Acts of Growth, Dependence, and Independence: How do you know your child is ready to choose to go to church without parental dictate?

In the past few weeks, I have attempted to demonstrate that decision-making, skill mastery, and the freedom to act is a process that begins early in life and continues throughout childhood and into adolescence. So at what point should one allow one’s child to decide whether or not to go to church on his or her own? I think it boils down to one single word: “responsibility.”

Does your child demonstrate the ability to take responsibility for his or her behavior? Does he or she behave in a manner that demonstrates a readiness for such independence? For example,

  • does your child attend school and perform in a responsible manner (i.e., does he or she complete assignments, maintain average grades or better, and demonstrate cooperative interpersonal skills with teachers and other students)?
  • does he or she have a job for which he or she shows up on time and has established a good reputation with his or her employer?
  • has he or she learned how to drive, obeying the traffic laws and accepting and following the parameters set by his or her parent[s] with regard to using the car?
  • is your child invested in Church by attending the services and participating in the spiritual life?

While this is basic, common sense “stuff,” attaining this level of maturity and responsibility depends on how the acquisition of skill mastery and autonomy had been handled throughout a child’s development and growth. If a parent is overbearing and dictatorial, the fruit of that approach will yield a child who is rebellious and oppositional. This does not mean that a child is acting in an independent manner. If a parent is over protective and reluctant to set limits, the result is likely to be that the child will be afraid of taking risks, depending primarily on others to “tell him or her what to do.”

So there is no magic age in this regard. In some families, parent[s] may allow their child to choose to go to church as early as 14 or 15 or as late as 17. It all depends on what kind of relationship has been established. In my upbringing, when I finished Sunday School at around the age of 15, my parents left it up to me as to whether I went to church or not. So, while I didn’t “have to go” to church any longer, I still chose to go. But in choosing to go, I realized that it was not the end of some type of accomplishment; rather, it was the beginning of a journey to learn what it meant to follow Christ and become His disciple — a learner of the Faith. Make no mistake about it, whether one is a bishop, priest, deacon, monastic or layperson, this road to being a learner never ceases. If you happen to have a copy of the Cat Stevens album, “Tea for the Tillerman,” listen to the songs, “On the Road to Find Out,” and “Father and Son.”

The Lord’s blessing be upon you,

The unworthy +Paul

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