Q — “Our teenage daughter finds Mass a bore, except for the doughnuts! What might help her (and us who have to deal with her)?”

A — This is a very common experience for Catholic families, and, let’s be honest, there is no fool-proof response. A number of observations, however, can be made.

First, religious nurture and formation is part and parcel of parenting as such, and so falls into the same basic patterns. That is to say, parents and children do best when there is agreement, good communication and following-through on the part of parents. Parents need to be on the same page, as it were, when it comes to parenting policies, including the religious upbringing of children.

Second, no family is successful without rules and regulations, expectations, and disciplined habits. Children flourish when they know the score, even when they don’t like the score, and especially when they know the score applies equally to all in the family, without exception.

Third, almost everyone finds those things boring that they simply do not understand and cannot relate to their own lived experience. The more informed we are about the matters of Christian faith, the better we understand, the more likely we are to find participation in the Mass more meaningful. To help in this regard I would highly recommend Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, What Happens at Mass (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2008). This little book provides excellent insight into the sequence of moments that constitute the celebration of the Mass, and should help parents to help their children better to understand the celebration.

Fourth, some understanding of how faith grows over the life-cycle will be of assistance.
In outline, it goes something like this. As they begin the life of faith children simply imitate the patterns of faith activity of their parents, e.g., saying prayers, going to Mass and the other sacraments, reading and studying the Scriptures, etc. What children see the parents do (or not do!) is what they do (or not do!).

There is very little personal reflection going on at this stage. We might call this imitative faith. As children move up through elementary school into junior high/high school, their capacity to think critically expands. They ask questions, often uncomfortable questions. This is as it should be.

As their ability to think critically grows, so does their ability to think critically about the things of the faith, including going to Mass.

The response of parents/teachers needs to be able to match the level of inquiry with an informed and persuasive response. That is where Father Driscoll’s book may be of help. We might call this questioning faith. This is the point especially at which “boredom” occurs.

Although there is no fool-proof approach, my recommendations would be:
1. Make sure the policies for parenting-forming-educating are agreed and obviously practiced between the parents.
2. Make sure that your own understanding of the faith continues to grow, and does not remain at a childish level, so that you can make real responses to questions and protests.
3. Realize that tensions, and especially how you handle them, are the ambience within which maturation occurs. All heated argument, ultimatums, and fighting over religion and religious practices are counter-productive. Loving, informed and disciplined responses always work best. They show children that you are not a zero, nor a Nero, but a hero-in-process, as it were.