Teenage reality

I was talking to a group of teenagers about prayer a little while ago. It was for their ‘youth’ gathering at church. Overall, they were a pretty well behaved bunch and I think (hope at least) that some of what I was saying was sinking in. But at least a third of the room was regularly checking their phone throughout the night. Some of them constantly as I spoke.

I walked away thinking about what might change in these teenagers’ lives if they used even a fraction of their screen time to talk to God in prayer. I’m not saying I’m any better myself, it just got me wondering.

A recent Ofcom report shows that 97% of 12 to 15 year olds own a mobile phone, rising to 100% of 16 to 17 year olds. Probably not too surprising to read. On top of that, The Financial Times commented that ‘Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems are soaring among teenagers in the UK (and US), especially among girls’, linking this rise to the increased use of smartphones since around 2010. Not only are phones a huge part of teenage life, they are adding to the stress of it!

If you begin to look at the rising rates of teenage depression and mental health issues, body dysmorphia, addictions (including phone addiction), suicide and more, it can feel quite alarming. Our young adult generation are hurting and searching their phone for answers, only to find more things to bring them down.

The case for prayer

Prayer points us to a more positive answer to the issues faced by teenagers. Through prayer, we come to a deeper understanding of both ourselves and God. In fact, prayer is a part of who we are, it’s part of how we are made – not to scroll and search, but to seek God and grow in our relationship with Him.

Prayer is a powerful tool for teenagers to learn about and cherish their God-given identity and to help them live life in the knowledge that no matter what is going on in their lives, God loves them and wants to answer their prayers.

As the Gospel writer John wrote:

…if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him.

1 John 5: 15

Our teens need to know that prayer changes things! In the struggles and stresses of adolescent life, prayer is the answer and will help young people to shift their focus from their screens to the perspective of God.

Quoting St Therese of Lisieux, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

Prayer is the raising of one’s heart and mind to God, or the requesting of good things from God.

CCC 2259

Prayer in Life to the Full Secondary

Here at Ten Ten, we are passionate about children and young people knowing their innate worth so they can live life to the full. Prayer plays a big part in helping teenagers to understand this, and so the rest of this article highlights some of the ways prayer is used within Life to the Full Secondary. These resources encourage pupils to cultivate their own prayer life, both in school and personally, as they tackle big questions about life, faith and relationships.

In Year 8 Session 1: Created and Chosen, prayer is discussed in detail – particularly how to pray. Nathan and Mairi reflect on how a young person might begin to pray and how they like to pray in their own lives. It’s a great starting point for teenagers, so check out the clip below:

How do I pray?

How do I pray?

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Within Life to the Full Secondary, the presenters also often pray for pupils watching the programme and at various points will signal these moments of prayer so that those watching can choose to join in or just listen – whichever they are most comfortable with. This unintimidating prayer format, integrated throughout (particularly in Years 7-9) is aimed to be accessible and easy to engage with.

Praying for pupils

Praying for pupils

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As topics are discussed, prayer is suggested as an option for pupils to choose to do in their own time as they consider their response to the content. In Year 7 Session 5: Family and Friends, Mairi talks about St Teresa and her reflection that prayer helps us to understand who God has made us to be, how loved we are by God and how we can share this love with others.

Prayer as an option

Prayer as an option

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Prayer is used holistically within each session, so that learning about Relationships, Sex and Health education topics happens within a rich understanding of Catholic faith. Prayer is used to respond personally to learning topics, and often as a takeaway for pupils to remember throughout their week; a tool they can use in their own time to deepen their relationship with God.

Prayer is also shown as a way to take action in face of the difficult things we see in the world. At the end of Year 9 Session 7: Knowing My Rights and Responsibilities, the presenters share St Francis’ prayer to suggest that change can start with us as individuals:

Lord make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me bring love
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon
Where there is discord, let me bring union
Where there is error, let me bring truth
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith
Where there is despair, let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy

St Francis

Finally, within the session notes, teachers are alerted to opportunities for extended times of prayer and reflection, to further encourage pupils to take a prayerful approach to their learning.

Click on one of the arrows to see the examples.