If you have ever had an argument with your teenager about the Faith, then you know how dangerous those waters can be.
Perhaps you tried to answer a ‘simple’ question only to realize that your child was more or less baiting you on a topic that they felt very prepared for.
Or perhaps after a few exchanges, you realized (either because your child explicitly said so or because of your fantastic detective skills) that you were really arguing with someone else, such as a religion teacher or the friend of a friend.
Regardless of how the argument came about, you need to make one fundamental shift in your thinking if you are going to survive and ultimately win your child’s mind. And that quite simply is the shift from the victim to the victor mentality.
I FEEL HUNTED.
In my experience, many parents feel almost hunted by their teenagers, hoping that their kids don’t bring up tough questions. The method for most moms and dads is to defer faith (and specifically theological) conversations until as late as possible. Essentially, they hide.
I get it.
Many of us grew up on the idea that theology is something that is done by Ph.D ers, or Bishops or quite simply those people we know as theologians. So we tend to worry about what we’ll get wrong, what we don’t know, or how we’re going to look as we explore these questions. But remember, speaking about God and exploring the many and fascinating questions about Him is the proper sphere of any believer.
To put it another way, we should all be on the hunt for greater clarity and more insights, and if your son or daughter is doing this then rejoice, it is actually a good thing. But if they are not, and even more to the point, if they are confronting you with questions with the intent to argue, then it is time that you take them on the hunt with you.
TIP 1: GET THEM TO FIND THE ANSWER
Teenagers are almost conditioned by those antagonistic to the Faith to think that Christians can’t handle honest and coherent questions about what they believe. Further, they learn somewhere along the way, that we / you / their parents get extremely uncomfortable when asked a ‘tough’ question, but that need not be true.
So from this point forward it is important that you see the confrontation or the argument that they bring to you as an opening, a challenge to go on a hunt.
“Dad, doesn’t it bother you that Jesus condemns tradition and yet the Catholic Church created traditions?”
“Hey Mom, how do you deal with the fact that the word Trinity doesn’t appear anywhere in the New Testament?”
The answers to these and all other questions should look very similar, at least initially. In response you could say, “oh, great question, I have often thought about that myself. When you find out what the Church teaches on it and why, I would love to hear the answer.” Or “hhmmm, neat, I never really thought about it. When you find out the Catholic answer to that be sure to tell me.”
Translation: your doubts, your questions, your arguments don’t scare me. Oh, and by the way, you have homework to do.
You see what has happened? Far from being anxious that you have to give the perfect answer, or that you have to spend the rest of your days dodging Faith conversations with your kid, you can now be the aggressor pressing for the hunt.
“Hey son, did you find out what the Church teaches yet, and why? I’m really looking forward to hearing it.”
“Hey daughter, why don’t we go out for a coffee together and you can tell me what you found out about that cool question you had.”
By changing your mentality from avoidance to insistence, from victim to victor, you are teaching your teenager that arguments about the Catholic Faith don’t lead to a very saddened and distraught mom and dad. Instead, they lead to excitement on your part, research on their part, and some really good time together.
TIP 2: DON’T SAY THIS
You can see how different this is from that approach which has plagued many parent / teenager conversations.
The teenager approaches with some questions. The mother responds to the best of her ability, which in all honesty is not that bad. But then the teenager asks for some clarification, a fault in the logic as they see it. And that’s when it’s said, three quick words that prove to a teenager that moms and dads are willing to turn off their brains when things get a little bit tough: It’s a mystery.
Now, it may be a mystery; in fact, when we’re speaking about God there are many ‘mysteries’ that we might stumble upon, but the truth is, what the Church and her theologians have meant by the word ‘mystery’ is very different from how we often understand and use the word.
To be brief, a mystery is not a problem to be solved and it is not something that we can never know anything about. This is how it is used by most parents when under attack. A mystery, in the religious sense, is something that no matter how much I understand and learn and uncover, I will never get all of it. There will always be more to uncover, more to wrestle with, more to attract our minds which love seeking and reconciling truths.
But when you say to a teenager, “It’s a mystery,” the statement carries none of that depth. It simply means, “stop asking questions and seeking the truth like I have.”
So don’t say it. Banish the phrase from your vocabulary, especially when speaking to a teen.
TIP 3: GIVE ROOM FOR VENTING
To be fair, not all confrontations with our teenagers about Faith topics are actually confrontations. In fact, more often than not, many teenagers learn to be argumentative because their parents don’t allow them to vent.
Catholics that your son knows are saying one thing with their lips and living something else entirely. Your son wants to talk to you about that.
The Church teaches that the child in the womb is a person and yet many ‘good’ Christians your daughter knows support abortion in part or in full. Your daughter wants to talk about that.
If you can provide a safe place for your teenager to vent about the hypocrisy that he or she sees then you can become something like a confidante, a friend that is willing to look at the problems with him or her rather than sweeping those same problems under the rug.
And that’s important, because if your child thinks that you are inclined to ignore the hypocrisy found among Jesus’ followers, then maybe, just maybe you are also inclined to ignore what your child sees as real and legitimate inconsistencies in the Faith.
BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
I know many parents aren’t used to this way of thinking. After all, they feel that somehow they should be able to answer every question, and if they can’t then they are letting the world, or at least their own child, down. And while I want you to keep learning about the Faith, I also want you to know that there is another way to keep your child on the path that does not require endless hours of study.
By welcoming the argument or challenge to the Faith and sending your child out to discover the Church’s treasures (which her teachings always are), you have turned your aggressor into an ally, relieving at the same time the pressure we often feel as parents to solve every intellectual curiosity.
By refraining from that oft misused phrase ‘it’s a mystery’ you have shown that you too are interested in finding the truth and not just covering it up.
And by giving your child room to vent about the hypocrisy, the disappointments, and the scandal found among the followers of Jesus, you are basically saying, “I see it too, but here is how we can still become saints in spite of it.”
Be on the lookout for the next argument that comes your way and try out these tips. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.