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Speaking Out: Catechism lessons begin at home

By  Paula Ducepec, Youth Speak News
  • November 10, 2021

Monkey see, monkey do. It is an idiom simply meaning children will learn their behaviour by copying what they see happening around them.

Are people no longer familiar with this saying? It will be such a shame if people no longer do because it is very evident in a classroom full of kids.

I have volunteered as a catechist at my parish, St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in Toronto, for many years. Each year I can clearly see the gap between what we teach in the classroom versus what is practised at home getting wider and wider.

Since most of the programs I volunteer for are the Reconciliation and Communion classes, every single topic is presented to the children in “bite size.” So, it becomes more and more frustrating when simple and basic tasks required of every single practising Catholic cannot be fulfilled, like going to church on Sundays.

This topic becomes a little bit trickier when we start talking about the Ten Commandments and the idea of sin, accidents and mistakes are introduced. As an example, we use the choice of going to church on Sundays and it becomes unnecessarily difficult to explain to the children that it is not their fault when they cannot go to church on Sundays.

How do we tell them that the burden of sin is not theirs but their parents?

They are children; the autonomy of their actions is not entirely theirs yet. They are still developing the capacity to one day make the proper judgments. And this is why we have parents; they are here to help us make those decisions until we are able to make them for ourselves.

In 2011 the Urban Child Institute published an article, aptly titled “Children Reflect Parental Behaviour,” that hits the target: “Our children are mirrors. Reflecting images of what happens around them. In addition to sharing genetic similarities with parents, they reflect the gestures, languages and interests of the adults in their lives.”

Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT, was co-author of a study, published in 2019 by the Society for Research in Child Development, entitled “Adults’ actions, successes, failures and words affect young children’s persistence.” She and her colleagues wrote: “Our study suggests that children are rational learners — they pay attention first and foremost to whether adults succeed at their goals. But when adults succeed, children are also watching how hard adults try and what adults say about the value of effort.”

This is why it pains me to see the children concern themselves with issues such as this one. They know in the simplest ways what is right and what is wrong and then they ask why their parents aren’t bringing them to church just as they are supposed to.

Fast forward a few years later, these children will be the same kids who will take confirmation classes with us and half of them will be taking the classes to make their parents happy and the other half partially understanding that its another Catholic rite of passage. Every year there will only be a handful of students who understand what it means to be confirmed and initiated as a Catholic adult.

Karen Stephens wrote in 2007 for Parenting Exchange: “Kids respect adults who walk their talk. Children are sensitive and astute with an uncanny ability to distinguish between adults who only talk a good game and those who play the game by the rules they preach…. Choose to be a parent who role models family traits worth believing in and worth building upon.”

How are we supposed to teach and impose to them what it means to be a good Catholic — one that follows even the simplest teachings of Christ — if they do not see them at home?

(Ducepec, 22, is a recent Bachelor of Science graduate from the University of Toronto.)

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