Lenten Ideas for Teens and Tweens
It seems like every year Lent sneaks ups on me. I know it’s coming, yet I still find myself scrambling at the last minute to find something to read and to think of something meaningful to do or not do. Not this year. This year I think I’ve got a game plan – or at least the beginnings of one.
My children on the other hand, are a different story. I realized the profound shallowness of one of my children’s Lenten preparation when I heard her say, “I’m glad it’s almost Lent, I need to get in shape.” It dawned on me then that I wasn’t the only one in the family who needed to prepare in order to prepare for the resurrection of our Lord. So, to help my children get beyond just giving up sweets (and shedding a few pounds) I’ve compiled a list of ideas for teenagers. For those of you who have managed to raise kids who are free from the trappings of this world and whose idea of reasonable Lenten disciplines are horse hair shirts and sleeping without a blanket, I applaud you. I’d love to know the secret, and there’s probably no need for you to keep reading. But my children are a delightful mix of worldliness and would-be saints – who listen to pop music, own cell phones, and think leggings are pants. Here are some things I’m going to suggest they prayerfully consider giving up and taking on for Lent…
LEARN TO PRAY BETTER
Prayer is the key to holiness and to growing closer to God. It should be as important to us as oxygen. And yet it’s so easy to forget to pray or to get distracted at prayer. Having a prayer system can help. Here are some of my favorite ways to add prayer to my day or to make my prayers more meaningful.
- The ACTS prayer – This is a way to organize prayer so we don’t spend to whole time just listing the things we want from God. The ACTS prayer involves praying first Adoration, then Confession, next Thanksgiving, and finally Supplication.
- Aspirations – These are short, silent prayers offered up anytime and anyplace – Jesus, I love you. Lord, have Mercy. Jesus, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Mother Mary, prayer for us. Any small way that we can turn our hearts and minds to the Lord throughout the day are pleasing to Him and can help us grow in holiness.
- Keeping a prayer journal – It’s easy to say, “I’m going to pray for Brittany.” Or “I’m going to be more thankful.” But as we all know, easier said than prayed. I’m going to encourage my children to write down their prayer intentions and blessings. As any seasoned prayer knows, writing down prayers not only helps us remember what to pray, but allows us to look back later and see how God as worked in our lives.
BEFRIEND THE FRIENDLESS
Every time I pray the third sorrowful mystery of the rosary (the crowning with thorns), I ask Jesus to help my children and me to remember the outcast and the bullied. I realize that our Lord suffered much more than bullying, but still for the sake of His suffering, I hope that my children (and I) will make an effort to relieve the suffering of someone else being mocked, ridiculed, or forgotten. A kind word, a smile, or a “how’s it going?” might mean the world to someone who feels invisible most of the time. I hope this Lenten season my children will invite a loner to sit with them at lunch, compliment a kid who others barely notice, or is some way make a special effort at kindness.
LISTEN TO CHRISTIAN MUSIC
I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Christian music. I dislike it for the same reason I dislike most Kelly Clarkson or One Direction songs. There’s nothing wrong with them. They just aren’t my thing. But they are a far site better than most of the vile, brainless junk on pop radio. Blogger, Matt Walsh, makes a great case that pop music isn’t only immoral, it’s also making us stupid. Lent is a great time for all of us to cleanse our hearts and minds. While I do monitor what my kids listen to, totally blocking out the world isn’t really an option. But I am asking my children to replace some of their pop music with more Christian music this Lenten season.
It’s tempting to see Lent an excellent time for the kids to kick some bad habits or to take on a few more household chores. You know, make a few sacrifices. They could pledge to keep their rooms clean for the entire 40 days of Lent or to quit leaving their junk in the car. After all, why not kill two birds with one religious stone. But that’s not really the point of Lent, so I refrain from asking my kids to do the things I think they ought to do for Lent. But I do encourage them to think of new and sacrificial ways to serve their family, friends, church, or community. And cleaning their own trash out of the car wouldn’t kill them.
SHOW SOME GRATITUDE
Again, I’m not trying to turn Lent into my personal to-do list for my kids, but I’d like to see them write more thank you notes. Thank you notes are a concrete way to express gratitude, often to someone who isn’t expecting it – a former teacher, an aging relative, an admired adult. One thank you note a week during Lent is a modest, but meaningful goal. And it has the power to touch the lives of both the sender and the receiver.
PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE
This one is pretty obvious. Lot’s of young people probably quit or limit social media for Lent. That’s great. I’m not asking my kids to give up all social media. And I don’t want them to give it up just to be able to say they gave up something in the Lent. I want them to make better use of their time in general. By limiting social media, they will have more time for prayer, spiritual reading, or just being quiet before God. What better way to grow closer to Him? How much should they limit? I think I’ll leave that up to each of them. My prayer is that they will make space for God.
COVER YOUR MIRROR
Apparently, I am not the only come up with this is an idea. I admire any young lady who can go a month without looking in the mirror. For my girls, who aren’t quite ready to go to that extreme, I am suggesting looking in the mirror less – say only in the morning before leaving the house and not again until the school day is over.
FREE YOURSELF FROM SELFIES
Like looking too much in the mirror, the paradox of the selfies is that they are vain – both pride (Hey! Look at me!) and their insecurity (Please, please, look at me). Spending 40 days not being overly concerned about what others think sounds like a great way to develop spiritually.
READ GOOD BOOKS
Obviously spiritual reading – the Bible, the lives of the Saints, stories from the mission field are a powerful addition to anyone’s Lenten disciplines, but I’d also like to see my children read some classic literature during Lent. I know. I know. Lent is not about getting them to do what I want them to do, but developing a taste for literature that draws our senses to what is true and beautiful is a worthwhile pursuit any time of the year. Why not make Lent a time to let God develop in us a taste for what is lovely and true in literature instead of what is ugly and common and popular. Haley who blogs at Carrots for Michaelmas suggests 10 Book to Read With Your Daughter So She Doesn’t Turn Out Like That Horrid Girl From Twilight.
IF YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING NICE, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL
Of course we should always avoid gossip and unkind talk, but sometimes we forget that this rule applies even when it’s people we don’t know. For some reason we feel totally free to make catty remarks about a stranger’s outfit or a celebrity’s weight. After all, we don’t know them and they don’t know us. What can it hurt? But poison is poison. Why put it out there? This Lenten season I’m encouraging my kids to avoid negative talk of any kind.
I’m not sure which, if any, of the things on this list my children will choose. The point is not for them to make themselves miserable or the “accomplish” some Lenten chores. But Lent is a time set apart. Our lives should be different during these days to remind us that because of Him our lives are different. We are different. Yes, we are called to go with Christ into the desert. But if we come out smug in our own spiritual toughness (and 5 lbs thinner), we’ve missed the point. We go into the desert to be with our Lord. We do this through prayer but also by being willing to shed those things which we hold dear but that might (or might not) keep us from loving Him fully.
As a parent it is my job to guide my children to choose meaningful Lenten practices. It’s a big job. The grace’s offered to us during this time are boundless, and I don’t want my kids to miss out. So, I guess I’ve got one more thing to add to my own Lenten journey – praying for my children’s Lenten journey.
Lenten reading suggestions for teens and tweens..
This Catholic Teen Bible comes highly recommended.
Amy Welborn’s Prove It books answer some of the tough questions about the faith that many teens face.
You Cat – a catechism for Catholic youth.
Just a few days ago I wrote about what I really want for Christmas. It was a list of all the things that, in a perfect world, would be different around my house. That list is spot on. I stand by that list. And yet, as I was writing it, I couldn’t help thinking about how different that list is from one I might have written ten years ago – when all of my kids were small. And it made me kind of sad. So, in addition to matched socks and a crumb-free counter, there are a few things I’d like to add to my Christmas list – things that I never would have wished for a few years ago…
- I used to wish that I didn’t have to stay up until 2:00 a.m. the night before Christmas, assembling toys and stuffing stockings. Now I wish someone wanted a…
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For weeks now my kids have been asking me what I want for Christmas. And I have said the thing that I am supposed to say, that I always say – I don’t need anything. I just want all of my children to be happy and healthy. It’s true. I don’t need anything. And I do want my children to be happy and healthy. But they are good children, so no matter how often I say that I really don’t need anything, they will pool their money and buy me a new bathrobe or nightgown, or a maybe well-intentioned kitchen gadget. And I’ll be grateful because I know they are buying me presents because they love me and want to show me that they care.
But here’s the thing. I’m lying. I don’t just want healthy happy kids. Sure that’s the most important thing, but there are a…
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A couple of weeks ago the entire world celebrated Banned Books Week. Okay maybe not the entire world, but a lot of librarians and English teachers did. Banned Books Week usually involves such activities as handing out bookmarks and challenging students to select and read a book from a list of commonly banned books. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. There are a lot of books on these lists that I have either bought for my children, read to them, or that I hope they will read one day. I have wonderful memories of crying, no sobbing, with my kids when we read Bridge to Terabithia and Charlott’s Web. In my English classes, I have taught Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and Lord of the Flies. The Giver and Harry Potter are among my children’s favorite books. And, while certainly not my favorite, my eldest daughter has read nearly all of John Green ‘s books.
