Force teenage son to go to Catholic retreats?

We are a Catholic homeschooling family that tries our best to live our faith and to teach our kids the faith. There is yet another Catholic retreat for teens at a nearby church all day on Saturday. They’ll have visiting priests and brothers there running it. They’ll sing songs, preach, pray, have some ice-breaker games etc… My son is 15 and has been to other similar retreats and never really liked them. He says they are boring, the games are lame, he doesn’t participate in the singing, the brothers drone on and on and he gets bored to tears. Yet, we feel that we should be forcing him to go, against his protesting and begging not to be sent there. We feel if he isn’t exposed to such things, he won’t develop a love of the Church or a desire to take part in uniquely Catholic activities on his own. Are we being too hard on him? Will this ultimately benefit him or will it close his mind and turn him off more so? What’s your opinion?

We run diocesan youth retreats for that exact age group (usually around 50 kids).

God works in mysterious ways, so I’ve seen kids that are “forced” get something out of a retreat, but in general, I would say that I recommend against it.

When we get a kid that is completely forced to attend, sometimes what happens is that they become very negative towards the whole experience and isolate themselves. We had a kid that practically did not talk to anybody the whole weekend recently, because he was forced by his mother.

Now, again, the Holy Spirit can touch them and they can learn many things, but you run the risk of spoiling the experience. For example, sometimes we get kids that are forced this way, but if the parents wait a bit longer and work with them in months even a few years later the kid might be more willing to attend and then take full advantage of it.

Going to retreat is not an obligation, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to nurture your faith and grow, but I’m afraid that forcing kids puts an huge obstacle to these positive aspects and might make them resent you and the Church!

BTW there’s different levels of “my mom made me do it”, so it may not be that clear cut. Sometimes kids are just heavily encouraged to go, and they might not sound too excited but they’re open to it, when I say forced is when they outright don’t want to do it and the parents drive them there anyways. That’s the case were things usually don’t work out.

And also be generous with the chapperones, team members and other kids attending the retreat, if your kid is going to be very upset about it he might also spoil the experience for them.

Not sure if I helped you with this, I pray that he will open his heart and consider going to the retreat though!

Church and or retreats aren’t really supposed to be “fun” are they? You go there to be around people of your faith and to learn and strengthen your faith not to be entertained. Your son is a typical 15 year old, with that said he needs to be gently re-focused back to being appreciative of his faith. Maybe you could not chalantly mention to him about the suffering Catholics in China or tell him the life of St. Thomas More or St. Thomas Beckett who suffered and died for their faith.

He sounds like his faith is merely something he’s supposed to do. He needs to see how BLESSED he is to be Catholic. How lucky he is that he lives in a country that allows him to be Catholic and take the body and blood without being killed for it and he needs to understand the big picture that this life will end and eternity is forever and we need to focus on God everyday of our lives.

I know that sounds heavy but I remind my 8 year old often that church is a place to learn about, worship and love God not a place to “have fun” or to be “bored”. Is God boring? NO!

In my experience - with something like this, very little good comes from forcing the kid to go - especially during the teen age years. I really hated those retreats too (and it sounds like he’s already been to some - so this isn’t something he hasn’t tried)- also it’s on a Saturday - I don’t know of any teenager who is really going to enjoy or appreciate his/her Saturday being forcibly taken away to be forced to go do something he/she doesn’t want to do. My parents came up with something because of my dislike for these things- I had to find something else kind of Catholic based to do once a week (if I wasn’t going to CCD - this did NOT apply during times that school was out like summer - anyway, if I was forced to go to the retreat, I would bring my head phones and a book - but once I got to make the decision to choose something “Catholic” or “faith based” to do , I’d find a book on a saint and read at least part of it (I was a book worm so it wasn’t so bad). It didn’t have to be done at the same time as the retreat or youth group (in other words I didn’t have to do this at the same time the retreat or whatever was going on).
Especially if your son is already going to Mass, I don’t see why he should be forced to do something he’s already participated in and didn’t like. And like I mentioned, if it was me, when forced to go, I’d have something to do and go sit off with my own or a friend of mine who also found the whole thing “lame” (just as a note, my future husband was the one I would hang out with while ‘ditching’ these lame-o youth group). If this was the first time he’d gone to one, I might feel differently (my parents would generally make me try it at least once a year). Also, after being “forced” for so long to go, after I got out of high school and got to college, it was so wonderful not to be forced, that I was happy not to have to do it at all. I think I might have been more open to it had my parents not made me go to these things, but a fair compromise was the once a year thing or the “do something faith based” thing -
God Bless

