Since 2000, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais has expressed his opinion on a variety of faith topics. These texts were initially published in the "Ask the Religion Experts" column which appears every Saturday in The Ottawa Citizen. As of June 2005, Msgr. Patrick Powers, Vicar General, will be taking on the responsibility of the weekly articles.

Parents come to you distraught because their teenage child has dropped the family faith for shamanism or wicca. What do you say to the child?

It is parents, not their children, who come to me grappling with what to tell their teen who has rejected the faith in general, not for the specific examples you give.

Adolescence is a time when some degree of strain develops between teens and their parents. As they establish their own independence, they can challenge in areas such as dress, appearance, music or the moral and spiritual values of their family, church, and even society. Most experts believe that, to a degree, this is not unhealthy. Nonetheless, parents often feel responsible. But parents are only responsible before God to provide the training and instruction that will guide teens in His way (Eph. 6:4). The important question here is not "who is to blame" but "what should be done from this point on"?

Here are a few things parents told me they learned: To praise and reward teens for the good that they see in their lives, as God does with us; to show respect for their opinions and activities, though not always agreeing. Most of all, to keep alive a hope about discovering God's purpose for their lives! One teenager who refused to go to church, agreed to read a chapter of scripture with his father several times a week. Eventually, they had read through the entire New Testament together! Everyone discovered that God does not hold them responsible for all of their teenager's actions. But He does hold them accountable for the way in which they relate to them as parents--with unconditional love, and an uncompromising commitment to developing responsible maturity.

All reminded me that God provides no guarantee that teens will always (or even ever) respond positively: but He does ask that they persist in doing what is right . . . praying for them, gradually relinquishing them to Him who knows them far better than they do.