Note: This is part 2 of a 3 part series on helping empower teens to make moral decisions. The series introduction can be found here, and part 1 can be found here.
As you’re probably aware of by now, I’m a Catholic. It’s not just a fitting-in sort of label for me, like a 3rd generation 20% Irish-person around St. Patrick’s Day. (Yeah, I said that.) My being a Catholic is part of who I am, how I define myself, how I hope to portray myself. I strive for it to affect literally every part of my life – the fact that I fail constantly is irrelevant here. As I try to live out my faith and my identity as a Catholic, I am always on the lookout for that community of Catholics to share my life with – friends who share our faith, values and priorities. I want to know I’m not alone in my challenge, and I can be there to support and lift up others who are trying to navigate the narrow road. Having a community of Catholic men, women and families around us has been a humongous blessing & help to myself and my wife – and of course it is!
We all know how important friends are to teenagers. This is the time of life when teens are beginning to break from their family. They like to believe they are independent, but they are so, so far from real independence from family and parents. (see part 1 for how important adults are) A huge part of this break is the friends teens have. Teens quite often list friends as more important than family. This may or may not be the case – and that doesn’t really matter for this discussion – the apparent truth of it matters.
Because if the friends of a teen are a good group of kids who are trying to balance school, sports, family, friends, and faith – then it can be a huge help to a teen – but on the flip-side, if these positive things are not priorities, it can really drag a teens down.
A teen needs a group of peers who will share faith and positive values.
It seems so obvious, yet we lose sight of it. Videos of people giving chastity talks, lectures on sacraments, pro-life views being talked about constantly by churchy adults – these aren’t the things that help strengthen the teen to make the right choices. Sure, they might help or enhance – but if a teen has a group of friends that obviously values the faith, and they spend time with each other and share these values with each other – it will strengthen and firm up the resolve of the teen who is trying to live out their faith.
As a parent, what can we do? What did your parents do? Because my parents were those annoying parents that had to know the parents of all of my friends. They had to know who I was with, what I was doing, who was driving, when I’d be home, etc. In a nutshell, they were parents, as parents should be. They wanted to help steer me towards the right crowds of people – I had friends from Catholic & public schools, from sports teams, from boy scouts, from church, and from the neighborhood. None of these people or their parents were strangers to my parents.
I don’t think this comes as a shock to anyone. In fact, some may be wondering and thinking “Gee, you’re not so smart, Joe. Didn’t all those years of youth ministry teach you anything?” Yes, they taught me that it isn’t complicated to help teens be empowered to make the correct moral decisions. I didn’t say it was easy, I said simple – and don’t you hate hearing that? Seems that is the case for much in life, but so often we over-complicate things. One thing that is important to remember is that it also isn’t all in our control.
Notice the language I’ve been using – I’ve been talking about teaching & empowering teens to make these moral decisions – not forcing, or brainwashing, or imposing. Allowing the freedom to think – but of course steering to the proper communities and groups – and being that steady, not over-reactive, trustworthy & caring adult – that can make all the difference when a high schooler is confronted with a moral decision.