On Barb’s Bookshelf: Ways to Keep Teens’ Faith Alive

Keeping Teens' Faith Alive

When you’ve invested over a decade in raising your child, you discover that as he enters his teen years, the way you need to nurture his faith changes drastically. This is the time when your child needs to begin to take over his own faith development, but it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook — or unnecessary.

Ignatius Press has released two books to help parents and teens in this stage: The Light Entrusted to You, for parents, and Humility Rules, for teens (though parents shouldn’t skip this one).

light entrusted to you

John R. Wood’s The Light Entrusted to You: Keeping the Flame of Faith Alive is a parent-to-parent guide to help you share Catholicism with your family by living Catholicism with your family. The author is not a theologian or professor: he’s an eye doctor and a parent who loves his children and his faith. The chapters are cleverly titled to form the acronym “SAINTS,” and the topics covered range from saints to Scripture to sports (yes, sports). A more-detailed table of contents or an index would be helpful in this book, but the information in the book is solid and Wood’s delivery is engaging.

Christ is our model. After His baptism He does not go to the beach to drink a piña colada. He goes to the desert to fast and do battle with the devil (see Mt 4). We must follow His lead and also teach our children to “do battle”. Much of our time parenting is simply training our children to overcome concupiscence, the tendency to do wrong because of original sin. It should be obvious that children often desire to do and have things that are not good for them. Imagine if we simply let our children do everything they wanted to do. They would probably end up either dead or in prison very early in life. We strive to teach them to live lives of virtue, and we all know it is a long journey that each of us continues his entire life. (25)

From the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to the great cathedrals to a synopsis of Old Testament events, Wood invites readers to dive deep into the deposit of the faith and nurture their own souls so that they can inspire their children.

humility rules

While you’re reading Wood’s book, hand Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem to your teen or college student. Author J. Augustine Wetta, OSB, does not talk down to teens, but rather challenges them to engage with their faith as they grow in virtue. Self-esteem might seem like a dated buzzword, but Wetta demonstrates how it’s important, even virtuous, for teens to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Genuine self-esteem is a form of holiness, and holiness, in Saint Benedict’s eyes, is not about self-love but self-abandonment. In fact, the whole idea of holding yourself in high esteem would sound ridiculous to him. It would defeat the very purpose of the Christian life, which is to empty one’s self in order to make room for God’s grace. (18-19)

Wetta distills, from the Rule of Saint Benedict, 12 steps along the ladder of humility, and challenges his readers to climb that ladder.

Humility Rules would make an excellent Confirmation or graduation gift.

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This article contains Amazon affiliate links.
I received review copies of these books, but no compensation, for my review. Opinions expressed here are my own.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Other Side of Freedom

Barb's Book shelf blog title

Cynthia T. Toney’s historical novel for teens, The Other Side of Freedom, shows the seamy side of Prohibition-era organized crime from the perspective of a young man whose family becomes its unwitting victims. Finally — good historical fiction that will appeal to male and female readers alike.

other side of freedom

In 1920s Louisiana, Sal struggles with questions of right and wrong as an organized-crime ring forces family members into involvement with bootlegging, with heartbreaking results. Keeping the secret will keep Sal and his parents alive, but is it worth the cost of losing contact with friends and his beloved uncle?

Sal and his best friend Antonina take great risks to uncover the mystery surrounding the crime ring. Aided by Hiram, a young African-American farmhand who faces further obstacles caused by the segregation of the time, Sal and Antonina refuse to be intimidated by the crime ring, even after it becomes evident that the criminals are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way.

One detail in this novel that particularly fascinated me was the presence of Italian immigrants in Louisiana during this time period. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and my own community had a large influx of immigrants from Italy in the early twentieth century. In fact, a local Italian-American family (only two blocks from where I would later live) provided their home as the center of a labor dispute in 1913. I did not know that besides settling in the Northeast (New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), Italian immigrants also settled in Minnesota, Louisiana, Indiana and California, according to the map found at Italian Immigration to America.

I love how the cover image focuses on the very worried eyes of the young man in this novel. The Other Side of Freedom is highly recommended for middle-school readers and young teens studying this period of American history. This would make a terrific classroom read or summer-reading option.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

"This Morning Routine Needs a Reboot" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (CatholicMom.com)

This Morning Routine Needs a Reboot

Every morning it’s the same.

