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Shine On: The 10 most important year’s in your Child’s Life

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Ask a young couple who just had their first child what they dream of for their child’s life, and you’ll likely get some version of, “I just want them to be happy.” Ask an aging couple whose children are adults what they dream for their adult children, and you’ll likely get the same answer.

All parents want their children to be happy. As a parent, you do what you can to help your children become the person God created them to be – the best version of themselves. The scariest part? You have less time than you think.

Research from the Barna group, conducted over a three- year period and discussed in the book Transforming Your Children Into Spiritual Champions, revealed three surprising – and somewhat alarming – outcomes regarding forming our children.

First, research showed a person’s moral foundations are typically formed by the time they are 9 – that includes your child’s beliefs about truth, meaning, purpose and right and wrong. And while those beliefs will be refined over time, research showed most people never experience a significant change in those beliefs.

Second, research showed that the majority of Americans come to an understanding of what Jesus’ life, death and resurrection mean to them personally by the time they are 12. Consider the fact that many Catholic parishes do not begin youth ministry until high school, but most of us form our beliefs about our personal relationship with Jesus far earlier than that.

Third, the data indicated that, for most people, spiritual beliefs are irrevocably formed as pre-teens. We’re talking 4th, 5th and 6th graders. Even dioceses where confirmation takes place in 8th grade, like our archdiocese, are likely swimming upstream when trying to form children into young disciples.

Bottom line? Whether you are thinking about your children or grandchildren, or you are a youth minister, or a priest who cares about the youth of your parish or simply a Catholic who cares about the future generations of our faith – you’ve probably got about 10 years to influence what they believe about Jesus, morality and the Catholic Church.

I’m not sure about you, but this research terrified me when I first heard it. It feels like we have so much time when we’re holding a newborn in our arms. But a day slips into a month, slips into a year, slips into a decade like sinking ships on a stormy sea. And all those “firsts” your children experiences before age 13 – First Communion, first reconciliation, first retreat, confirmation – are more important than we realize.

I couldn’t put it more starkly than this quote from the researcher: “In essence, what you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing.”

So what should we take away from this research? Urgency. Your family prayer life matters.

Speaking to your kids about faith matters. Reading the Bible to your kids matters.

Holding Sunday Mass as a higher priority than sports or holidays matters.

They are digesting more than we realize at a young age.

Now that we’ve shined a light on just how little time we have to form these young ones, take some time to think about how you can step it up a notch and help the young kids in your life become the person God created them to be.

Dominick Albano is the director of digital engagement for The Catholic Telegraph, as well as an author and national speaker. He and his wife have been married for 13 years and have four sons.

This article appeared in the July 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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