Asking the clergy: How do I deal with my teen not attending religious services?
Rabbi Mendy Goldberg, Lubavitch of the East End, Coram:
Education does not begin at college, high school or middle school; it begins as an infant.
One of the many challenges in today's parenting environment is the blurring of the line between needs and wants. Parents need to better differentiate between what is a fundamental value and what is an elective choice.
Ideally, we should be able to provide our children with everything they need; food, clothing, love, support, education, shelter, etc. But by no means is it healthy for us to equate their needs and their wants, nor to provide for all of their wants. Teens especially should be taught the concept of authority; they should be aware of their talents and qualities, yet at the same time be cognizant that they are gifts from God. Educating a child with values and morals and making them part of the religious service is what will encourage their attendance. If it's important to you, it will be important to them as well.
The Rev. Chester Easton, First Presbyterian Church of Mineola:
A parent is in need of great wisdom. The parent(s) are required to make the spiritual education of each child - infant through adulthood - a priority. Establishing the expectation that all the family will attend services every week should begin in the very early years. In this case, a parent stresses that any person living in the home - whatever their age - will attend worship (and other services).
Often, a small faith community will have inadequate program and staff for the youth. There always is the need for dedicated, faith-filled and imaginative adult volunteer leaders to step forward. Take note, mom or dad. Get involved.
Lacking the habit of attendance, or lacking a parent's faithful worship participation, the task is more difficult. Finding a group that your teen willingly fits into may mean visiting community religious events to determine which congregations have youth who are excited about their faith. Obviously, if two parents are present, both should set the example and have the same expectations.
Pastor Scott Kraniak, Centereach Bible Church, Centereach:
Isaiah 54:13: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children."
The mistake parents often make is to force their children to embrace their religion. If this is the case, the faith of the parents will always be the faith of the parents when it needs to become the faith of the children. Our children will only desire God and go to services if they feel they need God. My children come to church because they have seen the results of God in my life and my need for him. When I have been deeply troubled, they have often caught me down on my knees in prayer.
They have seen me sad, then happy - so it would be logical for them to seek the same means of strength when they are in emotional pain. Fact: Life is scary, and mom and dad won't always be there, but God will, and the best way to learn of God and gain strength is to spend time worshiping him and studying his word. Parents are often hypocrites, and children are smart enough to see through lies. If they don't see us in love with God, why should they be? If we go because we have to and not because we want to, why should they? Peace with God in a scary world is the greatest motivation for anyone. Who is not looking for that?
Pastor Tom Carey, Word of Jesus Worship Center, Holbrook:
My wife and I have raised seven children, the youngest of whom is in her early 20s.
Each of them has had an experience with the Lord and attended church regularly. Upon reaching their teen years, each of them expressed a desire to spread their wings. Two things became extremely evident. First, God has endowed each of us with a free will, enabling us to choose to follow Him or a path of our own making.
Second, for the church to be attractive to young people, it has to be relevant to their needs as well as a place where they feel welcome, not just [that it's] mom and dad's church.
I am reminded of Luke's Gospel 15:11-32 and the passage concerning the prodigal son who asked his father for his inheritance and quickly squandered it. The church today is waking up and realizing that it is no longer just for families but is to be all things to all people. We personally are experiencing our children having squandered their spiritual inheritance. By that, I mean that they have spent what they learned in church and are now coming back for more wisdom, insight and practical application of the Biblical message and model.