“Ask a Priest: What If My 14-Year-Old Wants to Skip Mass?”

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Q: My 14-year-old son was confirmed two years ago, but over the last year he has become very resistant to the faith and protests mightily every Sunday about our requirement that he attend Mass with the family. He says that because he is confirmed he can make his own decision about whether to go to Mass. The weekly argument is causing a lot of strife and conflict in our family. What is our responsibility as parents versus his free will in this matter? His father and I want to do the right thing. – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about your son’s resistance to Mass attendance. Unfortunately it is becoming more common to hear of teens strongly rebelling against this very basic precept of the Church.

It is interesting that he mentions his confirmation. In fact, confirmation lays a heavier responsibility on him to practice and defend the faith, not a lighter one.

It might be good to dialogue with him about this sacrament. You could find online what the Catechism says about confirmation. You could also watch together the videos from our retreat guide about confirmation: “Strength of Thousands.”

The idea here is to let him know that Our Lord expects more of him, not less. You might mention that this is what manhood is about: living up to one’s commitments, especially to God.

It might be good to ask yourself what your son’s preparation for confirmation was like. Did he understand what he was doing? Or was he just going through the motions?

Moreover, it’s good to avoid thinking that your son’s “free will” somehow releases him from his obligations to God and from his duty to obey you, his parents. Free will properly understood means that we have the freedom to choose from among the various ways to do good.

If you think you and your husband have tried to do your best to instill the faith in your offspring, then there might be something else involved. This could include your son’s exposure to bad Internet sites or deleterious social media.

It also might be a simple case of an adolescent trying to learn to exercise his own self-determination.

If this is involved, it’s important that you all discuss the real issues together, attentively listening to what he says and trying to help him understand what’s really going on.

And he needs to know that you are attentively listening to him and hearing him. If his objections are not truly substantial, then perhaps simply listening to him and pointing that out will be enough.

Maybe you could allow him to contribute to the family decision about which Mass to attend; this would give him room to exercise his own self-determination.

Explain to him why it is still your responsibility to make sure everyone who lives in the home worships God in accordance with his own commandments. Help your son take responsibility for doing that — out of conviction, like an adult — instead of having him go to Mass without much thought, as if he were “still a kid.” I have a feeling that what is at play here is more adolescence (learning to become an adult) than theology.

For now, a good way to pursue the course of dialogue in the long term could be agreeing to read and discuss the YouCat together bit by bit.

Since your son is so young, I wouldn’t recommend letting him skip Mass. Giving in to his demand’s might embolden him to make other demands.

In the meantime, it might also help to get him involved in volunteer work with the Church. He needs to live his faith in a practical way, which means helping other people.

All of this is, of course, ultimately your decision. You will want to intensify your prayer for your son. This is a crucial moment when the devil would love to tear him from the Church. But prayers of a mom and dad can be a powerful counterforce.

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