled to see it,” I begged to my parents. A few slammed doors did not solve the problem. Raised voices exacerbated the situation. What began as a small issue grew to a much larger challenge. I remember a counselor telling me, in an effort to use the boat imagery, that my parents remained the captains of the ship and that I was to respect their authority and discipline.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I finally got around to watching “Titanic.” Spoiler alert — the boat sinks. More importantly, I understood my parents’ decision to not let me see the movie at 13 years old. They were right, as has been evidenced many times throughout my life.
In our American culture, turning 13 carries a significance of becoming a teenager. There is a certain excitement for families, with “we have a teenager in the house” posts on social media remaining popular. Those seven years of teenage, from 13 to 19, encompasses major milestones of adolescence — physically, emotionally, academically and even spiritually.
According to research conducted by St. Mary’s Press and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), 39 percent of disaffiliated young adults surveyed — the largest percentage in this research – identified the ages of 13 to 17 as the age that they stopped self-identifying as Catholic. The median age of disaffiliation was 13.
Thankfully, the “Titanic” tiff did not have repercussions to my identifying as Catholic. Yet, for many young adults, there is often something that happens in that period of adolescence that causes disaffiliation.
Recently, I ran into a former student who I hadn’t seen in years. She was in eighth grade and 13 years old when I taught her; she smiled as she made me feel old by telling me she was now 19 years old and a college sophomore. It’s where and when this interaction took place that is the kicker —the vestibule of my parish after Sunday morning Mass.
There are young adults who stay in the Church and have a relationship with the person of Jesus Christ long after the age of 13. This young person seemed to be one of them, making Sunday Mass a priority in her life before resuming college coursework. I am certain we can further dissect the various circumstances that led to this one young adult remaining Catholic while many of her peers have disaffiliated, but I believe that is a column for another day.
Perhaps you know a 13-year-old as a neighbor, student or parishioner. You might even be a parent or grandparent of a teenager. At a certain point, we sometimes ask ourselves, “what can we do to get them to stay faithful to Christ and the Church?” I believe it’s time for a new question — how can we show our young people that we have a dynamic, loving relationship with Jesus Christ, who invites us to follow Him more deeply, and that we want them to experience that deepening relationship with Jesus and His radical love as well?
While we ponder the new question, there are some practical steps that we adults can take when modeling our faith to young teenagers. First and foremost, pray for them by name. Ask the Holy Spirit to move within their hearts, to comfort them in difficult time and to embolden them in the face of doubt. Pray with the young saints and young figures in Scripture. In this age range, Jesus was found teaching in the Temple and Mary said “yes” to being the mother of God — quite different than Fortnite and TikTok!
Research from Fuller Youth Institute revealed that young people were more likely to remain engaged in the faith if they had five, nonparental adults interested and invested in their faith development. We often talk about the ratio of minors to adults, but the research team at Fuller suggests inversing that ratio, where a church commits to a 5:1 ratio. Consider who would be in that five to the one of your teenage child or grandchild. Maybe you can be a strong model to a young person and be in their five.
We are challenged to invest in our young people and their faith development. Parishes are developing middle school youth ministries, stronger faith formation classes, and resources for parents. Our office contributes to an event for fifth-grade students attending the Blue Mass at the Cathedral, and our one-day youth conference for middle school youth has grown to over 150 participants. Our next ACYC JR. will be held Saturday, Oct. 5 at Corpus Christi Parish, and more information can be found on our website: www.ArchMobYouth.org/ACYCJR
Most importantly, we are called to demonstrate that our faith life is important to us, that we hope to instill values in a culture that does not respect Christian ideals, and that they are created by God — unique, unrepeatable, and infinitely loved by Him. Being committed to raising Catholic kids will not necessarily make it easier, but it will be worth it in the long run.
My parents will be saints for many reasons, but raising me in my teenage years is chief among them. Somehow, we kept the boat afloat and survived some rocky seas. Now blessed with a family of my own and guided by my parents’ love and support, it’s clear — I’m the king of the world.
— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at aganucheau@mobarch.org
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