By Fr. Don Braukmann/Retired Priest of the Diocese of Crookston
This is one of those columns I should have written last fall as a new school year began, now that I think about it.
A friend who teaches high school used an idea first shared in a book “The Six Most Important Decisions You Will Ever Make: A Guide for Teens” by Sean Covey. Mr. Covey challenged parents to have a conversation with their teens and helped the parents out by giving them some starter questions.
On a side note, I remember how some folks would say to me over the years, “What does a priest know about family life?” It is as if we were born under a rock or at the moment of conception we were freed from day-to-day concerns such as family life.
I had three brothers and three sisters (I was the baby) and, believe me, I learned from them as they went through their teen years … what to avoid and what to embrace when it came to my parents!
Believe it or not, I was a teen once too! I think every priest I know was once! All these years later, I wish I had the chance to go through these questions with my own parents.
So, here are the questions closely based upon the book by Sean Covey. Parents, I challenge you to have this discussion with your teen! If you don’t have a teen, find one!
- What is your favorite subject in school?
- What would you consider to be the nicest thing I (parent) could do for you?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Where are you living? What are you doing?
- What is your favorite kind of music?
- What is your hot button, the thing that really makes you mad?
- What is your favorite internet site?
- What is one thing you wish you could change about yourself?
- What pet would you prefer to have: a dog, a cat, a hamster, a horse, a bird, a turtle, a snake, no pet at all, or all of the above?
- Who is your best friend? What do you like most about them?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
- What would you rather do; go to a movie with friends, read a good book, play games on the computer, or play your favorite sport?
- Do you have a boy/girl friend right now? What do you like about them?
- What has been one of the high points of your life so far?
- What was your favorite vacation ever?
Great questions/discussion starters. Hopefully you can already answer most of these simply by the family life you have shared with your teen, especially at the family table.
When I was first ordained, I was terrified of high school kids. Partly because I thought I was a “nerd” during my high school days! (Funny how interactions with classmates over the years have revealed that was not their perception of me at all!)
So, as usual, the newly ordained (the “young kid”) was assigned to work with the youth. To my pleasant surprise such ministry was indeed a great blessing. And one thing I have learned over and over again during these nearly 33 years as a priest is the fact that our teens do know what sin is, and they do want a relationship with Jesus. So often we think they are clueless! They know the longings within themselves but get confused in how to deal with them.
I know too many parents who deny their children the greatest gift any parent could give their child this side of heaven … going to Mass!
At Mass our youth hear the great stories of our family tradition and how God is relentless in pursuing us because of God’s great, reckless and passionate love for us.
At Mass, whether the music stirs you to the point of lurching into the aisle and dancing (or not); whether the homily makes you want to jump up and shout “Alleluia!” (or not); whether you are surrounded by saints at Mass (or not); remember what happens!
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, the Great and Mighty Shepherd, the Prince of Peace and the Bread of Life, stoops down to step into our world and our lives with all our flaws and scars … and our joys and sorrows … and trusts us enough to be placed in our hands as innocently as God placed Jesus in the womb of Mary or in the manger at Bethlehem.
All of that for one simple reason: God loves us. God will not give up on us, no matter what!
Parents, grandparents, godparents, get to know the young people in your life. You may be surprised at their depth, their fears and their hopes. One thing is for sure, the conversation will not be dull!