Scott Anthony, a youth minister in Pennsylvania, recalls the moment one of his teens took her father’s hand and guided him through the rosary.
It happened at a “Parent-Teen Night” that Anthony regularly holds for youth and their families at Saint Joseph Parish in York, where he has worked as the director of youth and young adult ministries for 23 years.
The families had just finished a rosary-making activity and were entering into a time of prayer. The teen’s father had volunteered to lead a decade of the rosary, but there was a catch — he forgot the words to the Hail Mary, Anthony said.
“I kind of looked out of the corner of my eye and I saw her reach over, grab her dad’s hand and just start to whisper the prayer to him,” Anthony said. “It was one of those moments that was just etched in my memory, because it was so beautiful to see this young teenage girl with the love she had for her dad. You could tell she was so proud of the fact that he had volunteered to lead this prayer.”
This is one of many moments where Anthony has witnessed teens and their parents growing closer to God together.
When Anthony first began his ministry to teens’ parents, he started with a program known as “Whine and Cheese” nights for parents of kids ages 12 to 19, which ran for five years. There, the parents kept to a monthly reading schedule – meeting once a month to discuss books about family life and raising teens, he said.
Anthony later launched the “Parent-Teen Nights” — gatherings for teens and their parents to experience together. They are normally held one Sunday a month from 6 to 9 p.m., when high school youth group meetings usually take place – except the teens are required to invite their parents and guardians. Other relatives are welcome as well.
The evenings often include a variety of games and contests, food and snacks, a Bible study or faith lesson and a time for prayer. Each evening has a theme — February’s night was based on the Winter Olympics. Through their involvement in these evenings, some parents have even decided to become leaders, or Core members, of the youth group, Anthony said.
These gatherings are important because many teens don’t initially open up to their parents after Steubenville conferences, retreats or other spiritual experiences, he explained.
“They would come back from those experiences and they would share on the bus or they would share at our youth ministry meetings how God touched them or whatever,” Anthony said. “[But] their parents would just say, ‘Well, I asked my kid, ‘How was the retreat?’ and they would just say it was good … or they would just say it was fun.’”
In turn, parents develop an incomplete understanding of their teens’ youth group experiences, he said.
“To me, fun isn’t an end — fun is a means to an end,” Anthony explained. “The end is having kids open their hearts to Christ and develop an intimate relationship with him — and becoming disciples and getting involved, and reaching out and evangelizing their friends and serving in the greater community. I felt that parents were coming away like, ‘Well, my kid is having fun and that’s it.’ They didn’t really see it as benefiting them spiritually and helping them grow.”
But through their involvement at Parent-Teen nights, parents come away with a deeper awareness of their teens’ spiritual growth, he said.
“They understand why it may be hard to put into words when God touches your heart and … instead of these experiences being something that continues to drive a wedge between the parents and teens, it actually helps to bring them closer together, which is really what our faith should be doing,” he said. “So it’s very beautiful.”
Anthony, a father of eight, says his experience raising a family has helped shape his ministry to teens and their parents.
“Having my own family has helped me to grow in humility,” he shared. “I don’t know all the answers…[but] I know who has the answers. His name is Jesus. So if I can help teens grow closer to Jesus, then he will give them the answers that they need in their particular circumstance.”
Amanda Woods is a writer from Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Brooklawn, New York.