I was recently on Kim Tisor’s podcast show “Our Catholic Way.”
Kim is a delightful host who interviews Catholic converts and is a convert herself. I had a lot of fun discussing my conversion story in relation to my book The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church.
In the interview, Kim does a great job of weaving practical questions in with the story of my conversion.
A question that came up is one that is asked of me quite often, “Should I force my teenager to go to Mass?”
There are differing opinions on this question. I am not a psychologist and I am not a parent of teenagers. But based on my experience as a rebellious teen who fell away from the Church when I was fourteen, I feel pretty strongly that parents of teens should make it clear to their children that Mass, just like family dinner or any other family activity, is non-negotiable.
Boundaries are very important for kids. They can be difficult to enforce, especially during the teenage years, and parents should choose wisely “which mountains to die on” so to speak, but Mass attendance is one boundary that I think is very important.
My parents “forced” me to go to Mass. I was an atheist. I was a very rebellious kid, but I did not push back a whole lot on this issue because I just knew it was what we did as a family. It was not up for discussion. I often was annoyed during Mass, but my Mom tells me, and I remember, that there were times when I would perk up and tune into what was going on or what the priest was saying. Those potential moments of openness are precious and important.
In my book I devote an entire chapter to “Respecting Free Will.” I believe this is key in inviting our loved ones back to the Church. But when children are underage, it is a parent’s responsibility to set boundaries – and going to Mass as a family, in my opinion, is an acceptable boundary to set.
I know not every family setting is the same and we must always approach situations with respect for the individual and the circumstances involved. So, I am not proposing a hard and fast rule. The difference between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old is immense. And there may be times when a parent may feel it best to give their teenagers a choice about going to Mass, and in the long run this might be helpful in terms of keeping them in the Church. But in most cases, when it is at all possible, I think it best to make it clear to children that Mass is simply something we do as a family.
Dr. Gregory Popcak, a fellow blogger on Patheos, wrote on this subject:
If you, as a parent take your child’s earthly nourishment seriously, why would you neglect your child’s spiritual nutrition? It needs to be understood in your household that Mass attendance is not optional.
He then goes on to make several important points about underlying issues that need to be addressed when a teenager refuses to go to Mass.
Father Z, a popular blogger and priest, also recently addressed this question similarly:
We “force” our children to do many things against their will. We force them to brush their teeth, eat their broccoli, clean their rooms, stand up straight, and be polite to Aunt Frieda when she visits. This does not seem universally to lead to lapsed dental care, abhorrence of broccoli, perpetually messy rooms, slouchers and rudeness when they hit adulthood.
Father Z then goes on to make the distinction between teenagers and adult children.
I agree that this distinction is really important.
Adulthood is the time when parents should back off and make it clear to their children that as adults they need to make decisions for themselves. When my parents did this, it gave me pause, even as an atheist. They were very clear that when I entered adulthood I was now making important decisions on my own. They hoped I would make the right one when it came to Mass, but they ceased using their parental authority on this issue. (Although they asked me if I would be willing to attend Mass when I was home as an example to my siblings, and I did so, out of respect for my parents).
Of course there are issues surrounding this, particularly in relation to receiving the Eucharist.
I address this question in the interview. But I do not think we should encourage our teenagers to miss Mass out of concerns surrounding the reception of the Eucharist. There are other ways to address that.
I cover quite a bit more than the issue of teenagers going to Mass in the interview with Kim but I wanted to give a little context to that topic in particular because I receive a lot of questions around it.
Hope you enjoy the interview!