Raising Godly Teens


My 11 year old son is in public elementary school, but will be moving on to middle school next year as a 6th grader. My question is aside from everything we are doing at home, how can we best help him stay true to this faith as a conservative Catholic in middle and high school years?

We are Catholic and do our best in instilling conservative values and a strong moral compass into him, go to church with him and teach him the faith at home and do devotions and prayers daily. We would like to help keep him on the straight and narrow path and not get sucked into the worldliness, godlessness, materialism, promiscuity, porn, and selfish behaviors that can plague a lot of teens, especially starting in middle school.

I have considered Catholic schooling, but not sure that is the answer, given the reviews of the schools in my area, I am just not sure they are worth the money or travel.

I have considered plugging him into a youth ministry at a local Catholic church, but not sure how well these programs do in helping to reinforce the faith and morals, or are they just a teen club for Catholics that segregate themselves from the rest of the parish and other generations and are subject to as much worldliness as the world?

Are there any of you out there that have successfully raised Catholic teens where they have stayed true to their faith throughout their teen and young adult years? If so, how did you do it? What are your secrets?

Thank you,

Rachel in the DFW area - near Plano

It seems you have done all that you can. Keep reinforcing the faith at home, but honestly he will be out in the “real world”, whether it’s 6th grade, 8th grade or adulthood.

You can be aware of the types of friends he has and be sure he is doing well in school, socializing, making friends, participating in activities (preferably of his choosing) but he will be and should be coming in contact with all different types of people in this world. What is important is that he has a solid foundation to base his choices on.

Honestly, there seem to be a lot of posts like this lately and I get this strange vibe of parents wanting to shelter their children from everything objectionable in the world. This is just not possible.

I can suggest the Mary Ann Budnick book series on “raise happy children…” which focus on Virtue-- and virtue development is key, IMHO. Dr. Ray also has some good books on parenting teens.

Thank you for your post.

Kids nowadays are growing up faster than ever and I am finding that the parents of my kid’s friends right here in our “nice” neighborhood do not uphold our values, and it shows in their kid’s attitudes and behaviors.

Being that kids in middle and high school are highly influenced by their peers, and that they are still very much in their formative years, it seems prudent to me to shelter them as much as reasonably possible from negative influences until they have the maturity to make the right choices.

Most 11 year old I know do not have that capability.

Finding Godly peers and Godly families with which to associate is becoming harder and harder.

Seems that the majority of teens I knew growing up, left the faith (practically speaking, maybe not theologically, but their lives no longer reflected the faith) either during teenhood or young adulthood and some but not all returned back to it.

My question is for those unique teens and young adults that never left the faith (practically speaking) what did the teens and parents do to help shape such Godly children turned adults?


It seems like you are doing everything you can to impart your values. The teen years are when kids start to question if their parents’ values are their own, and that time of questioning can be hell for parents, but it’s necessary.

You need to give yourself a break and accept that no matter what you do, your child will eventually decide to leave the church or not on his own, and it isn’t a reflection of you.

My husband’s parents did all the “right” things to raise their kids Catholic, including Catholic schooling. Out of the four kids, one is a cloistered nun, one espouses everything the church teaches and attends Mass every week but is the most sexually promiscuous person I’ve ever met, one has become involved with a Lutheran church and is about to come out to his parents as gay, and my husband is an atheist, but easily the most kind and “moral” of the group (except for the nun, of course), and easily the one who does the most to care for his parents and siblings. Of course this was not his parents’ ideal outcome, but even as devoted as they were their four kids all ended up in very different places in regards to religion.

Interesting. I too was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for awhile but like many young adults, left the faith (practically speaking) as soon as I hit college, but did eventually return in my 30’s.

Even though my parents raised me Catholic, there was not enough day to day discussion on how and why we believe and live as we do. There were rules, yes, and we knew right from wrong, and there was mass weekly and the sacraments, but there was not much discussion on our relationship with God, our value in God’s eyes, seeking a closer relationship with God, God’s promises to his faithful, Bible study, stories of the Saints and how their relationship with God helped them overcome adversity and sin, etc. Also my parents gave me way too much leeway with my friends and acquaintances and time with them and that brought too much opportunity for temptation into sin and into unwise choices as a teen.

My youth ministry experience at my catholic church growing up (late 70’s) was a total joke, we did a lot of “feelings” stuff and useless feel good activities. There was nothing of substance there for a teen with a brain. So I got my needs and identity met elsewhere. Unfortunately it was not church.

I sincerely hope the Catholic church’s are doing a better job with teens nowadays.

