NEW IDEAS In practice
What role do parents play in the faith formation of their teenagers? Dr. Christian Smith from the University of Notre Dame says the following: ‘Most teenagers and their parents may not realise it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modelled and taught to them by their parents.’
How can we incorporate more opportunities for parents and teenagers to grow together in faith? Karen Turner, a youth worker in York, has recently started innovative parent and teenager retreats. Here’s her story:
PARENT AND TEENAGER RETREATS
When I organised the fi rst retreat away day for young people a few years back, I realised how much the leaders got from it, and how much benefit there was in sharing this kind of vulnerability side-by side, adults and young people.
Including parents was initially partly about practicalities. If parents were coming along, there was no need to arrange transport. Some parents who wanted to come would encourage their young people to come along. At the start, we kept things separate. So I organised retreat days that had different streams for young people and parents, only really being together at the beginning and end of the day. Although I felt cautious about putting young people off by doing things with their parents, I’ve realised more and more that in our context, it doesn’t seem to.
The first parent and teenager retreat weekend we held was led by Sam and Sara Hargreaves from engageworship. We spent time praying on our own with a passage from scripture, but also shared some of our reflections in mixed groups. We used traditional ways of praying, like the ‘examen’, but also had times of worship using contemporary music. The Saturday evening was set aside with space to respond to God in a song-writing workshop, through visual creativity or in drama. Our concluding worship on Sunday included contributions from everyone – with a newly composed song, a beautiful interpretive reading of part of Romans 12, and space for testimony. In this space a 13 year-old girl shared, in a room full of her peers and adults, that at the start of the weekend she hadn’t known Jesus. Now she did.
I think Sam, Sara and I all agreed that it was easier and more normal-feeling than we expected.
We somehow let ourselves think that everything needed to be ‘streamed’, and even that parents and young people needed to be protected from each other. However, when something is done with authenticity and with a recognition that we are all unique with different tastes and preferences as well as gifts, there was actually no point in dividing by age. I was also aware that a retreat of this kind could exclude young people whose parents wouldn’t be interested. At the start, I’d considered running a separate ‘young people only’ stream alongside the main retreat in the adjacent ‘youth wing’ of the retreat house. There wasn’t any take-up for this, so on this occasion, we didn’t have that complication. It’s something to think about for the future, and I’m not sure how it would work.
Every person who came on the retreat said that they would want to do it again. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the parents expressed more gratitude, noticing what it may have given them as a family. My perception was that it was helpful for people to have time set aside for the purpose of engaging in faith together as a family. We may all want this kind of thing to be more a part of our normal lives, but sometimes it takes someone else giving us some loose guidance and creating a welcoming space to allow it to happen.
Karen Turner is a youth worker in the York and Hull district.
This article by Karen Turner appeared in Youthscape’s research magazine ‘The Story’ in July 2016. The full document can be downloaded at