Today’s teenagers are more likely to listen to what you say if they think you're really listening to what they say, notes Roy Petitfils, a counselor, speaker and author who hosts the podcast “Today’s Teenager.”
“This generation of teens wants to discuss issues,” he says, noting the "sage on the stage” model of dictating to young people what they should believe and think “has not worked for decades.
“Teenagers today are not even driven to be liked,” Petitfils adds. “They’re driven to be heard.”
It’s important for youth ministers and catechists to believe in the capabilities of the people to whom they minister, he says. For example, if a catechist is running into strong resistance to a church teaching from a young person, it’s best to ask the teen why they feel so strongly about the issue and try to empathize with the teenager’s feelings, rather than dismissing their view by using cold logic and intellectual arguments.
“The goal isn’t to change their mind,” Petitfils says. “The goal is to help the teen think it through. If we believe that the desire for God is written on their hearts, as the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ states, our job isn’t to put that desire there, our job is to remove anything that is unhealthy or interferes with their ability to experience the truth of God already within them.”
Petitfils works with the Pax Renewal Center in Lafayette, La., and has written a number of books, including “What Teens Want You to Know (But Won’t Tell You), A Practical Guide to High School Campus Ministry” (St. Mary’s Press, 2007), as well as “God Wears Running Shoes: Spiritual Reflections for Those Ministering to Young People (2009).” Petitfils will join several other speakers on hand at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ City of Saints Teen Conference, Aug. 4-6, at UCLA.
Petitfils will host two workshops at City of Saints, one of which focuses on “doubt,” including the doubts teenagers have about Jesus Christ and/or the teachings of the Catholic Church as well as the doubts they have about themselves and the future.
“In many ways all of these are related, and I hope to help teens see how they are related,” Petitfils says. “I hope to help normalize for them the doubt that they experience. It’s a part of the process of coming to own one's faith.”
Most importantly, he says, he wants to convey to teenagers that doubts don’t have to turn into dismissal.
“It is my hope that I can help them to see that just because they have doubts doesn't mean they need to totally abandon their faith.”
Petitfils will also conduct a keynote session on “sharing” and says he will likely include a discussion of the life of Mother Teresa, the famed Calcutta nun who was canonized last year. He says this generation of teens may be more open to Christ’s message of sharing than previous generations simply because of the interconnected global village in which they were raised.
“They grew up in that social media world where things are ‘liked’ and ‘shared,’” Petitfils says.
“Contrary to what most adults think, they are very generous in spirit and in several ways they are very accepting and very nonjudgmental of others. While this can have its drawbacks, especially in certain doctrinal areas, it makes it easier for teenagers to approach others from a nonjudgmental place as well as making it easier for them to share their faith with others and share their beliefs and convictions with others.”
To learn more about Roy Petitfils’ work, as well as hear his podcast, visit roypetitfils.com.