What We’re Learning About Teaching Teens
One Bread, One Cup has been around in one form or its present form for about 22 years. We have changed over time, and so have teens.
I have the unique experience of having been an adult participant for 12 years in the program I now direct. Having begun my youth ministry career as a parish coordinator of Catholic youth ministry, I brought over 50 youth to this program and had the honor and pleasure of helping them integrate their conference experience into the liturgical life of the parish. The experience was transformative for both the teens and the parish.
I’d like to offer my comments about what we’re learning from the perspectives of the parish and from the program.
From the parish:
There is a place for every teen within the parish community. (Each of them are gifted uniquely. It may not be evident to them, we can identify/challenge them to use gifts.)
Teens will respond to the invitation to be involved. (Can we as adults give up our space to allow it to be filled by an able teen? Are we willing to serve as mentors?)
The parish community is in desperate need of youthful energy within every context of parish life, especially the liturgical experience. ( I have a certain kind of energy, but it’s not so youthful anymore!)
The parish community will support youth ministry efforts both experientially and financially. (This is especially true if they see positive results in the community or within the teens they know personally.)
From the program:
Not all teens are alike. Temperments, life experiences, personalities must be considered when creating programs and choosing presenters.
Example: My archdiocese used to confirm at grade 10. Now we invite anyone who is 13 and older to present themselves for Confirmation formation. This approach recognizes that teens mature at varying stages, as well as reduces the tendency to use the sacrament as a hostage taker.
If each presenter is high energy extrovert, the introverts will quickly tune out, visa versa. Assembling a broad range of speakers appeals to all types.
While opportunities for fun are important within any program, they should be organic, built in opportunities that make sense in the overall experience. They can also spontaneously occur but shouldn’t be allowed to derail the topic.
Teens need to decompress. Time in the schedule for this process will help their attention when it matters most.
Teens are capable of understanding and welcome the opportunity to be taught serious theological concepts.
They will hit the bar that is set for them most every time. If we want them to achieve great things, we must believe that they can and enable their success.
We must however, be sure that THEY achieve the task.
In our society teens are not valued as much as young children. They need to be affirmed without being coddled, challenged without being overwhelmed, formed in faith rather than being informed about faith.
Finally, when teens encounter Christ in a real and tangible way, it is transformative and often begins a lifelong journey of formation that can greatly influence their vocational decision later in life. We would do well to take our roles as formators seriously, and never underestimate the power of our daily work.