The most comprehensive survey ever done on faith and adolescence has offered both good news and bad news – a strongly-religious teenage nation but one that is rather lacking in knowledge about their faith.
The most comprehensive survey ever done on faith and
adolescence has offered both good news and bad news – a
strongly-religious teenage nation but one that is rather lacking in
knowledge about their faith.
The study also reflects the importance of parents in shaping the religious views of their children.
The survey of more than 3,000 Americans ages 13-17
shows that the majority of American youth believe in God and worship in
But it also shows that many other activities
increasingly compete for teenagers’ time, include homework, television
and other media, jobs and sports. “Indeed, in many adolescents’
lives, religion occupies a quite weak and often losing position among
these competing influences,” the study notes.
Still, religion is important to youth of the country
– and for those who attend services weekly and belong to a youth group,
their faith appears to be making a significant difference in their
The National Study of Youth and Religion is
described as the most comprehensive research ever done on faith and
adolescence. It involved a telephone survey of 3,370
randomly-selected youth, followed by face-to-face interviews with 267
respondents in 45 states. Plans call for researchers to continue
tracking the teenagers through 2007 – but findings thus far already
have been published in “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual
Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith. Smith is a sociologist
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C. and lead
researcher on the study.
Findings in the study show that religiously-active
teenagers are more likely to do better in school, feel better about
themselves, shun alcohol, drugs and sex, care about the poor and make
moral choices based on what is right rather than what would make them
Researchers considered several variables and
still found that “religious faith and practice themselves exert
significant positive, direct and indirect influences on the lives of
teenagers, helping to foster healthier, more engaged adolescents who
live more constructive and promising lives.”
Indeed, what religious groups have to worry about is
not teenage rebellion, but a “benign ‘whateverism’” that tends to
reduce young people’s perception of God to more of a valet – someone
meeting individual needs – rather than an authority figure, the study
The result is growing numbers of teenagers who are
replacing traditional faith with an “alternative religious vision of
divinely-underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness,”
Smith said in releasing the study and its findings.
The recently-released study bursts a few stereotypes
of teenage religion in this country, foremost among them the idea that
U.S. youth are alienated from or rebelling against organized religion.
Indeed, more than half of the teenagers surveyed
also said religion was extremely or very important in their lives.
More than two-thirds of the teenagers also reported
attending services many times a year – and more than six in 10 said
they would attend services regularly if it were entirely up to them.
As it now stands, four in 10 teenagers said they attend religious services weekly or more frequently.
Nearly eight in 10 teenagers who attend services say
they expect to attend the same kind of congregation when they are 25.
Almost none reported having bad experiences with clergy or youth group
In addition, the study found that:
• 82 percent of teenagers are affiliated with a local congregation.
• 80 percent had few or no doubts about their beliefs in the past year.
• 71 percent said they feel “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat” close to God.
• 65 percent said they pray alone a few times a week or more often.
• 61 percent said they “definitely” believe in divine miracles from God.
And while America is becoming more and more diverse,
the study also found that 80 percent of young people still identify as
Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon or Jewish.
Several studies in recent years have found positive
ties between mental and physical health and religious participation
among adults. But there has not been as much research regarding youth
However, Smith and other researchers say teenage
religiosity is important because the recently-released study shows
almost universal positive outcomes related to active religious lives
for teenagers, from success in school to vastly-reduced rates of
pregnancy and drug use.
Kim Martin can attest to that. She is a 14-year-old
who attends Westlake United Methodist Church in Westlake, Ohio. She
said students in her school are approached almost daily to smoke
cigarettes or do drugs.
“I think our relationship with God gives us more of
a conscience, and gives us the power to say no,” Martin stressed.
The study also found a link between parents and
youth in regards to religion, including the fact that most teenagers
adhere to their parents’ faith tradition.
The study also highlights the importance of parents serving as role models.
For instance, among parents who said religion is
extremely important to them, two-thirds of their teenage children also
said religion is extremely or very important in their lives.
In contrast, among the teenage children of parents
who said religion was not very important, 48 percent said religion was
not very or not at all important in their lives.
“They really do look to their parents,” Smith said
of American youth. “We’ll get who we are, not what we tell them – not
what we wish for, but who we are.”
(Article based on an Associated Press release and a
Religion News Service report by David Briggs of The Cleveland Plain