Want to keep your kids Catholic? Teach them to defend their faith with apologetics for kids. (This post may contain affiliate links. Check my disclosure policy for details).
There had been an argument – that much I knew. What I didn’t know was over what or with whom, despite B’s slightly breathless, quasi-detailed explanation. The story tumbled out in a high pitched, rapid fire torrent, entire sections of dialogue recreated but lost to road noise and toddler babble.
“Wait a minute, B. Who were you talking to? What happened at snack?”
“PETZELS! MAMA? PETZELS!”
“I told you, Mommy,” she said, flinging a sandwich bag across the backseat to her brother. “It’s fine now. Miss Diane explained we were all talking about the same thing, so it didn’t matter anyway.”
I got the rest of the story the next day, on the way home from the doctor’s office. G had been pretty quiet, until:
“It really bugs me when people say Catholics aren’t Christian.”
“What was that, honey?”
She sighed. “I said it bugs me when people say Catholics aren’t Christian. It’s not true, and they shouldn’t say it.”
“It bugs me, too,” B said. “Like yesterday. That’s what got everybody so confused.”
“Could somebody please explain what happened? G? Where you there?”
She nodded, her face grim. “Basically, mom, it went like this. S asked B if she was Christian. B said we were Catholic. S said we weren’t really Christian, then, and B said we were, and then S said we couldn’t be because Catholics pray to Mary instead of Jesus, and then B said that lots of religions pray to different people, and then S said something I can’t remember, and then B started crying, and then Miss Diane came over and said Catholics are Christians and we shouldn’t fight.”
I could see B’s face in the rearview mirror, her brows knit together in concern.
“Is what S said true, mom? That we can’t be Catholic and Christian, because we pray to Mary?”
“We don’t pray to Mary,” G said, her voice weary with frustration. “We ask Mary to pray for us, just like we ask other people to do.”
My heart swelled.
“Did you tell her that, honey, when everyone was arguing?” I asked.
“No,” G admitted. She was quiet for a moment, then said, “The next time I see her, though, I’m going to tell her the truth.”
Telling the Truth: How to Keep Our Kids Catholic with Age-Appropriate Apologetics
We live in an area where Catholic community is easy to find. Our Diocese is vibrant. Our parish is bustling. Our homeschool group is massive. We have so many Catholic friends and family close by that I often joke we live in a little Catholic bubble.
Except we don’t – as my daughters’ experience confirms.
In August of 2016, Georgetown University researcher Dr. Mark Gray revealed the results of two studies performed by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. Gray and his colleagues performed a random sample of young people (15-25) who no longer identified as Catholic. The statistics were startling:
13: The average age at which respondents said they left the church
63: The percentage of those interviewed who said they stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17.
23: The percentage of those interviewed who said they left the faith before age 10.
Gray’s comments regarding the study reveal a generation of young people hungry for the truth. Many of the respondents expressed a desire for proof or some sort of emotional connection: for some, God and religion were a fairytale. For others, mass was devoid of spiritual meaning.
The reality is that our kids face a flurry of conflicting messages. From the teachings of our Protestant brothers and sisters to the tenets of secular humanism and moral relativism, children face a barrage of influences at a young and vulnerable age. Even their own peers have misconceptions and negative attitudes of the Catholic faith.
Is it any wonder so many parents worry about keeping their kids Catholic?
The answer, of course, is apologetics: the practice of defending one’s faith. Most families and schools begin instruction in this matter in high school, but as CARA’s research and my own kids’ experiences reveal, this is far too late.
Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to teach apologetics in an age-appropriate way.
Take a little conversation, a lot of modeling, and a handful of resources, and you’re on way.
Talk About The Issues – A Lot
It’s no secret our kids are exposed to all manner of attitudes and lifestyles. We can neither hide them under a rock nor glamorize sin. In order to teach the truth without marginalizing it, we have to talk to our kids not only about what we believe, but why we believe it:
Why is marriage a sacrament?
What does it mean to be pro-life?
Why do we honor the saints and have statues?
What is the real presence, and why do we believe?
When it comes down to it, the why is just as important as the what. We owe it to our kids to teach them both.
Model Productive Conversation
Apologetic skills aren’t just about what you know: they’re also about how you present it. Teach your children how to have fruitful, respectful conversations with a focus on the truth, not personal attack. Brainstorm a variety of situations in which such conversations might arise, then role play how to approach and handle it. The more practice kids have in a comfortable environment, the more likely they’ll be able to have meaningful conversations that uphold the truths of our faith.
Gather Your Resources
There is a wealth of information out there for families and kids wishing to practice apologetics. From the Theology of the Body for Kids to the Friendly Defenders Flash Card set, parents can find a variety of age-appropriate resources to teach their children about the faith. (I’m particularly partial to To Hear His Voice: A Mass Journal for Catholic Kids)
As parents, we are the primary educators of our children. And the great thing is that our kids are learning, even if we don’t feel like we’re actively teaching them. But the more resources and knowledge we can give them, the better. The truth is always the truth, and it’s especially powerful when it comes from the mouths of babes.
Enjoy this post? Read on:
The Truth About Smart Kids and Faith
Growing up in an area that was 2% Catholic, and as part of an extended family in which the Catholic thread was a narrow one, I’ve been dealing with this since I was a child myself. Great suggestions in this post.
Jeanie Egolf says
Awesom, awesome post! I’m applauding!!
This was a really great post. Though I’m not a mother yet, I can see the impact of not being taught Church teachings has had on my siblings and I. As a faith formation teacher, I was really surprised at some of the questions I got asked. They really kept me on my feet, but it made me happy their families were having some of those discussions. The hard part is when what I’m teaching (aka what the Church teaches) is opposite of what their parents say.
Anni H. says
This was such a great post, and so insightful. And, I completely agree with you – apologetics begins at home… we are our children’s primary faith formation teachers. Teaching Confirmation this year, I’ve been given an inside glimpse into how imperative it is for parents to be hands-on, both in word and deed!
Thanks for this article!
Well that was amazing! Your kids are so brave. We have the friendly defenders cards!!! My 5 yo loves them. He pulls them out to read them on his own. At first, I was afraid of reinforcing the argumentative part, but he’s been really good about reading the whole card, and learning the right answer. He’s a big talker, so I hope to see him defending the faith just as well as your girls someday!!
Awesome! I totally get the frustration your daughter felt! I was in 6th grade when someone questioned my Christianity because of my Catholic beliefs!
TJ Burdick says
Have you heard of tinythomists.com?
Ginny Kochis says
I have – thanks for the reminder!
Still love this article, and glad to see it provided for the link-up!
I had to deal with the ‘praying TO Mary’ vs. ‘asking Mary to pray for us’ question when teaching a bunch of 8-year-olds in Sunday School a couple of years ago. We ended up writing out the Hail Mary in full and breaking it down phrase by phrase to see what it ‘really’ said. It was definitely not the day’s lesson plan but it did seem to clear up a little of the confusion for the kids. We didn’t have the time to do any other prayers (COVID interrupted classes,) but sometimes I think kids get so used to saying their prayers by rote they don’t realize the meaning of them.