  • Wake up sometime between 4:30 and 5:15 (the latter if I somehow manage to sleep until the alarm goes off, which is cause for great rejoicing)
  • Take a shower
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Morning prayers

After that, it’s time to wake up the teenager. And that’s where it all goes bad. He sleeps through any alarm his phone has to offer.

  • Wake up TheKid
  • Preheat oven for bacon, line pan with foil, set out bacon, place in oven
  • Start the music–loud music that I love but he hates; wake TheKid again
  • Make a cup of coffee
  • Wake TheKid again. Sing loudly with the music, especially the nonsense syllables in “Good Morning Starshine”
  • Repeat as necessary (and it’s almost always necessary)

TheKid finally stumbles out of his room, hands me his insulin pump to put on the charger while he showers, and heads upstairs. Forward progress, you’d think.

You’d think wrong.

  • Finish shower, reattach insulin pump, go back to bed
  • Bacon is ready
  • Walk into kitchen, put bagel in toaster, go back to bed
  • Bagel is ready
  • Stall for 5 more minutes while bagel cools off, get up and commence mad scramble to make the bus

This process begins at 6 AM. The bus arrives at 7:40.

It’s inefficient and annoying and never ends well. I wind up yelling and nobody’s happy, because yelling cancels out the endorphins gained from belting out “Good Morning Starshine” in harmony and holding all the long notes.

After TheKid gets on the school bus today, I’m going to start googling alarm-clock solutions. Maybe a drone I can fly from the kitchen to his room, one strong enough to steal his blanket. He can give it to me for Christmas. Because this just isn’t working out for me, and I’m tired of spending an hour and a half every morning fighting.

"This Morning Routine Needs a Reboot" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (CatholicMom.com)
Via Pixabay (2016), CC0 Public Domain

Time to Foster Some Self-Discipline

Because I do not intend to spend this school year fighting with my eighth-grader every morning, I want to work with TheKid to get some strategies in place so that he gets up and out the door and onto the school bus.

I feel like I have been letting him do a lot of sliding in areas where I challenged the older kids to be more self-disciplined and self-starting at the same age. Part of that is because he’s the youngest, and I’m old. And tired.

And part of it is because of diabetes. He’s been extraordinarily self-disciplined when it comes to that. He’s gotten very independent with many aspects of his care. I’m proud of him for that. But there are all those other things that we’ve been doing FOR him, things that he is more than old enough and capable enough to do for himself.

It’s not good for him that we’re letting him slide. He has to learn how to do all the things, not just all the diabetes things. He has to learn how to figure out what time to wake up in the morning so that he won’t miss the bus. He has to set his alarm and make sure it’s on AM, not PM, and actually get up when the alarm goes off.

If we do all the other things for him, we’re really doing that out of pity, and pity is the last thing this kid (or any kid) needs.

So as he begins his eighth-grade year, I’m resolving to begin again too–to begin to foster some life skills that everyone needs to learn.

teens and time managementTo get myself motivated, I purchased this little book from Amazon: What’s the Deal with Teens and Time Management: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Your Teen Succeed. I’m not expecting any all-at-once miracles, but there are a few strategies I intend to start using right off the bat.

It’s a matter of setting priorities. It may even have the side effect of making everyone’s lives a little more pleasant around here.

Note: my link to this book is an Amazon affiliate link. If you purchase through this link, it’s like you’re leaving me a little virtual tip! So, thanks!

A Rose by Any Other Name

So I was sitting at Little Brother’s soccer practice last night when the leaves of the tree next to me caught my eye. Because of the heavy underbrush, I couldn’t see the tree trunk, but the leaves were interesting. I have an app for my phone called Leafsnap that lets you take a photo of a leaf and then it analyzes it, offering a few possibilities for leafy identification.

My kids found the leaf on the kitchen table tonight (I had to set the leaf on a white surface or the app doesn’t work) and they think they don’t need an app to know that the leaf is probably marijuana.


It looks quite a bit like it, but according to the app and several websites, what we’ve got here is a sweetgum tree.

