Helping youth to speak for themselves

In the last few years I have heard each of the following statements from parents about the Confirm not Conform program:

"When I went through Confirmation, I had to attend class every Saturday for 2 years. It was so boring. You should make our kids work harder!"

"You expect too much from our youth. He has a lot of commitments that are more important than Confirmation."

"Yes I know you said it was a required class, but please understand that we don't know till the day before what her weekend schedule will look like. CnC is not at the top of her list of ‘required’ meetings or games this weekend."

"My kid really enjoys the other CnC youth and the field trips. But please understand that we should be able to attend the class with him so we can be sure that as his parents we can correct or add the correct information as to how our family approaches religion"

"This program is so great I wish I had this class when I was a teen. The conversations that we are having as a family are great!" 

I’d love to hear some of the things you’ve heard from parents in the comments.

I used to think this was just me, and that a parent would not tell a schoolteacher or coach that "a lesson or program was not at the top of their list today.” But that is not true! A 10th grade English teacher told me she received the assigned essay from a student with a note from the parents that said, “We thought that this assigned book and essay were not of interest to our child so we read the book and wrote the essay. What a great choice of a book!” The student (and parents) received an F!

Maybe it’s different in your community, but over the years these overscheduled families are now helicoptering at church too! Yes, parents are funny creatures when it comes to their youth. The papa and mama bear are very protective of their cubs. We all understand that reaction, yet it is time for our youth to step up.

That is why I love to lead the CnC program. Throughout the yearlong class, we are teaching the youth to find their own voice and use it to make a difference in their world. One way to start is to learn to use their voice and share their concerns, joys – and scheduling issues – with me directly. Here are a few of the ways I help the youth talk to me.

  1. When a parent tells me that her youth cannot make a required meeting or class, I will say, "Thanks for letting me know. Please ask your youth to connect with me personally to tell me. Then he can schedule another time to meet in with in the next  few weeks.  Please remember that this is a required meeting and the fellowship and exchange of ideas is really important. So I would like to find a way to connect with them too.” Often their kid will show up at the class!  Or they do contact me and I can chat with them about what is going on, not just get their parents’ version. They often start the conversation with, “Well my parents say...” By the time we finish talking, I hear their opinion. 
  2. I will schedule a "make up" with a few of the kids who were unable to attend so they can continue learn and share their voice.
  3. I email and snail mail the schedule to both the parents and youth a few times a year. I send reminder emails and texts to the kids and parents. Often the youth have never seen the schedule. When they are given the knowledge, they often make their own choices, like to skip the practice to attend the filed trip or class. The parents are used to planning so it often surprises them when the youth pick a church event!
  4. Talking with a parent/youth in person or over the phone. We go over the schedule together. If there is a conflict then we can all work together to create an alternate plan.
  5. I set up a few dates so that if youth misses a class, they can meet with our Priest to share ideas and questions. The fact that the youth will share their voices with clergy is a real high for both the youth and the priest.
  6. Throughout the year we continue to explore with the youth how the lessons or ideas from CnC work in their life today.  

Consider: our youth are in classes with teachers telling them what to do or know in order to pass a test. Their parents have been coordinating their lives for years. Taking control of their own lives is not often part of the program. They have learned to just go with the flow most of the time. Maybe by asking them to speak for themselves, we can offer them more.

Last month a parent of a youth who was part of the CnC class 3 years ago told me, "Confirm not Conform gave her the power to share her opinions and voice. It taught me that we don't need to agree. As parents it is often hard to see how we need to help them grow up and not be a helicopter parent!”

It is through emotions, humor, and facts that youth can explore what they believe. And when they are true to their opinions and speaking their questions or expressing their ideas during the iConfirm service, we get to hear their strong voices – not their parents’ – loud and clear. It is a Joyful Sound!