But I realize that as parents, the primary job for instilling faith and morals is with the parents and it needs to be a daily ongoing discussion.

It was really evangelical Protestantism that brought me back to God, the message of my personal salvation and walk with God was so much stronger and clearer than anything I had ever heard in Catholic Church, and I spent nearly 20 years there before coming back to Catholicism.

Would love to hear any additional pointers from parents that raised spiritual champions or the spiritual champions themselves.


My mother did everything one would consider “right”- weekly mass, our faith was a common topic of discussion at home, prayed nightly, but ultimately when I was around 12 or 13 I just became “bored” with faith. Most of my friends were still very much a part of the church. Nobody influenced me. It just came from within me.

It took about 10 years, but I returned to the faith and I find now it is stronger than ever.

Parents should stop worrying about the outside influences and just build a good foundation. If it is within that child/adult to be in the faith then they will be.

Outside influences matter a lot. Whether it’s movies, TV, computer games and music.

May I suggest:





I was a devout, happy Catholic and raised by devout parents. I went to Catholic school through the 1960s and graduated high school in 1973. College ruined and confused everything. Nothing was off limits. There were no rules for behavior, especially regarding the opposite sex. People were running around promoting and studying philosophy and other religions, mostly Eastern. Christianity? Out!! Have sex without marriage, smoke dope and don’t listen to anybody, including your parents. You’re an adult and YOU DON"T HAVE TO LISTEN TO ANYBODY! So, what was left? Do what they did.

I was distracted for some six years by all this, but my upbringing, and God intervening through a friend, brought me back. I stopped thinking that the sex with whoever idea was good. I never got involved with the drugs but others did. I drank a little, but that all ended. And I found all those other philosophies were not a good thing either. I am Catholic.


**Please don’t assume that all parish youth groups are lousy. **
We try really hard to assist parents in keeping their children on the straight and narrow.
Yeah we have activities, but that’s not the focus of our instruction.
Meet with the DRE at your parish and if you’re not satisfied, find another parish.
We’re about to begin the Theology of the Body classes in conjunction with our LifeTeen program for Lent. Should be a wonderful and enlightening experience. If Jason Evert is ever in your area, take your child to hear him speak. Middle school aged students are encouraged to attend his presentations. He’s on Youtube as well.

The key is TALKING to your child. So many parents drop their kids off and expect that we will fix them or indoctrinate them for them. We help yes, but YOU are the primary educator of your child. You sound like you are a good parent. Keep the conversation going. let you child know that nothing is off limits to talk about. Share your story. Comment on stories that are awful. Explain why they are bad, what the ramifications are to loose morals. Be real. Kids can handle a lot more than their parents think. Whatever you do, don’t try to “hide” the real world from them. Naïve children are the first victims. Teach your child to rely on his Catholic teachings, morality and family values. Everyone needs a moral compass. Find a parish with your same vision and trust that the Holy Spirit will direct you.

I think always having good peers and others to turn to is important. Your environment can influence you for good or for bad. I know of a couple with three daughters. The oldest fell in love with and was engaged to a Mormon man. The parents sat with her and re-explained the Catholic Church to her after every dinner for a few months. She left the Church and married the guy anyway, but the two younger daughters became Carmelite nuns. The moral of that story for me is that teens learn best when not being lectured to, but when they are around lectures and stories like this. The environment needs to be something that pulls them in.

My older siblings were lectured, warned, and catechized; I watched and listened to it all as they left the Faith…I drifted but came back in my 30’s. Having had more Catholics in my life might have helped earlier but it was some new young Catholic friends in my 30’s who were fun and kind who made the difference for me.

Believe it or not, my more orthodox and Traditional Latin Mass friends and parishioners SEEM to have less drifting amongst their kids. Do they pray more? Have more children to keep each other in line? (That didn’t work in my family) Homeschooling? More fun programs for young people? (Some of my friends kids go to a drama school and perform Shakespeare plays with other kids. Parents chaperone with subtlety.)

Emotional closeness is good. Be the parent that your child will always go to, even if he drifts, and of course, always pray for him and with him, if possible.

SHOW him godly behavior more than tell him. But do tell him.

Boys benefit the most from seeing the DADS actually live the faith: mass, confession, bible study, prayers, Christian service. Naturally moms count too. Opposite effect for girls, I suspect.