I had no idea those grew north of the Mason-Dixon Line; something about the name “sweetgum tree” just screams “Deep South” to me. Must have been mentioned in a book once.

My kids, however, are standing by their story and offering me assistance with recovery of a whole other sort than I’ve been working on for the past few months.

Quite a Ride

So I need a nickname for the gang of teenagers that hangs around my house.  The little guys are the Street Urchins.  The sixteen-year-olds?  What do I call them?

It’s been a rather difficult week in Teenage World.  Parenting teenagers definitely resembles a roller-coaster ride.  You’re strapped in for the duration (7 years, give or take time for those rocky pre- and post-adolescent stages).  There are the ups and downs, twists and turns, and occasional spins that turn you upside down.

In the past week, we have experienced

  • curfew battles
  • playing one parent off another
  • sulking
  • plenty of eye-rolling, stomping up the stairs and slamming of the bedroom door
  • The Silent Treatment
  • and an ill-fated trip to the mall.

They’ve got nothing to do and way too much time to do nothing in. The bunch of them went job-hunting–together–after swimming at my house yesterday.  I’m not sure that the best way to look for a job is to show up as a Six-Pack at the pizzeria or Edible Arrangements with wet hair, wearing short shorts and flip-flops.  I asked the kids if any potential employer had wondered if he was expected to hire the whole crew.  (They didn’t get why I thought that was funny, or even worth wondering about).

But we’ve also got a teenager who dissuades her younger brother from styling his hair like Eddie Munster, who “takes” me grocery shopping so she can do all the heavy lifting, pushing and loading that I can’t do, who takes 3 AM phone calls from friends in despair over a family member’s bad health and questioning the existence and benevolence of God.  While I’m not thrilled over a 3 AM phone call, I am so gratified to know that when her friends have crises like that, they turn to her.  That says a whole lot about my daughter, right there.

I’ve got to take the bad with the good here.  A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.  Ultimately, I think I’ve got a good kid, and maybe her friends are good kids too, but I don’t know them well enough to really determine that.

Today is the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of teenagers.  And they need his intercession and inspiration more than ever.  So today, I prayed for that bunch of teenagers (and they still need a nickname).  And I’m on my way to the supermarket, driven by my very own teenager, to stock the fridge with sodas so her friends will find something cold to drink when they show up later.

image credit

Funeral Etiquette for Teens

This morning Middle Sister told us that one of her friends’ grandfathers had died.  She was, understandably, sad for her friend, since she certainly knows what it’s like to lose a grandfather.  I told her to let me know when the funeral arrangements were made, and that if she (and other friends) wanted a ride to the wake, I’d be happy to help with that.

So here’s the big question:  I’ve met this kid’s parents maybe twice.  Do I go in with the kids to the funeral home, or just wait outside?  Do I go through the whole “condolences and procession past the casket” thing when the only family member I really know is a teenage boy?  (Awkward…)  Or do I go in and just stand in the back and wait for all the kids to be done?  At this point, I’m not sure what my daughter wants, or if she even knows.

In a completely unrelated matter, Middle Sister’s friends all think it’s weird that we say “wake.”  Apparently, here in South Jersey, which is a completely different country than North Jersey, where I grew up, they say “viewing.”  Even if it’s a closed casket.  (So when she texted them with my offer of a ride to the funeral home, they all said “What’s a wake?”)

What a difference a day makes

Teenagers.  They’re frustrating one minute, but inspire your awe and pride the next.  Since I vented yesterday about that little attitude problem I had with my daughter, it’s only right that I commend the heart and friendship she exhibited today.

Even more amazing is that all of this happened while she was very far from feeling her best.  She was feeling pretty punky this morning, but in the absence of a fever or migraine or stomach-flu symptoms, I sent her off to school.  Just after 8:30 (less than 45 minutes after her arrival) she texted me to come pick her up, that she was in the nurse’s office.  Yup, stomach flu.

