Passing on the Catholic faith to our children is a crucial antidote to a growing epidemic of anxiety and despair
By Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly
I WAS RECENTLY talking with a priest who serves as a chaplain at one of the top universities in the United States. I asked him what his Catholic students are struggling with the most. His response was immediate: anxiety and feelings of low self-esteem. I was bit surprised because these students are among the best and the brightest. But I shouldn’t have been. This is a symptom of our age.
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 3 in 5 (57%) teenage girls in the United States felt persistently sad or hopeless, and nearly 1 in 3 (30%) have seriously considered attempting suicide. Both statistics are up nearly 60% from just a decade ago, and it’s likely no coincidence that these disturbing trends coincide with the rise of smartphones.
The pressures upon young people are daunting, and they are often intensified by social media: hypersexualization, fashionable ideologies, the temptation to compare oneself to illusory personas projected by peers and “influencers.” It’s no wonder so many young people struggle with depression and despair as they try to make their way in a culture that has lost its moorings.
Faced with this situation, what can Catholic parents do? Putting aside the question of how parents should regulate the use of smartphones and electronic devices, the most important foundational thing we can do is pass on the beauty of our Catholic faith to our children. It is the most powerful bulwark against the false gospels being pushed on our children. It alone can provide them with the perspective, security and confidence they will need to make sense of the world.
Our faith offers a coherent — and attractive — vision of the human person. It makes clear to our children that they have inherent dignity and are deeply loved by God, who has willed them into existence for a purpose. It establishes that, as members of the Church, they are part of something much larger than themselves — participants in an ancient struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, and surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). Finally, it reaffirms that victory is possible through Christ, who died for us and calls us to be children of the light (Eph 5:8).
Our faith offers a coherent — and attractive — vision of the human person. It makes clear to our children that they have inherent dignity and are deeply loved by God, who has willed them into existence for a purpose.
Witnessing to our children the truth of this faith is a tall order for parents, myself included. But it can be done.
Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame known for his study of adolescent spirituality, has observed four traits in parents who successfully pass on their faith to their children.
First, these parents are genuine and authentic in their practice of the faith. If the faith of the parents is joyful and life-giving for the family, the children will be attracted to it.
Second, they adopt a parenting style that is authoritative but also abundantly affectionate. Children need rules, of course, but they also need personal warmth. This combination helps children embrace faith for the long haul.
Third, they regularly talk to their children about their faith — what they believe, what they do, and why. Discussions about faith need to be a consistent part of our everyday life, not compartmentalized or awkward.
Lastly, these parents introduce children to relationships that reinforce their beliefs. Children need to be around friends and other families who take their faith seriously.
None of this is easy, to be sure. But we need to have confidence that the God who brought order out of watery chaos at the beginning of creation (Gen 1:2) can do so again, helping us bring order out of the cultural chaos of our day. Swimming against the current, our children can experience real joy and genuine hope in Christ — and in so doing, become a light to the world.