I converted to Catholicism as a teenager. I came into faith precisely at a time most of my friends were starting to fall away, so I was desperate for role models. I found websites such as Pure Love Club, Life Teen, Revolution of Love, and Catholic Answers. For most teen issues, they provided information mainly on the Church's teachings on sexuality, birth control, and abortion. A review of Catholic Answer's available books for teens will show multiple books covering Theology of the Body or Jason Evert's chastity publications. Looking back at this, I am a bit disturbed.
I'm not against the idea of teaching teens about the proper use of sexuality, according to our faith. I understand how crucial it is, especially as young people are just coming into their own sexuality and desperate to figure things out. However, I find myself disturbed by one aspect: sexuality is the main focus in the Church's attempt to reach young people.
Don't believe me? At Catholic Answers' online store, for example, the options for young people are here. Aside from basic guides to the ABC's of our faith, I spot seven tracts on chastity and three books dealing with Theology of the Body. Other than that, I see one book on Catholic faith in college, others on basic discipleship and the rest being geared toward little kids. In addition, an advertisement for a book on Maria Goretti talks about how she "chose to die rather than be violated by a neighbor" and how it can help young people grow in chastity.
Why is this a problem? As I mentioned, there is the assumption that youth issues are mainly sexual ones. There are no books on the Christian way to handle peer pressure, on teachings of alcohol and drug abuse, none on the Christian way to handle parental disagreements, on expressing individuality within a Christian context (ex. "Are tattoos OK?" "Is coloring your hair purple OK?" People do think Christians have to dress a certain way and many young Catholics can get confused. Answer to both? Yes, you can). Nothing on how to manage your money (including tithing/giving to charity, supporting companies with values of justice, consumerism, and debt). Nothing about going to parties or the pressure to fit in. Nothing even on music, on Christian rock stars, punk artists, etc. For college aged students, you would think you could find books on how to handle those situations in a Christian context. Nope. Nada. You would also think there would be resources for teens on how to discover their talents and use them to serve God's glory (and how to stand against an opposing parent who may have good intentions but isn't going with their best interests....including on how to financially support themselves as soon as they were old enough, if it meant following their desires and integrity). Nope. Zilch. Anything on how to handle bullying? Haha, you must be joking!! How to handle abusive situations? Yeah, right! How to form true friendships with people who respect you? As the wise guys would say, "Fogettaboutit!!!!!!"
There also are few resources for Catholic teens and college-aged students who want to take action in various causes. On the websites I've found, abortion and contraception use were the big issues. Taking action meant praying or protesting abortion clinics (a practice I've found to be morally repugnant, even as I identify as pro-life), volunteering at crisis pregnancy centers, teaching abstinence to high school kids, but very little on other issues such as homelessness, teen prostitution, environmental stewardship, ending the death penalty or hunger (global and local). While our Church teaches that these are important issues, I've seen little to no marketing to young people on how to get involved and organize. Even as we've had a tradition of activism domestically and internationally (with figures such as Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Stang, etc), there has been little incentive to get young people involved.
What are my findings? We've reduced teens to "one thing" even as we try to tell them they're worth more than that "one thing". We've told them that their goodness wrests, not with how just they are in other areas, but with how well they can keep it in their pants. We've neglected to address other areas of their lives because we've decided which teachings are most important. I find this problematic. I think it's about time we started addressing other issues.