Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Former Spokane youth minister talks to parents in new book
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the March 18, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Leif Kehrwald, former director of the Parish Services Office for the Diocese of Spokane, has published a new book on youth ministry. (IR photo from St. Mary Press)
Leif (pronounced leef) Kehrwald of Portland, Ore., has written a book, his third, this time about youth ministry. His other two books were addressed to family and teachers, but this one is aimed at youth ministers. That’s not too surprising given that he’s been in youth and family ministry for over 20 years.
Part of Kehrwald’s years in youth ministry were spent in Spokane, where he was head of the Youth House for St. Patrick Parish. His book bears this dedication:
“To the Catholic community of St. Patrick’s Spokane, Washington.
“To the parents of teens at Saint Pat’s, who had enough parenting left over to finish raising me.
“To all those who remember the Youth House, especially those who lived there, worked there, and shared their lives with teens in Hillyard.”
He also worked for the Spokane Diocese, in the Parish Services office, doing youth work and also family life ministry “for six or seven years,” he said.
Kehrwald explained that the book, titled simply Youth Ministry and Parents, came out of two experiences. First was his own work as a youth minister. “I was still a student when I started and I felt I knew a lot about teens. But I didn’t know a lot about parents,” he said during a phone interview.
In ministering to teens, Kehrwald said, the idea was that “Parents should just get lost.” (However, they weren’t to “get lost” until after they had provided the food for the meeting.) The prevailing attitude was that teens hated their parents or at least didn’t get along with them too well during that period of their lives.
The second experience came at a retreat Kehrwald gave for youth ministers in New Mexico some 20 years later. “Many of them still have that same attitude,” he said.
“That same attitude” is not borne out in real life. As Kehrwald explains in the book, research debunks the the myth of parent-teen relationships. The premise that teens and parents are usually at odds with each other is not true. When teens are asked who they would talk to about any kind of important issue, the answer came back the same: their parents.
While it is true that teens want distance from their parents and are trying to figure out how to be their own person, at the same time their parents are important to them in all areas of their lives.
Kehrwald writes about that research in chapter three. Teens say they want “more conversation” with their parents. Parents want “more conversation” with their teens. Teens wonder why parents “don’t open up more to them,” and finally, parents wonder why their teens “don’t open up more to them.”
So what’s the problem? Kehrwald explains: One of the factors that has given rise to this lack of communication is the changed nature of the family. Many families have only one parent, and there are far fewer children. Even when there are two parents, both work outside the home and have little time to spend with their children. Consequently it becomes difficult for parents to be “parents” to their children, finding it easier and quicker to be their “buddies.”
Being “buddies” is not necessarily the best way to help teens develop. Kehrwald writes that youth ministry “can be that catalyst” to help teens and their parents talk to each other, especially concerning issues of importance to both groups.
That’s another interesting point Kehrwald makes in the book. As teens struggle with these issues of importance, so do their parents, who are often struggling with questioning of their own in what is called the mid-life crisis.
What’s surprising is that the questions are nearly the same: “Who am I?” “What am I going to do with my life?” “What have I done with my life?” “Who am I becoming?” “Who have I become?” “How do I look? Do I still look okay?”
As teens climb the mountain of possibility, their parents are coming down on the other side. Again, youth ministers can play a role in helping teens and parents at an often difficult transition time for both groups.
One important chapter is titled “When There Is A Problem.” Kehrwald carefully explains how sometimes teens can hide their deepest emotions and problems from everybody around them. He writes sensitively about signs to watch for and ways that youth ministers can handle these difficult situations when they arise.
The book explains in clear and and concise fashion how youth ministers can facilitate a partnership with teens and their parents. At the end of each chapter is a section titled “Practical Application for Effective Youth Ministry” and another section titled “Questions to Ponder.” Kehrwald’s extensive knowledge and experience with young people come through in each chapter.
All is not sunshine in the adolescent world. Kehrwald writes that it is a “developmental” time for teens and their families. This “developmental time” can be fraught with many kinds of difficulties and dilemmas. Youth ministers can collaborate with parents and make this stage of young people’s lives a fruitful time of learning and growing.
Kehrwald and his wife, Rene, have two sons, both now adults. Kehrwald left the Spokane area in 1989 to take a job in Portland, Ore. He worked in parishes there and also for the Archdiocese of Portland. Currently he is coordinator for Family Faith-Life Resources of St. Mary Press.
His other books include Marriage and the Spirituality of Intimacy, published by St. Anthony Messenger Press in 1996, and Family Spirituality, the Raw Ingredients of Faith.
(Youth Ministry and Parents, Secrets for a Successful Partnership is published at $14.95 by St. Mary Press, 702 Terrace Heights, Winona, Minn. 55987.)