Skip to comments.Most teens embrace traditional path to spirituality
Posted on 03/17/2005 8:23:31 PM PST by Choose Ye This Day
Most teens embrace traditional path to spirituality FAITH
By DAVID CRUMM Knight Ridder Newspapers
As soon as I heard the latest news about teenagers and God, I was eager to ask kids whether they think the scholars got it right this time.
Here's the news: A national study of teens' religious lives was released this week by scholars at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their key finding is that American kids, far from being rebellious or anti-religion, are quite traditional in their faith.
Only 3 percent of the 3,370 randomly selected teenagers in the study said they don't believe in God. In contrast, four of five kids told the researchers that faith is important in their lives.
Contrary to popular myths about teens, almost no one claimed to be a religious seeker -- defined in the study as a person who tries to follow two or more faiths. Overall, kids prefer their parents' religious groups. More than half said they belong to Protestant churches; a quarter were Catholic.
"There are a lot of alarmist claims being made about kids ... but no one was really studying teenagers and asking them about religion," Christian Smith, the sociologist who headed the four-year study, told me when I called his office last week to get a preview of his findings.
The full report, "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers" (Oxford University Press, $25), hit bookstores this week.
"What we found is that, for the most part, teenagers are happy with the religion in which they're being raised," Smith said.
But here's what is likely to change our religious landscape: Smith's team identified a trend similar to what University of Michigan sociologist Wayne Baker reported recently in his study "America's Crisis of Values" (Princeton University Press, $35).
Both studies found that, while Americans' faiths may seem traditional, a large number of adults and teens are saying that everyone should feel free to make their own choices and express their own beliefs. Smith calls it widespread individualism; Baker calls it a trend toward self-expression.
Whatever it's called, tension is obvious between tradition and diversity. I heard this same mix of viewpoints from some Michigan teens.
Teachers in the Salem High School (Michigan) humanities seminar, who have invited me into their class each year to give a lecture on
religion and culture, let me ask the 150 seniors in the class whether they wanted to comment on these issues.
I passed out question cards to the students, ages 17 or 18, and about 120 came back. I asked the kids to rate the importance of religion in their lives, from one to 10, with 10 as very important. As in Smith's study, most kids answered in the range of six to 10. Then I asked whether there was anything they'd like to change about the religious life they're inheriting.
Here's some of what they said:
Michelle Cilia, Catholic: "We all need to learn more about other beliefs. And I think everybody should have the right to believe in whatever they want to."
Alyson Kropp, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: "You shouldn't practice something you don't agree with, so people should question their religion more, then decide for themselves."
Emily Krogel, Catholic: "We need to embrace other cultures and learn all we can."
Emilie Pickert, Catholic: "Learning about other religions is the only way to stop being scared of people who seem different."
Aliyah Banister, Muslim: "We need to think about how much in our country, like Christmas vacation, is Christian. People of other faiths can feel left out. Maybe some things should change."
How will these ideas reshape America's religious landscape? Smith doesn't know, Baker doesn't know, and I don't know, either.
I do know that the scholars already are going back into the field to find out more. I'll certainly keep asking questions and telling you what I find. But, if you're intrigued by what's happening, you can investigate this trend yourself. All it takes is time with a teenager and an openness to straight talk.
In the study, almost no one claimed to be a seeker, one who tries to follow multiple religions.
David Crumm is a religion writer and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at ourspiritfreepress.com.
I heard this "Soul Searching" author/professor on NPR today. It was pretty interesting. He was somewhat surprised at how religious most teens are--or say they are.
But he found that many Christian teens are not able to articulate their beliefs well. Frankly, most teens these days don't articulate ANYTHING well, in my jaded opinion. But the study found many teens believe in their religion, but can't explain specifics and often cannot justify their elief.
Some denominations fared better than others. Pretty interesting. I'll be checking out the book (from the library, of course).
LDS teens tops in living faith
New study ranks U.S. adolescents on how religion affects their lives
By Elaine Jarvik
Deseret Morning News
Mormon teens pray more, have sex less and in general rank No. 1 when it comes to the effect of religion on their lives, according to a just-released study of American adolescents.
"The story we tell about Mormon youth is not that all is well, but compared with other teens they're more knowledgeable about their faith, more committed to their faith and have more positive social outcomes associated with their faith," says John Bartkowski, who helped conduct research for the National Study of Youth and Religion.
The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina, has just been released in "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers," published by Oxford University Press.
The survey found that more than 80 percent of U.S. teens believe in God and two-thirds attend a religious service at least once a month. But teenagers who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints outrank their peers when the questions get more specific.
"The LDS Church asks a lot of its teenagers, and it would appear that, more often than not, they get it," concludes researcher Steve Vaisey.
"I'm not saying they're all perfect," adds the study's lead author, UNC sociology professor Christian Smith. "I'm not trying to idealize Mormon kids." But when belief and "social outcomes" are measured, he says, "Mormon kids tend to be on top."