p.s. if this is the worst “problem” you have with your teenage son, I would count myself very, very fortunate!

Forcing a 15 year-old to attend a retreat, especially to the point he is responding like this, is NOT a good idea. There is rarely a lack of opportunities, especially for homeschooling families, to develop a love of the Church. Find another event or retreat for him to attend. Just because it’s geared towards teens doesn’t mean it’s going to hold his interest. Even at age 15, kids have leanings towards certain charisms. Find a program that fits his spirituality, not what you think his should be. What I’m trying to say is that if you had a strong interest and a leaning towards, say, Carmelite spirituality, you wouldn’t likely go away on a Franciscan or Dominican retreat or seek to join one of their 3rd or secular orders, would you? I know I wouldn’t. I’d find what appealed to me or called me in our vast treasure of the Church.

This situation gives you an opportunity to discuss the Faith with your son and see where he is and what his gifts are. Don’t waste it and don’t push the retreat issue to the point it angers your son and plants a seed of anger towards the Church or you.

Every year, a nearby seminary has a summer camp program for teen boys, and even though his friends were going, my homeschooled teen son (now 18) declined, saying he just wasn’t interested. However, a monastery in the southern part of our state holds a series of youth programs each summer. He’s went for the past 3 years and loves it immensely. Each year, he comes back with a deeper devotion to Christ. That program obviously appealed to him while the other one didn’t.

Again, take the time to sit down with your son (without distractions of other siblings) and research some other teen events, retreats, and activities and find out what ones your son is drawn towards instead of forcing him to go on one that he’s not interested in.

I can see forcing him to go to the first one, or convincing him to agree to choose one a year…maybe in exchange for a camp of his choice, like a sports camp? After he has honestly tried and honestly found they are not his cup of tea, though: maybe not so much. Giving him a regular diet of forced religious experience when there is no real moral obligation to go isn’t likely to have good results.

At the point that he can honestly said “been there, done that, please don’t force me to do that again!”, it is better to try something tailored to him, like a private weekend retreat at a monastery, with just his dad. The religious part would be participation in the daily liturgies with the monks (letting him sleep through the one at 5 am), maybe half an hour a day with a religious director who could talk to him in an open-ended way about his life and where he sees his faith and his other choices going, and then the rest of the time just time to reflect alone or go on hikes with his dad.

I think there’s different levels of youth retreats, and I wouldn’t say none of them are supposed to be “fun”. You can definitely have a fun spiritual retreat, but again it depends at what level the kid is spiritually.

Since when does forcing a kid to do anything – from eating vegetables to going on retreats-- engender love of said object?

Never is a really long time. I never went on a retreat until I was in my 30s. I went on 3 or 4 and haven’t been on any since. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the Catholic faith or practice it lovingly.

Also, retreats aren’t a uniquely Catholic thing.

Perhaps there is something he might like better than the local retreat-- a Catholic camp, a Steubenville experience. Maybe they just are NOT his cup of tea spiritually speaking.

I think you are. Does he practice the faith? Does he have a prayer life? If so, then let this go. Not everyone likes retreats.

If no, then look at all the possible ways to develop a richer prayer life and have him pick some things to try.

Maybe a youth retreat isn’t his thing, but maybe some other sort of retreat would be. Or a bible study. Or Adoration.

