Several years ago the University of North Carolina sponsored a study on “Teens and Religion,” led by sociologist Christian Smith. Those of us who have a strong relationship with God, who try to do the best of our ability to lead others to Christ, did not find the results surprising: four in five teens say religion is important in their lives. This survey of more than 3,000 teens from across the country and of different religions is the most comprehensive ever done on faith and the adolescent.
The research revealed that teens who hold religion important in their lives are more likely to: 1) Do better in school 2) Feel better about themselves 3) Shun alcohol, drugs, and sex 4) Care about the poor 5) Make moral choices based on what’s right rather than what would make them happy. At the same time, the research indicated that many teens along with their parents know little about their religion. I have been a priest for 31 years and this has been my experience here in Springfield, as well as in the Cape Girardeau area.
What Christian faiths have to worry about, the study found, “isn’t teen rebellion, but a benign ‘whateverism’ that tends to reduce their perception of God to more of a valet–someone meeting individual needs–than an authority figure.” This means that a growing number of teens are replacing traditional faith with an alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness. The sense for community is being lost. Thus, this is one of the reasons our Catholic high schools and Confirmation classes stress service to both the Church, as well as to the Community. The study found that teens are not alienated from organized religion.
Over half of the 3,370 teens interviewed said that religion is extremely, or at least very, important in their lives. More than two-thirds of teens report attending “church” services many times a year, and more than six in 10 teens say they would attend services regularly if it were entirely up to them but their parents sometimes want to “sleep in” on Sundays. Nearly eight in 10 who attend services say they expect to attend the same organized religion when they are 25. Almost none reported having had bad experiences with clergy or youth ministers.
The study indicated that parents are the leading role models in the spiritual lives of their children. Among parents who were interviewed, of those who said that their religion was extremely important to them, two thirds of their teenage children said religion is extremely or very important in their lives. In comparison, of the teenagers whose parents said religion was not very important, 48 percent of these teens said religion was not important in their lives.
As the Second Vatican Council stated, “Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith.” What parents do and say has a tremendous influence upon their children for the rest of their lives. I ask all parents take a good, hard look at the promises they made at the time of their children’s Baptism and ask the question, “Are we fulfilling our Baptismal commitments?”