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The Profile of Contemporary Youth

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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The following presentation is a summary of a report given by the Very Reverend Jonathan Tobias to the Diocesan Youth Apostolate in the fall of 2005. The report highlights the condition of the American adolescent which has been formed, impart, by their parental, religious, cultural and environmental experiences. The report also puts forth the suggestion that the psychological characteristics which define adolescence can be applied to a broader group, perhaps those between the ages of 9 and 30 years of age. The significance of this finding indicates that the age boundaries for youth ministry might also be extended to encompass this older segment.

Presented by: The Very Reverend Samuel Sherry at the SCOBA Bishop's Conference, October 4, 2006, Chicago, IL

With the blessing of His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas, members of the Diocesan Apostolate for Youth Ministry in the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese have recently studied the cultural profile of American adolescents.

Here are some observations drawn from this research:

  1. Adolescents have been profoundly affected by the continued disruption of the family in American society. Many adolescents, if not most, have not grown up in a household where the membership has not been profoundly changed by divorce. Less than half of all adolescents live with their married biological mothers and fathers.

  2. Adolescents have been affected by the increasing amount of time spent at work by both parents. This has resulted in an increasing lack of supervision, producing, in turn, an increase in sexual activity, drug use and delinquency.

  3. Several studies have observed a slight decline in the rate of teenage sexual intercourse and pregnancy. However, sexual activity has actually increased in what is described as "non-intercourse" activities.

  4. Several very recent studies have observed a decline in academic achievement, and even intelligence, in male adolescents. This decline has been attributed to the sharp increase in video gaming and other virtual reality entertainments.

  5. In regard to the religious beliefs of adolescents, the following observations have been made:

    • 60% of adolescents consider themselves either "spiritual" or "committed Christians."
    • 0% of adolescents who consider themselves Christian believe that all religions are really praying to the same God.
    • 83% of adolescents believe that moral truth depends on the circumstances

  6. There are some positive signs, especially in the area of religion and morality:

    • 47% of adolescents report that their parents have the greatest influence on their spiritual development
    • 89% of adolescents say that they pray weekly
    • 38% of adolescents donate some of their own money weekly to the church
    • 32% of adolescents attend some sort of weekly youth program

  7. Here are common adolescent "religious" beliefs, that lie at the core of adolescent values and behavior:

    • "I am entitled to think or feel whatever I want"
    • "I am utterly powerless to change the way I feel or think"
    • "You have no right to tell me that I think wrongly or act wrongly ... however, I have every right to do so, depending on how I feel, to tell you that you are wrong"
    • "If I am hungry, I must eat ... if I am sexually aroused, I must be fulfilled ... if I feel pain, I must vanquish it and self-medicate at all costs"
    • "Only when I am excited do I know that I am alive, and when I am excited, the future (which I hate) no longer exists"

  8. 8. Here are some reasons why there must be a greater focus on adolescence:

    • The range of "psychological adolescence" is widening. Childhood is ending sooner (probably at 9), and adulthood is beginning much later (probably at around age 30).
    • Adolescence is the critical, and often missing, link in the Church's pastoral ministry ... if ministry is missing at this stage (which it often is as most catechetical ministries "graduate" their students at 12 or 16), the adolescent himself will go missing from the Church long into his adulthood, if not forever
    • Adolescence is a condition of the greatest sensitivity to the world's themes of violence and power. Thus, adolescence is the stage of the greatest consciousness of -- and need for -- the power of the peace of Jesus Christ.

Read the entire article on the The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese website (new window will open).


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