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How to Raise Great Catholic Teens in a Secular World

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I often ask readers if they have topics they wish I (or anyone) would write about. Recently, one asked if I could write a post addressing:

Best practices for raising Catholic teens in a secular environment 

I thought, “this is a great topic – but I need help.”

I knew I could go to our directory members – many who have already raised teens, who are currently raising teens and others, like me, who have worked with the youth in education and ministry.

Here are the best tips we gathered.

1. Talk about the hard stuff (and yes this includes sex).

Ginny Kochis, mom of 3, gives great advice on this:

“Answer their questions – especially the hard ones.

Talk about why we believe what we believe, not just that we believe it. If you aren’t sure of an answer, admit it and seek out the truth together.

Make open, honest dialogue a mainstay of your relationship so your children know how to defend the faith rationally and with love.”

(Ginny Kochis, Not So Formulaic)

Tim Lucchesi, who has been in youth ministry for years and has a blog devoted to promoting chastity, lends his expertise:

“Don’t “Soft Sell” the faith because you think it will be easier for them.

Developmentally, children desire to understand boundaries. And they will push those boundaries most where they feel most comfortable.

So, make sure that the place they feel most comfortable is in the home.

This is especially true for the faith. Despite the presence of the Eucharist in the Church building, the faith must be MOST present at home.”

(Tim Lucchesi, Chaste Love)

Here is a great article to help you give “the talk”: 7 Tips for Talking to Kids about Sex

2. Be an Authentic Example

Amy Thomas, mom of 3, and an inspiring witness to the Catholic Faith, teaches us about how to be an authentic example of living out your faith:

Teens have to see you living your faith in a genuine way.

It can’t seem fake or superficial to them or they will not take it seriously. If God is only for Sundays at Mass, they won’t get the importance of Him in your life.

Above all, have conversations with them all the time about moral truths and the illogical and irrational thought processes of the secular world.

You have to walk them through the arguments and allow them to see how our Catholic Faith is consistent, logical, and true.

Make these talks conversations with give and take and not just lectures. Let them express their thoughts on it and ask them lots of questions

(Amy Thomas, Catholic Pilgrim)

Ally Brown is a mom of many, and she is devoted to providing a great example for her kids:

“Live by example and include God in your daily life.

At the same time give them room to breathe as God also gave them the freedom of choice. We must gently guide them so their freedom is also respected. . .

Don’t ask them “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Ask them “Who do you think God wants you to be? What do you think God wants you to do with your life?'”

Ally Brown, Against All Hope

You may think the last thing your kids want to do is listen to you about the faith.

Trust me, they do.

But it never hurts to have it reinforced from a trustworthy person who’s not mom or dad.

We offer a course that will help you show your teens what it means to be a true Catholic in one of the biggest areas of their daily lives: social media.

Sign up today: How to be a Good Catholic on Social Media

or take the free Introduction class now!

3. Seek Wisdom and Advice from Parents Who Have Already Done it

Leslie Hunley Sholly blogs at Life in Every Limb and has children that our presently teens and young adults. Leslie advises:

Make faith and values something you discuss with them rather than something you lecture them about.

That way they will hear what you say without getting defensive and shutting down.

Make sure their Catholic formation doesn’t end with Confirmation.

Leslie Hunley Sholly

In her blog post titled, “Things I Know”, Leslie goes more in depth about what she knows about teenagers.

4. Pray with them and over them

We can never, ever forget the power of prayer (remember Saint Monica!!??)

Julia Miller, owner of Fresh Rosary, advises:

Give them a blessing every day as they leave home.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May he charge his guardian angels to protect you and keep you safe from all harm, and bring you safely home to your loving family.”

We did this with all five of ours. No broken bones ever. A few near-misses, but no real bodily harm.

Julia Miller

Give them prayers to take with them ( 5 Things You Need to Bring Prayer Back to School)

Tianna Williams, owner and artist of TiSpark, recalls her own upbringing and states:

“The family that prays together, stays together.” I am not raising teenagers yet, but this is the motto my father lived by. He led us in prayer every day after supper, taught us to pray on our own (bought us our own bible and gave us a “cheat sheet” for how to pray), brought us to Mass (including daily Mass) and confession, and frequently renewed family consecrations to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. This lifestyle of prayer was so consistent that when I entered my teens it never even occurred to me to rebel or stop praying. It was deeply woven into the fabric of my being—not as something forced upon me once a week on Sunday but cultivated with skill and tenderness over the years. Not only that, my parents respected our budding intelligence and engaged us in countless conversations about faith, theology, sexuality/courtship/marriage, culture, and so many other things. They respected our dignity as children of God and constantly reminded us of it. They challenged us to holiness and the best versions of ourselves.

5. Provide and encourage fun Catholic camps, events, retreats, clubs, etc.

Michele Faehnle, author of Divine Mercy for Moms, discovered from her son how impactful a Catholic Baseball Camp could be.

Combining something he loved with the Catholic faith really left a great impression and led him to write about in a school essay. Michele says:

“Find a camp or retreat that really connects with your teen so they can see how faith presented in a little different perspective and by different people other than they regularly get at school, youth group, PSR etc.

There are now tons of Catholic Sports Camps if your kids are into sports, or another place I have taken my kids to is Catholic Youth Summer Camp (CYSC)”

Michele Faehnle

Bonus Tips!

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

One of our members, Melody Lyons (the Essential Mother) wrote a whole post on this topic titled The Hard Truth About Raising Catholic Teens. Melody addresses culture in general and specific ways from her perspective as a mother for over twenty years.

Although many of our members have general advice, Sarah Hatke Antonio from Wild Things Adventures gave some very specific wisdom:

“Always take them to confession when they ask. Don’t drill them about why, just encourage that desire for mercy and forgiveness.”

And Kedon, aka, Kid Catholic, gave his opinion too. We asked Kedon,

“What advice from your parents helps you resist temptation?”

His response was this:

“Learning the why behind Catholicism makes me understand why Jesus did what he did for us. This helps me to draw closer to God, and the closer I am to God the easier it is to resist temptation.”


No matter what, Don’t Give Up!

Most importantly, remember that you are planting seeds of faith and seeds take time to grow. This analogy was presented in an educators’ workshop I once attended, and the image and message really stuck with me. As a parent and a teacher, we often wonder if what we do makes a difference. Please know it most certainly does! Don’t give up when you are not seeing the fruits of your labor. Keep planting those seeds of faith and prayer!

In this post, The Scripture Passage that is Perfect for Moms of Teens, I share a little reflection that may provide some comfort.

In Luke, Chapter 2, we see Jesus at age 12.

Jesus, as a 12 year old, displays characteristics that a pre-teen and young teenager have today:

  • He sought independence
  • He didn’t understand why He could not have the freedom He sought
  • He had wisdom to share

In Luke 2: 41-52, I noticed some things.  I do not have a degree in theology, but, these things seemed to jump out at me:

  1. Even Jesus asked “why” instead of saying I’m sorry.
  2. Even Our Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph didn’t understand him at times.
  3. Even Mary gave Jesus the “mom look”.  Okay, so I can not prove this. . . but -Jesus answers a question with a question, then the writer says He was obedient to them.  I’m pretty sure there was a mom look between Mary and Jesus after his “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”. This is not based on any theological knowledge . . . but, I’m just sayin’.  Probably got the mom look. She probably also had more than one glass of wine that night.
  4. Even Jesus sought independence that is meant for an older age.
  5. Even Jesus had to obey His parents.

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