By The Reverend Nathan Day Wilson
Exciting research is asking important questions about the religious and spiritual lives of youth: What do they believe? In what religious practices do they engage? Do they expect to remain loyal to the faith of their parents, or are they abandoning traditional religious institutions in search of new form of spirituality?
One research effort, the National Study of Youth and Religion, conducted a nationwide telephone survey of 3,300 teens and their parents, as well as in-depth face-to-face interviews with 267 of the survey respondents. The overarching finding is the most important: religion is a significant factor in the lives of many American teenagers.
Make no mistake: teenagers’ lives are complex, and that includes their religious lives. For instance, while most teens spoke positively about religion when asked, they hardly ever talk about it at all with each other. And while nearly all of them – some ninety-seven percent – believe in God, few are confident that God is active in today’s events.
Even with the complexity and confusion, though, this research clearly suggests that teenagers are far more influenced by the religious beliefs and practices of their parents and other adults than is commonly thought. We parents and other adults are all potential and indispensable models of the faith – like it or not.
Another clear point is that greater teenage religious involvement is significantly associated with more positive adolescent life outcomes. Religion has a positive and constructive influence in teens’ lives, despite the fact that teens claim not to know details about their religion. It shows people are formed by forces they might not even be aware of or understand.
While it is by no means infallible, non-religious teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior and experience negative life outcomes. Teenagers involved in religious activities have many positive social influences, which results in positive outcomes in their lives.
I plan to say more about the meaning and usefulness of this research in future newsletters. For today, though, the bottom line is that now is the perfect time to thank God for the children and youth here now and for the children and youth yet to come. Now is the perfect time to give thanks for the committed volunteer coordinators and sponsors we have and look at what we as a congregation can do to support their ministry. In short, now is a perfect time to work with children and youth.
I hope to see you soon at the place where youth are encouraged to seek God –