Dealing with the Pastoral Care of Teenagers

I wouldn’t want to be a teenager today.

I recently returned from a five-day retreat where about 150 teens were in attendance to experience God’s love, mercy, and grace. It was an exceptional experience and my Diocese has been doing this event for 18 years.

I love the opportunity to connect with teenagers and help them on their faith journey. The teens I meet never cease to amaze me. Their energy for Christ is truly awe-inspiring.

With that said, I still wouldn’t want to be a teenager today. These teens are experiencing things in life that I never would have imagined going through when I was a teen.

In my role on the retreat, I often have to deal with the more tragic issues in these teens’ lives. I am a mandated reported. Therefore, if my retreat team or I hear something negative that is happening in their lives, I am required to act.

I instruct my retreat team, when they are going over the small group guidelines (rules) for the week, to share with the teens that everything that is said in small groups is confidential. However, there are 3 exceptions. If I hear anything on the retreat that meets these 3 criteria, I am required to break confidentiality and report it to the necessary people. My team and I take these 3 exceptions seriously, as should you if you work with minors in your ministry.

They are…

  1. When a teen wants to hurt themselves. This could include cutting, suicide, or any other type of self-harm.
  2. When a teen wants to hurt someone else. This can include death threats and bullying.
  3. When someone else is hurting a teen. This could include physical, emotional, or mental abuse, sexual assault or rape.

Inevitably, the emotion and intensity of a retreat brings up the wounds in the lives of these young people. When I hear any of the above happening in the lives of a teenager, typically I have one of 3 phone calls to make.

  1. Parents. They may not be the first people I call, but it is usually a call that needs to be made. The only time I would not call a parent is if the parent is causing the harm. I usually tell the teenager that we have to call their parents. That is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is this: whether the teen tells their parents or I tell their parents. In most cases, I always get a nervous and weepy teen telling their parents themselves.
  2. Child Protective Services (CPS). Each county has their own CPS department and phone number. I often call them by default because they know what the next steps should be. Sometimes, I give a report directly to CPS. Other times, they advise me to either call the police or that the situation is not reportable. This is helpful advice.
  3. Police. This call is usually made when a teen is in immediate danger or when someone who is not a family member is harming them. (If a family member is harming them, CPS needs to be the first call).

I always get nervous to make these calls, however, the call has to be made. Not only am a legally obligated to make these calls, but I know that a young person has the best chance of getting through the ordeal if the right people know and can help.

Every time I have made these calls, I know I have made a positive impact in the life of that teenager. The teen usually does not appreciate my intervention when it is happening, but I hope as time passes that they understand that I do what I do out of love and concern for them and their safety.

Question: How have you handled these types of situations? Have you trained your volunteer team on this topic?

John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.

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