Fasting For Teens

By Phillip Garside

It is unfortunate that the age Catholics begin their Lenten obligation to abstain and fast (14 years old) aligns perfectly with developmentally-scheduled teen rebelliousness and sophomoric skepticism. Any insistence that fasting is “the law of the church” simply foments teen defiance.

Rather than seeing this conflict as a hurdle to be overcome, we as parents may want to use them as an opportunity to dialogue with our children.

For example, many teens are extremely socially conscious. The Catholic social justice principle of solidarity ( is an excellent frame for putting fasting in relatable language. Fasting becomes a way of growing empathy. We go without by choice in solidarity with those in the world who are involuntarily deprived. You may even read Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti ( to foster conversation.

Despite stereotypes, most teens long to connect to something beyond themselves, to God. To frame fasting as a mindfulness technique that orients them to the divine may be helpful.

Giving up something they do not need, but frequently indulge in converts their desire for the mundane into a randomized internal alarm clock drawing their mind back to God every time they feel it. The beauty is that even if they fail and indulge, it still works, they still remember God and can continue to practice.

This positive approach may be more palatable and work against negative perceptions of religion. Be creative, any way you can use Lenten practices to strengthen your relationship will make the season successful.

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