Forget the retreat…send him to work for that same day as a volunteer…at the local orphanage/shelter for the abandoned/homeless…or the St. Vincent de Paul store/warehouse…Catholic Charities–or–Protestant/Civic food pantry…or a home for the aged and physically disabled…or Habitat for Humanity building site…or a Knights of Columbus chapter project for the community or the needy…anything of these types (and obviously where he will actually have tasks/work to do…and be well supervised).

I guarantee that it will be a spiritual retreat for him…and he will never forget the experience…it will change him in many substantive ways…and you will be so much more incredibly proud of him.

Pax Christi

shoot ill go on the retreat when is it :p:D

I’ve seen this idea work and I’ve seen it backfire BADLY. It almost sounds like he HAS to go do something -I don’t understand why if he’s going to Church and pretty much doing well in school and has at least a little prayer life why he should be “forced” to give up this Saturday and do anything? This was tried on my God Daughter - and it backfired badly - she didn’t want anything to do there and she didn’t want to help (she did wind up helping make some of the food but made it clear she was DONE after that and in her defense she is really shy around people she doesn’t know)- She felt she was being punished. She kept saying something she had heard me say and I agree with “forced charity is NOT charity…” (yes we did have a discussion after words about what that meant…)

I guess what I’m trying to get at is if you want him to do something else, let him tell you what he’d like to do - put it to him like “we know you don’t want to go to this retreat, but if you don’t go, we want you to choose something to do within the next month with regards to your faith” - also, taking a way a day that is traditionally their “day off” like Saturday (although not sure with home schooling) can make any teenager kind of resentful.

I like your suggestion, but in my area, teens are not able to work or volunteer alone until they are at least 16, usually more common is 18. The parent must go with the teen. Which isn’t a bad idea, overall, but it changes the experience. It’s because of lawsuits in case something happens to the teenager.

Some people just don’t like retreats. It just doesn’t fit their personality. Honestly, with the games and the singing it just doesn’t sound like it would be something that would appeal to a 15 year old boy.

Why not sit down with him and tell him you feel it is important for him to do something to exercise and grow his faith. Why not ask him to come up with an alternative idea? Someone already mentioned volunteering. What does he like to do? This would be a great opportunity for him to find a way to use his talents to help the parish and the community. And if he’s really begging not to go…you might be surprised by the ideas he comes up with.

If he was begging not to go to Mass I could understand forcing him…but retreats really aren’t an obligation.

He is 15. When will you start giving him some say over his own life? He is telling you his opinions and asking you NOT to make him go. He’s not a little kid any more. Give him some credit for knowing himself and knowing what he does not want to do. Ask him if he wants to attend any kind of special event at all. Any concerts he’d like to go to? Have you considered sending him to World Youth Day? Or the Pro-Life march on DC? He’s a young man now, he really needs to be treated with some dignity and you should gradually be backing out of his life and letting him make more and more of his own choices.

I think if you force him to attend retreats or workshops that he finds boring, he will likely develop a resentment towards you and the church. No one likes being forced.

The boy is fifteen. He has been to these retreats. That is, he has been “exposed” to it, but it is still not something he’d choose to do.

Forcing him to make the retreat, or to “volunteer” as quoted above, is IMO more likely to engender resentment than anything positive. I’d say, don’t do it.

How does he usually spend his Saturdays? If that day is when he usually sees his friends from the school system, maybe you could encourage him to go to parish youth events for awhile that are less demanding than the full retreat. Once he knows some kids from church, he may be more receptive to church activities.


When they get to the teen years, you have to start letting go of the reins - or at least slacken them a bit. You have to start picking your battles carefully. “Is this the hill you want to die on?”

So really fight for the things that are important, but for those other things, you really need to start giving some weight to your child’s opinion. Discuss things, give them your side, listen to their side, give them time to come around, and give in occasionally.

Start letting them make their own decisions - AFTER letting them know where you stand and why, and AFTER giving them enough time to digest what you said.

And they will start respecting you more and then when you do find that hill you are ready to die on, they will be more likely to roll over.