The thing I think catholics have largely failed to do in recent decades is to raise their children in the EXPECTATION that they will live in a culture at least somewhat hostile to their values. Ever since the outward oppression fell in the 1960’s catholics have been partying hearty that we’re finally seens as American as the WASP next door. And in the process, we’ve become indistinguishable from him. I think we need to resume recognition that we live in a culture that is different from our values and is constantly trying to convert us to theirs. If parents don’t train their kids to expect and resist it, they will get run over by cultural influences they don’t remotely suspect are out there.

Finally, we have to avoid the inclination to be defined by that which we oppose. Catholicism and Christianity in general is defined by what we believe to be TRUE. It’s only what is in irreconcilable conflict with those truths that is false. But the image painted of us in the culture today is that we are a people of prohibitions. Don’t let your kids be fooled.

You could monitor his internet and cellphone usage, what he watches on tv,what he reads, what music he listens to… all these things have a huge influence over kids

It’s been my experience with my four adopted children now in their 50s that no matter how hard I tried to make them good Catholics, I failed because “I was supposed to fail” I know this sounds strange, but God showed me dramatically that I wasn’t the savior, Jesus Christ is… I didn’t know I was playing savior. We are born rebels all in need of “Rebirth” Even though I introduced my children to the Catholic faith, it didn’t take. Although I planted a few seeds. My children were processed and not 'EVANGELIZED. They had no encounter with Jesus Christ personally. They just heard about Him in school and at home. Even there I failed because I did a poor job for so long. When they did something wrong I would discipline them. They got more rebellious it brings out the devil in them when they are not truly converted. Jesus showed me that I was fighting the devil, not the kids who were under his control. Jesus came to free us from the devils control. If you are not converted you are in serious trouble. When I realize what I was fighting then I was able to face the situation as a real christian. I learned that I had to tolerate, and be patient, I had to love unconditionally, forgive and at the same time be strong in my Faith, and let them know it. I tried to introduce them to Christ. When I did this I no longer had to discipline them God back up my authority and did the job correctly. A parent becomes a prophet when he speaks about Jesus to his children, and Jesus backs him up. It was really rough in the l960 when sex, pot, rebellion against authority was in vogue. I experience much pain and frustration raising my children., society didn’t help at all. We can’t save our kids from society but we can point the way to Jesus, and live good catholic lives as good examples, but we can’t convert, only God can. We can pray, and I am still praying for them. they have a ways to go, but they all are aware of Christ even though they are not totally committed. You will be amazed at what can happen when you speak for Christ. My kids experienced it, and we are still a loving family. God bless you and your children.:thumbsup:

OP, this is a wise post, and I hope you internalize it and remember it.

I’m a 56-year-old woman who raised two daughters. They turned out well.

I’ve known many hundreds of Christians families, both Catholic and Protestant, over the years. Many of the parents in these families did EVERYTHING right, but one or more of their kids still departed from the faith. Some of the kids have returned to faith. Others haven’t, and the parents continue to pray and agonize over their children.

People are created by God with a free will. I’ve seen some really sad situations, where the kids “acted” like good Christians and stayed involved with their church until the very day they turned 18, and then they packed their bags, marched down the stairs of the family home, and announced to Mom and Dad that they were moving in with their long-time boyfriend. Total shock to the parents and the other children in the family, and total shock to their church family. No one ever saw it coming.

It’s heartbreaking, but it happens and it’s not the parents’ fault, neither is it the fault of the school, the church, the youth group, the sports coaches, or anyone. It’s the child’s decision, made with a free will.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen in your family.

One thing I would gently caution you about is the attitude of suspicion that I see permeating your post. This can really backfire on you and drive a wedge between you and your son. Be careful.

E.g., you mention “youth groups” with a suspicious, cynical inflection in your writing (" a teen club…") I agree with pianistclare–there are a LOT of good youth groups, and sometimes, even if the youth group isn’t a dynamic organization with skilled leaders and lots of service projects and spiritual exercises, it’s still a good place for teenager to be simply because the parish offers it, and we need to teach our children to support their parish and its programs. And what exactly is bad about a “teen club” anyway?! I really love my women’s club, and we definitely segregate ourselves from men and the outside world–at least during our meetings and socials! It’s great! We all need times to get away and hang out with our peer group and shut out everything else for a little while.

Anyway, back to the issue of suspicion–

Of course we need to be careful as Christian parents. We shouldn’t just turn our children over to anyone and everyone, because there ARE bad people and bad programs.

But you have to be really super-careful around your son, and NOT come across as a religious fanatic “looking for a demon behind every bush” because you’re convinced that everyone’s out to get your son and steal his soul.

