The transitioning period a small child faces on the path to being a teenager can be difficult. Between family, schooling and socializing, it is a delicate and crucial time for a child’s mental development.
Once kids reach age 13, they don’t have as many opportunities to be a part of a social group outside of school until college, said Rabbi Jay Siegel of Congregation Beth Shalom.
Children and young adults can take advantage of a wide range of resources offered by faith-based youth programs. Many focus on the exploration of identity and beliefs as children grow.
“The youth and children are the future,” said Alid Metwaly, president of Muslim Youth of Santa Clarita. “Kids are under a lot of pressure. Programs can help them develop leadership skills and learn their rights, roles and responsibilities in a community.”
Different programs are typically offered based on age range. Involvement in a youth group can increase church engagement and offer a safe space for young adults to seek mentors, ask questions and discuss teachings that may need further understanding.
“This can be a place for kids to create relationships and connect with others,” said Seigel, who describes these relationships as unique. “When they’re in school they might not have friends to have a connection with in regards to their faith.”
As children grow, they often look toward a person for mentoring and guidance. Having a person outside of a family circle can provide additional support if children or teenagers have questions and concerns they feel hesitant to speak to parents about.
“Youth groups can be a safe haven for young adults,” said Pastor Emmanuel Delfin of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. “They can be comfortable talking about struggles and sharing their faith.”
Coordinators of youth groups can provide a child with an objective view if advice is needed regarding faith, or even everyday life.
Children and teenagers can be encouraged to be involved in church. By entering a program that is tailored to their age group, friendships can be built, a better understanding of faith can be taught and a fun environment can be made for children to be excited about worship.
Growing up in a youth group can also encourage children to be involved as they grow into adults. They can take their experiences and apply them if they chose to become a mentor or coordinator in their adult life.
To make sure your child is benefitting from a youth program, listen to the messages children are receiving. Faith community leaders say youth messages should be based on wisdom and driven by values based on religious texts.
“Every program is different,” said Metwaly. “Choosing the right one depends on your purpose. Some programs are offered for everyday life, but go beyond a religious one if that’s what needed.”
Many local churches and temples offer youth programs, but if not, Delfin suggests speaking to lead pastors or rabbis about starting one.
“Programs can be like a ‘safe home’ for people,” he said. “(Programs) like these can help young adults find a home with each other.”