The fact is, it’s hard to imagine why many of these books were ever banned. It’s just crazy. But the crazy thing about the Banned Books Week movement is that proponents of the movement would have us believe that school libraries should be allowed to provide young people with literally any book out there without having to justify the appropriateness of the book. Any attempt to use discernment or determine age appropriateness is decried as censorship. And those who call into question a librarian’s choices are considered a threat to intellectual freedom.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating government censorship or that books be banned from public libraries. But as a mother and a tax payer, I would like to think that when I send my children to school, they will not happen across books in the school library that include passages like this one from Cristina Garcia’s novel, Dreaming in Cuban (which is actually a Common Core recommended text for 10th graders).
“Hugo and Felicia stripped in their room, dissolving easily into one another, and made love against the whitewashed walls. Hugo bit Felicia’s breast and left purplish bands of bruises on her upper thighs. He knelt before her in the tub and massaged black Spanish soap between her legs. He entered her repeatedly from behind.
“Felicia learned what pleased him. She tied his arms above his head with their underclothing and slapping him sharply when he asked.
“‘You’re my bitch,’” Hugo said, groaning.
According to the good folks at the American Library Association, any attempt to restrict this novel, or anything libraries choose to make available to children, is a violation of the First Amendment. The ALA lists Fifty Shades of Grey as one of the most commonly challenged books of 2013, but according to the ALA, a child’s right to read this book should be protected. This is apparently more important than protecting children from pornography.
I realize that censorship is a slippery slope. At least that’s what the Banned Books people want us to fear. If we ban Fifty Shades of Grey, what’s to stop us from banning every book with any sexual content whatsoever? Censorship is such a loaded word. It implies a secret plot to restrict ideas or knowledge or a Big Brother-like control over information. But what we are really talking about is limits. And don’t schools limit kids already? Students are not allowed to curse in school. They cannot make racially insensitive statements. They aren’t allowed to watch sexually explicit films in class – even those based on a classic novel. When, where, and how they can pray is restricted. And most schools have some form of a dress code in place. All of these rules restrict (censor) students’ freedom of expression is some way. Can you imagine a high school or middle school where kids were allowed to express themselves absolutely any way they wanted too?
Still, the slippery slope concerns are valid. Obviously book banning can get out of hand. Many books that are now considered classroom and childhood staples have at one time been challenged. Yet, should we really advocate, indeed celebrate, the notion that our children can potentially have access to books with virtually any content with no adult discernment as to the appropriateness of those books?
Where things get tricky is when people challenge books based on their own personal beliefs. Just because some people don’t believe that children should read books about witches and wizards, doesn’t mean the library should ban all Harry Potter books. Some people might feel that children should not read books that encourage them to challenge authority. That does not mean we need to ban Animal Farm. I get it. Discerning books is a delicate matter because what seems like a harmless story to one family might be considered gravely sinful by another.
Still, even with all the challenges involved with book restrictions, can’t we at least strive for some standard of decency? That’s all I’m asking for. A standard of decency. Can’t we at least agree that there are some things a child or young teenager should not be exposed to? Even the film industry does that much. How about this? If the contents of a book would warrant an R rating as film, then maybe it should not be made available to 14 year olds. It’s radical, I know.
It might not be easy. Sometimes we might ere too much on the side of caution. But the alternative is no standard of decency. To me, that is a much more frightening prospect than the notion that my children’s freedom will somehow be violated because their public school denied them access to porn.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a condemnation of librarians. My own children’s schools are staffed by thinking, sensitive librarians who seek to provide our kids with the best possible age-appropriate literature. We are grateful to have them.
Image credits in order of appearance…
I begin each semester in Oral Communication with “What Happens in Vagueness…” That way the kids know right off what not to say.
No long ago I happened across the article What Happens is Vagueness Stays in Vagueness. In the article Clark Whelton laments the decline of the English language. Among other things, he notes the overuse of the word “like” as a sentence filler and the seeming inability of young people to answer a question in the affirmative, but rather to respond with a vocal inflection that would indicate a question.
Whelton also quotes a Vassar professor’s assertion (way back in 1988) that high school teachers seem to no longer hold their students to any sort of standard when it comes to how students speak in class. Yikes. That struck a nerve. How often have I failed to correct (or even flinch) when a student proclaimed, “I ain’t done my homework!” or “Can I borrow like a pencil?” And there is the ever-vague, “I have this sorta headache. Can I…
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