True to form, she opened up during the short drive home.  (Kids always open up in the car!)  Apparently a good friend of hers is very upset with her mom.  The friend is an only child; Mom’s a single parent; Dad is remarried and lives in a nearby city with his new wife and 2 small children from that marriage.  And Mom doesn’t drive, but she works long hours, until late at night sometimes.  My daughter’s friend feels like she gets no attention from her mom, that her mom doesn’t care about her, that she should move in with her dad.  She is either alone from just after school until late in the evening or with an aunt, uncle and young cousin with whom she doesn’t get along well.

I observed to Middle Sister that her friend probably wasn’t complaining to her all the time in order to get Middle Sister to solve the problem; that she probably just wanted someone to listen.  And I commiserated with her friend that it must be tough to be all alone all evening with no way to get anywhere, and all of that.

A few minutes after we arrived home, my daughter was set up with her ginger ale and crackers and cell phone.  And then she asked if we could do something for her friend, if her friend could come here after school a couple of times a week and have dinner with our family so she wouldn’t be alone so much.

I told her that would be fine, as long as I knew in advance when we’d have a dinner guest and if it wasn’t on the nights when Little Brother has rehearsal, because we’d have to drive this girl home after dinner and that won’t work on rehearsal nights.

And this is why I do what I do.  She may be 16, but as her friend’s situation clearly demonstrates, 16-year-olds need parents around too.  Families with a stay-at-home parent make sacrifices so that can happen.  I know that not every family is able to do this, but I am very grateful that my family can and does, and that, in her own way, my daughter knows that it’s a good thing.

A P.T. Barnum Kind of Morning

P. T. Barnum reportedly observed, “There is a sucker born every minute.”

Today, that would be me.

This is the part where I get to eat those words I dished out last night when I wrote about how I’m happy to be able to do something for my daughter.  Because this morning, she made it onto the school bus on time, but her laptop didn’t.  A few minutes after she left, I got a text message:


“For real?” I responded.  Then, locating the laptop near the top of the stairs, I texted her, “I see it.  Where to met?”

“? Where do you think” is what I got back.

Really?  You want to smart off at me when I’m doing you a favor?  The laptop is a school-issued, required piece of equipment that serves as both textbook and notebook in most of her classes.  So unlike the consequences she might suffer if she left her literature textbook home, she’s basically unprepared for every single class if she doesn’t have the laptop.

So I rescued her.  Again.  She forgets the laptop fairly often.

And after the smart answers in today’s text message, plus the generous dose of attitude she showed me when I expressed some frustration at having to wait for her so I could deliver the computer, this might be the last time I bring it over there.  Yes, school is only a mile away.  Yes, I was home at the time.  But, oh well–maybe this kind of a favor, unlike a hot, nutritious dinner for a student involved in several after-school activities, isn’t the kind of favor that does anyone any favors.

My sister calls me a sucker for dropping everything to deliver forgotten computers, textbooks, lunches, and track shoes to my daughter at school.  Maybe I am.  And maybe I’d be a better parent if I were less of a sucker.  I’d rather she misses the bus and  is sure to have all her stuff than making the bus and expecting a speedy delivery.

Next time she can just face the consequences, and then maybe, just maybe, there won’t be too many next times after that.

The sucker has left the building.

What do the cool kids think?

Apparently I am once again the butt of teenage jokes.  Just like when I was a teenager. I wasn’t a cool kid then, and I’m far from being a cool mom now.
All this came up because I got an iPhone for Christmas. Little Brother immediately begged for my iPod touch, and I am sharing that with him (though the iTunes account is mine alone, so I am in control of any downloads.) The kids are passing the iPod around to play doodle jump. 
Big Brother said, “Mom, you have 2 full folders of Catholic apps on here!”
Middle Sister chimed in that when she told her friend that I had an iPhone, that friend said something about how I had probably filled it with Catholic apps.
At least I’m predictable…
You’d think that at my age I wouldn’t let this bother me. But you’d be wrong.
This is why I am so reluctant to share my technology with my kids. I don’t like to be teased. And apparently, in their world, having Catholic apps is tease-worthy.
Sure, in the scheme of things this is not very major. It makes me wonder, though, if who I am, if how I live, does justice to what I believe. Do I draw strength from my faith to live my day-to-day life in a different way, a better way, than I would without that faith?
Because if all those kids see are the apps, and not what’s really behind them, then I have a lot of work to do.