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Understanding the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers

Bruce Murray

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National survey offers some surprising results about teens' attitudes toward religion and their parents.

Closing the generation gap

The generation landslide of the 1960s is not repeating itself at the beginning of the new millennium, at least as it applies to American teenagers and their religion.

Results of the National Study of Youth and Religion show, perhaps counter-intuitively, that U.S. teenagers largely line up behind their parents when it comes to religious beliefs.

"The single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents -- not their peer group, not their own individual searching, not even their youth ministers," said Christian Smith, principal investigator of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a research project being conducted at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Smith spoke at the Sept. 30 FACS program, "Youth & Religion: Reporting on Issues and Trends" at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Smith said parents who are from the "Baby Boomer" generation (1944-1964), who experienced the mass generational rebellion in the 1960s, mistakenly expect their children to react the same way.

"The people who grew up during the 1960s -- now as parents they project that experience back on their children. But it is a mistake to project the generation gap framework back on the youth of today. Any generation gap that exists between teens and adults today is superficial compared with generational continuities and shared underlying values," Smith said.

"The youth today have more in common with grownups than not. They have embraced the mainstream values. Their main concern is to succeed in the society that's been given to them."

The lesson for parents, Smith said, is to stop thinking about teenagers as strange, impenetrable beings.

"The popular belief is that teens are strange, alien creatures who are dangerous and driven by surging hormones or something else completely inexplicable; and the best adults can do is hold their breath and hope they can survive. This is false." Smith said. "Parents have an enormous influence over teens they are often unaware of."

Read the entire article on the FacsNet website.

Posted: 10/13/04



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