From one Catholic hs’ing mom to another (did you say you were the mom?), his complaints sound fairly reasonable. Is your ds straying from the faith in general, or is he a faithful Catholic teen who just doesn’t like this particular type of activity? Maybe this retreat isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be? Maybe it’s just him, and he’s just not a songs and games sort of guy. Really though, I’m not convinced that songs, games, and ice-breakers actually make for a good retreat, even for youth. I think that often, youth programs dumb down to teens - expecting that they can’t have a relationship with God if the activity isn’t super-fun. I also wonder if homeschooled kids are often less tolerant of fluff, since their school situation was probably more focused and more tailored to their preferences/styles.

My thought is that he is giving you pretty specific details about what he doesn’t like. What about sitting down with him and telling him that while you won’t force him to go to the retreat, you do think it is important that he have some faith-based experiences aside from what is in his regular routine. Then choose something together, based on what you want him to experience and what kinds of activities he likes or responds to. Whether it is finding a youth program more suited to his personality, or going on a retreat as a family, or like the other poster suggested, going to a monastery just with Dad, or choosing a volunteer activity to take part in, I think there are things that you can find that would be acceptable to him. You could probably make your own retreat. Keep in mind that the point of a retreat is to grow closer to God - lots of other people doing it with you is not necessary for that to happen.

Neither me nor my siblings have shown any signs of straying from the church but we still were not interested in the teen retreats. We found the ones we were required by the school to attend rather trite (for reasons your son has already brought up) and the optional “weekend” ones tended to foster obnoxious cliques in an “Oh you should have been there to get our inside jokes” way rather than fostering holiness in their regular attendees (though as a homeschooler that’s probably a non-issue)…several of which have since left the Church. So my personal experience is that these retreats are not always helpful. I’m sure there are great ones out there but I’m not a fan.

My mom wasn’t fond of having us participate in these activities anyway. But she always let us do work serving the parish (we all started at alter serving, participated in pro-life club in HS and are now mostly ending up in music ministry as adults…none of these were at the suggestion of our parents) rather than participating in a “kids/teens only” thing.

I agree that if he’s going to Church, doing well in school and has some kind of prayer life, he’s actually ahead of the curve and doesn’t need that “teen hook” to keep him a Catholic. Maybe he needs something more mature if he needs anything at all.

This is what I have been mulling over. I would not force anything, it seems to be the OP’s and maybe her husband’s idea for him to do something to strengthen his faith, when he perhaps is going along just fine doing what he is doing. If he wants to do any kind of group or service activity, I would assume he can approach his parents with ideas. At 15, he is old enough to start thinking about part-time employment (here, you have to be 16 to get a “real” job, but you can work in family businesses under certain conditions). If he has other interests, he can pursue those in his spare time.

I’m sure the OP means well but she may be worrying for nothing. If her son is more of an introvert he may have a solid prayer life already and not want to go through “yet another” retreat. Personally, I have found little in group activities that does anything for my faith (except Mass of course!). My greatest help comes from regular confession, Mass, and adoration. And solitary praying of the rosary.

This young man, if he has been raised in a devout family, either has internalized his faith by now, or he hasn’t. No retreat is going to give that to him if he hasn’t, and not going isn’t going to take it away.

Depending on how much he doesn’t want to go, another possible option is to bribe him (more electronics time that week, money, free school “holiday”, a chore-free week [you’ll do them for him] - whatever you think will motivate him). That way you validate him by acknowledging this is not what he wants to do, but you think its good for him and you are willing to sweeten the pot a bit if he makes the choice you want.

Not sure how others will like that idea. I just do what I have to sometimes. :o

Another option is for him to form his own “retreat” - give him a nice, long varied list to choose from of books and online audio or videos to watch, and shows on EWTN TV or radio. He designs his retreat from the list, committing to a certain amount of time. The “retreat” could be all-day or for an hour a night, same time every night, for a week. Maybe culminate in a trip to a holy place nearby or a special place for Mass/confession. There are great videos and audio on Probably others here could recommend some, too.

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