If you approach every new teen opportunity with the “Well before we take a chance with your soul, your father and I will investigate thoroughly to make sure that it’s appropriate for you, son,” attitude, your son will start doubting you and questioning you, especially if the people, events, and organizations that you are suspicious of turn out to be really good.

Once your son starts doubting you, you’re toast. You’ve lost him. He won’t listen to anything you say because you’ve proven that you can’t be trusted and that you’re just religious fanatics who are totally out of touch and suspicious of everything and everyone.

He may even get involved with organizations and people who are “bad” because he resents that you and your over-zealous suspicions kept him away from good people and good organizations.

So just be careful. Don’t let this attitude develop in you. Work WITH your son to discern people, events, organizations, music, etc.

In fact, I would suggest that you allow him to do pretty much anything (within reason–he shouldn’t be involved with a criminal group or person), but challenge him to discern good and evil. Chances are good that you will find that he will, on his own, walk away from bad things.

When we hold onto our children, they struggle to get away. But if you let them go and trust them, they usually will come back to us and their faith. The more you push, the more they’ll pull.

So easy does it with young teenagers. Only make an issue out of those things that are truly dangerous to their life (e.g., drug use, alcohol use, etc.) As much as it hurts, back away from issues like music, hair styles, clothing, most of their friends, etc. Easy does it.

I hope all this advice is helpful to you and others. It worked for us.

I have two teens. The oldest is a 17 year old girl that loves the Church. She was in the children’s choir as a child, became a great lector and just recently became an EMHC. She never misses youth group and has become a student leader. She is also an active member of our girls group.

My 13 year old son on the other hand… He fights us when it is time for Faith Formation (and I am Asst DRE) and he would rather not go to Mass.

I best advice is to pray, pray and PRAY some more.

One of the greatest mistakes we Christians make, Catholic or not, is that if we bring up children with everything we know about our faith, and even give good example then our children will become, or might become good Christians. Faith, true Faith is not passed on! True Faith is the gift of Jesus Christ and only Him. We all need a personal encounter with Jesus. We get this through evangelization. This encounter comes at different levels of our spiritual life. The most initial encounter comes when we turn from sin and turn to God. These encounters continue through our lives depending on our co-operation with the graces God gives us. If we utilize every means of grace these encounters become transforming, we become "other Christs God’s love permeates our lives… The Church tells us what means we have. We are loaded with these means. Jesus when accepted by us, through humility, repentance, and we recognize Him for who He is, Saviour, God-man, Redeemer, then He bestows His gift of the Holy Spirit who really, really makes all the difference in our lives. We begin to have a real affection, a real personal love for God that we never experienced before. How in the world can we love if we don,t know the one we are suppose to love. When we are attracted to someone we naturally want to know that person, its no different with God. Jesus is God. Our children need to know about Him by word, His teachings and His love. They and us need to experience this love in a personal way. This can be had if we ask Him. We also must know the reality of Satan. Jesus came down to redeem us by defeating Satan. not the Jews, or Romans, nor humanity. How many people believe in this pro found truth. We turn to counselors, doctors, and psychiatrists and others as our own created saviors with not real success. The very best we can do for our children is to point the way to Jesus Christ, teach our children about Him (evangelize) give good example by living a Christian Catholic life to the best of our ability, and pray for ourselves and our children. You and I if we do this, we will be sanctified, and please God, lead our children to Him, and He will embrace us and them.:slight_smile:

Not all youth groups are bad. Probably the only reason I am still alive is because of my youth group. Before I went I felt like no one loved me or cared about me. They showed me love and introduced me to God. My youth group has really taught me about the faith also. We have really deep nights like about self harm/suicide and prolife nights. I know it has really made a difference in the lives of the teens. Also I’m a middle school core team leader (I’m an adult now) so if you have any questions about that feel free to ask. :slight_smile:

This is a great response :thumbsup:

How was God presented to you, and what impressed you the most?

God was presented through adoration, which happened at least once a semester and on retreats, the talks, and the people there. God’s love was shown through the core team leaders who love the teens unconditionally. The talks had relevance to what we were going through. There were talks about evangelizing, ask a priest nights, nights about the saints, and more. This semester is breaking apart the creed and going into what it means and why we believe it. When a question was asked the leaders worked with the teens to find the answer out. What impressed me was the praise and worship session we had at every meeting. At the end of the youth nights we would gather in the youth room and just praise God. The youth band led us in one or two songs and the youth minister leads prayer. Looking around the room after you could see teens going up to core team members for prayers or advice or just sitting in prayer. You could feel the Holy Spirit there.

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