In response to a question, I want to talk about the challenges of teaching teenagers about the Faith.
Since my oldest is only fourteen, I obviously don’t have experience raising a child all the way to adulthood. I would never dare to give definitive advice about the art of parenting at this stage. I will just share how we do things in our house. It may or may not be useful to you.
When I converted to Orthodoxy three years ago, my husband did not join me…he came later. He initially had no desire to become Orthodox and was confused by my love for what seemed so strange to him. So, we agreed that then two year old Hilary would be baptized Orthodox when I converted. However, we left the decision up to Lonna and Jared about whether they would convert, too. They could be Orthodox or stay Protestant. Jared instantly fell in love with the Church and there was no wavering for him. Lonna was torn, though, and it took awhile before she made Orthodoxy her own.
That moment of giving my children the power and the choice to choose Orthodoxy has set the tone for the rest of the teen years. In our family, we approach teaching our teens about the Faith with several key points:
1) I acknowledge that my teens are on their own individual journey of faith.
Just as I allowed my older children to choose Orthodoxy, I respect the fact that following God is a daily choice. I cannot make my teens live a Christian life. I cannot love God for them. All I can do is love God myself and love my children with the love of Christ.
2) I pray for my teens.
I pray for their futures. I pray for their daily challenges, whether they’re big or small. I pray for the wisdom to raise them with love and grace. I pray without ceasing.
3) I take my teens to church.
There are few, if any, acceptable reasons for missing church at our house. True, sometimes there are valid reasons for staying home. However, whether they’re “good” excuses or “bad” excuses, they’re still excuses, and I teach my children to acknowledge that. Praying in community is a top priority in our lives, and missing it is not taken lightly.
Sometimes going to church means missing events with friends, swim meets, sleep, and other things vitally important to a teenage mind. Sometimes, there are complaints. And sometimes, we compromise.
During Holy Week, for example, our parish has two to three services a day. This year, I highlighted for Lonna on the service calendar all the services I required her to attend. I then allowed her to choose to stay home at the other times. I made my expectations clear and thus avoided most of the battles. She went to the services I required and stayed home for most of the others. She did choose to go to some “extra” services, though, and it was especially meaningful to her, since she had chosen to do it herself.
4) I model an Orthodox Christian life.
I let my children see me pray. I talk about God. I ask them what they think about God. I listen, and listen, and listen. No question about faith is off limits. We observe the fasts and feasts. We make pilgrimages to monasteries. We work and volunteer at our church and in our community. We give. We love. We forgive. We live a Christian life, not a life with Christ on the side.
5) I pray with my teens.
Honesty time…I do not have daily family prayer with my teens. It is something I deeply wish was possible, but at this time in our lives, it is not something that we have been able to do.
We used to have morning prayer together before we started our homeschool day, but then Lonna went to public school last year. Lonna now leaves before Jared even gets out of bed. We just aren’t together in the mornings. After trying a couple different options, I hit upon something that works for us.
Hilary and I have morning and evening prayers. She chants some of the prayers in her sing-song way and enjoys being the only kid around.
Lonna and Jared say their morning prayers on their own. How do I know that??? I made a sandbox for candles in our icon corner. When they say their prayers, they are required to each light a tea light candle in the sand. No candle means no prayers, and we deal with that. Occasionally they “forget”, but usually, I find two lit candles when I check the sandbox. Maybe it was just a quick Our Father, but they thought about God at the beginning of their day. That is what matters! As I see the candles throughout the morning, it also serves as a welcome reminder to pray for my children.
During the four major fasts (Lent, Apostles’ Fast, Dormition, and Nativity Fast) we have family evening prayer and Scripture study. The rest of the year, they pray by themselves in the evening before the icons in their rooms.
Parenting teens is a complicated, confusing, joyous endeavor. It is one that humbles me each day and reminds me of my utter dependence on God. Teaching my opinionated teens about the Faith isn’t always easy, but it pushes me in ways that are a great opportunity. It reminds me to be authentic in my own life. Telling them to be good Christians while neglecting my own prayer, filling my head with internet/television garbage, or being nasty to my husband just doesn’t work. If I want my children to see the value in Christianity, I have to live it myself.
My deepest prayer is that when my children grow up and go out on their own, they will look back and be able to say that God was real in their home. Not a nice story or a muddled tradition or a Sunday obligation. A real God. A real Faith. A real love.