The four-year study included interviews with 3,370 randomly selected teenagers, ages 13 to 17, in 45 states, and follow-up face-to-face, in-depth, interviews with 267 of them. There were questions about church attendance, scripture reading, the importance of faith in making daily decisions, as well as questions about "risky" behaviors such as pot smoking, lying and drinking.
The survey relied on self-reporting, a fact that could conceivably skew the data. But researcher Bartkowski says he trusts the answers.
"I had kids admit all kinds of behavior," he said. "And where Mormon teens are concerned, one of the principles of the faith is honesty."
Mormon teens were found more likely to:
hold religious beliefs similar to their parents' (73 percent).
attend religious services once a week (43 percent compared to 26 percent for Conservative Protestants, who, on the other hand, were slightly more likely than Mormons to attend church more than once a week).
rate the importance of religious faith in shaping their daily life as "extremely important" (43 percent).
engage in fasting or some other form of self-denial (68 percent).
have no or few doubts about religious beliefs (91 percent).
Oddly, one of the few areas where LDS youth didn't outrank their peers was "belief in God" 84 percent said they believe, compared with 97 percent black Protestants, 94 percent conservative Protestants and 86 percent mainline Protestants.
"We were startled how inarticulate most teens are about what they believe," Smith said. "Even evangelical teens had trouble talking about who Jesus might be." Mormon teens, he says, "tended to be more articulate" about the specifics of their doctrines.
The researchers also found that although most teens have a conventional approach to religion, "there's not a lot of spiritual seeking" across all denominations, Smith says.
"Soul Searching" discusses risky behaviors, grades and relationship to parents but does not break these down according to denomination. However, in an e-mail response Monday, researcher Vaisey supplied data showing that compared to other teens, fewer Mormons:
engaged in sexual intercourse (12 percent);
have ever smoked pot (15 percent);
drink alcohol a few times a year (10 percent);
watched an X-rated or pornographic program in the past year (15 percent).
"LDS affiliation and practice tends to have a protective effect," says Bartkowski, a Mississippi State University sociology professor who is also a Mormon. "It probably has to do with daily religious training through high school. . . . Daily engagement with people of their own faith, that's an amazing corrective to tip the balance toward a parental role model instead of a peer role model."
"Religion is a tool, almost a compass if you will," says Bartkowski, who is now researching a book that focuses solely on Mormon teens. "Every youth will have a compass, it just depends on what direction it points."
Research Indicates Teens' Faith Typically Just Skin-Deep
Posted by Senior Editor on 2005/3/6 15:03:00
By Jim Brown and Jody Brown
(AgapePress) - A new survey finds a good number of American teens are religiously active, but not very well-educated in their faith -- resulting in a shallow religiosity.
The four-year National Study of Youth and Religion was conducted by 133 researchers and consultants led by sociology professor Chris Smith of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. A third of the teenagers said they were consistently involved in religious organizations and practices. Another third said they were "somewhat" involved. However, Smith says that religiosity tends to be very shallow.
"A lot of Christian teens really had not much at all to say about who Jesus was, what grace was," the researcher says, adding his team was "impressed with how inarticulate and seemingly poorly educated a lot of teenagers are. Even though they said they believe in God and [that] faith is important, they have a hard time explaining what they believe and how faith makes any difference in their life."
Smith describes many teens' religious knowledge as "meager, nebulous, and often fallacious." That is especially true among young Catholics, he says. He attributes that partly to several reasons, including what he sees as a decline of Catholic instruction in Catholic schools as well as the disintegration of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in many places.
"But part of it is we ran a statistical control where we saw if Catholic teenagers' faith was any weaker than anyone else's -- [and] after controlling for the religious practice of their parents, [we found] they weren't any different," Smith explains.
Smith says teens are still being mightily influenced by the religious lives of the parents, so parents should be challenged to play a leadership role and feel authorized to be parents.
Full results of the study can be found in Smith's new book titled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
Social science researcher and pollster George Barna is likely not surprised by the findings in the National Study of Youth and Religion. His research has shown while that 93 percent of young people in the U.S. consider themselves to be Christian by age 13, the great majority do not connect being a Christian to having a grace-based personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And only three percent have a biblical worldview, that research reveals.
That is why, in his new book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, Barna tries to emphasize the critical role parents and family play in children's spiritual development -- and that it is not the church's responsibility.
"The moral foundations of the average American are pretty much put in place -- and will not change -- by the age of nine," he recently told AgapePress. "[And] when you look at the spiritual foundations of the typical American, they are pretty much in place before they reach the age of 13.
"That says to me, if you're not going to get them when they're young, you're probably not going to get them," Barna says.
I'm generally cynical with regard to statistical data. It's just too easy for the numbers to shift if the questions change just a little bit. I'm still confused about how a greater percentage of the kids said they "had few or no doubts" than said they believe in God.
Yeah, that discrepancy is kind of puzzling. But even allowing for statistical aberrations, stats can provide a general idea of trends, whereas mere anecdotes cannot.
Barna tries to emphasize the critical role parents and family play....
CCC 2223 Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children....
CCC 2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child's earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God.
I think I am beginning to vaguely perceive a pattern here...
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