How to pray alongside your teen

Growing up Catholic meant going to Mass on Sundays and religious education classes weekly. My siblings and I memorized prayers like “The Holy Rosary” and “Our Father.” At an early age we learned the Ten Commandments. The prayers were very rigid.

We NEVER EVER had a conversational tone with our prayers. I don’t know that my parents have ever referred to God as “Daddy. I didn’t hear the reference until I was in my late twenties.

My dad has said that he regrets not being a better example to me and my siblings in this “department” of life. Even still, my parents became involved as “elders/teachers” in their parish and have been very happy doing so.

When I reflect on this, I am not surprised that I am the only child of my parents to pursue knowledge of and a relationship with Christ.

My recollection is that we relegated prayer to meal times during Christian holidays. Sometimes, my father would lead us in this prayer:

Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

My father-in-law, Wayne, attended Rhema Bible Training College and is an elder in his church. He is a good man, with a good heart, so I asked him for his advice in how we can pray alongside our teens — even if we haven’t made it a priority before.

how to pray alongside your teen

How important was praying in your household when Chuck was growing up (and as a teen)? Was it a rule? Who led prayer?

Prayer was very important throughout Chuck’s teenage years. As our children became teenagers, we believed that part of the transition to adulthood was allowing them to make certain decisions on their own (more on this below), so there was no requirement for them to pray. We didn’t spend much time praying together except during earlier years we did lead and guide them.

The high importance of our family prayer during the teenage years was our quiet, desperate prayers that we were doing as Proverbs 22:6 instructed in order to see the promise come to pass. “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Many of my prayers were also for their general safety, for making right choices, for finding and being good friends.

When did your family pray? Chuck says he remembers at mealtimes and when something bad would happen, but did you all pray at other times?

Chuck’s memory is accurate: during his teenage years, most of our prayers were generic at mealtime or when emergencies and issues prompted us to rely on God.

Now list some excuses here (yes, excuses, not valid reasons) but that would simply be denial. We all get busy, we all have jobs, or friends, or school or TV or movies, etc. that could be used as excuses. Sadly, two of those most important years I worked nights while attending Bible School.

Looking back, I know I could have been a better father applying more of the very things I was learning. Is that the voice of regret? Yes. Following up on question 1, I could have lived a better example of a praying man with my son.

Did you grow up in families that prayed? How did you learn how to pray? I know this sounds silly but, for me, I feel stupid when I pray on my own. I don’t know what to say and I want it to sound eloquent. Don’t laugh.

Thank you for this question; it anchors the starting point. I didn’t grow up in a family that prayed. My father was adamant that neither politics nor religion should be discussed in the home. The precept was that “when we were old enough we could make our own choices.”

I remember during my own tween years trying to learn a little about God from a couple of resources only to become discouraged and uninterested.

Later, I attended a Catholic University. One of the required courses was a study of World Religions. I passed that course receiving an “A” with a finals essay declaring that only weak people would rely on a god that didn’t exist.

So when did I learn to pray?

In my mid-twenties, after moving our family of five to a new state (that is another discussion) and camping outside of town, I had spent over a month looking for work. For the first time in my life, I faced the reality that I truly needed help.

Alone in my truck, in the middle of a new town, I quietly asked into the quietness “God, if you are real, I need you. Show me what to do and where to go.”

One of the nearby stores was a Christian bookstore. I entered, purchased a small pocket sized bible and returned to my truck. Again in the quietness, I asked “Show me God” and opened the Bible to Matthew Chapter 6.

I learned that day that God was very real and knew exactly what I needed even before I asked. He spoke to my heart from His Word. I didn’t need any special pattern or eloquent speech; I simply needed to be honest with Him. Later, I would learn how to be adopted into His family.

By the end of that week, not only had He spoken to me, but He also provided a job, and a house to replace the tent.

To this day simply reflecting on that chapter and specifically Matthew 6:33, will always bring comfort, knowing that my God will always provide everything needed for my life on earth.

What would you recommend to parents who want to teach their kids how to pray when it hasn’t been a priority before? How can they start?

If parents haven’t prayed with their children and want to begin, they should start by asking themselves “Why?” In essence, this challenges a person to reflect on their own relationship with God. Do they know Him or have they just heard about Him?

It is much easier to introduce your child to someone you know personally than to a stranger. If you know someone well, you can have a chat with them about anything that is going on in your life.

Look at prayer time with your child as a way of introducing them to your absolute best friend, or even better, to the absolute best “daddy” a kid could have, who loves them, knows their every need, who has perfect wisdom and compassion and will guide them throughout their life.

I want this, more than anything, for our kids. I want this for my husband, for me, and I want this for you, too. Prayer is a gift and it’s an important part of our relationship with God. It’s never too late to begin! His door is open 24/7, will you knock? Share if you prayed alongside your teen today.

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