This just in!



This just in!

What has the most influential impact on the faith lives of children and youth?

It’s not what, it’s who; and the who are parents, families, households. A very comprehensive and scholarly study has revealed the crucial part parents play in a child’s faith life and throughout their teen years.

In this substantive study, thousands of adolescents and their parents were interviewed. The research found that young people almost always mirror the faith paths, the faith approaches and the faith embraces of their parents. According to the study, we should not expect teenagers to be automatically rebellious. They may not do exactly what their parents do, but they are quite influenced by their parents and other authorities in their lives.

This important study, conducted by researcher Christian Smith from the University of Notre Dame, affirms the priority of parents over programs. Activities offered by parishes like youth groups, service projects and mission trips matter – but not as powerfully as parents. These activities reinforce the faith lives of parents through faith conversation, prayer and active faith responses such as service.

This is not a surprise. For years, I have been asking adults how their faith was formed. To a person, the response was “from my mother, my father, my grandmother, my grandfather, my uncle (add your own).”  This means that the Church, faith-formation programs and Catholic schools are secondary to what happens at home. These entities are very important in the lives of young people and must support parents and households of faith by providing them with opportunities and resources in a spirit of partnership.

Christian Smith recognizes the issue of articulation of faith. As a Church, we lament when young people are not able to articulate their understanding of faith. This is not just a “young people problem.” Many of us have difficulty putting our faith understanding into words – in our own words, with our own understanding. Books have been written on the lack of religious literacy today. Smith relates that when discovering young people articulate in their faith, it is because they come from families where faith issues are talked about. They learn a vocabulary.

Smith compares faith development to learning a second language. To learn a second language you need to engage with that language, talk about it and practice. This requires an investment on the part of families. It requires conversation around the dinner table. Parents must assess what they really care about and what they want to pass on to their children, and find ways to make this happen. Smith calls this the full transmission of faith to children. Faith formation happens primarily in the home, in partnership with the parish, the faith-formation program and the Catholic school.

For many years, church personnel talked about the need to break down the silo mentality in parishes around the country. There was a time when parish ministries were very separate. Religious education, youth ministry, schools, social justice, etc., all focused on their own ministry, independently of each other.  Now, with staff meetings and a new awareness that we are all about making disciples, there is a more collaborative approach. Now, we must move out of the silo of the parish to a covenant with parents and households. What we do in church, in school and in religious education must be supported at home. Home is the heart of faith growth and life.

The pandemic has enlightened our understanding of this reality. Now, we see in a new way that everything we do in church must follow what happens at home. In this way, faith becomes meaningful and relevant. Parents witness to their children in the very act of being who they want their children to become. Parents model faith to their children through conversation, ritual, prayer and connecting faith to life.

Parents probably knew this all along. Let us affirm their good work and witness of parents in the life of the Church.

For more on this subject see: “Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation,” by Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk; and “Religious Parenting,” by Christian Smith.