Friday, September 24, 2010

Teens and Religion

The other night I attended a special seminary meeting in Pleasant Hill that featured a guest speaker. She is a clinical psychologist, and recently helped with a National study about youths and religion. She also helped produce a video about the study. The researchers wrote a book called, "Soul Searching" which highlights the data they studied. This psychologist is LDS, but really tried hard in her research and in her presentations to not be LDS biased. The main researchers are not LDS. But the findings are very interesting to members of our church. I hope I get these numbers right, because although I took notes, I might have misunderstood.

They interviewed a wide cross section of youth throughout the country. It has been an eleven year study, and they have received permission to continue for another 6 or 7 years I think. They asked very in depth questions of the youth.

The researchers found that 85% of youth believe in God. About 30% say they are active in a religion, 30% are semi-active, and 30% are not actively participating in any religion. They were asked if they attend a church meeting at least once a week. The statistics for LDS attendance were 71%. Of the teens studied, the religion that had the most teens actively participating was LDS. Next in line was Conservative Protestant, the Black Protestant, (not sure why they differentiate those). Next Mainline Protestant, then Catholic, and then Jewish.

What researchers found was that religion makes a clear positive influence in the lives of the teens. There was no disputing that it was a great influence in their lives. The best predictor of a teen's religiosity was found to be the religiosity of their parents. The two most important factors in a teen's religious worship were found to be 1: The parental involvement, and 2: The involvement of other adults in their lives. (a community of faith.)

Mormon teens were found to have :
--The highest teen participation rate
--They were most likely to pray.
--They were mostly likely to have the same beliefs as their parents.
--They were least likely to have paranormal beliefs, but most likely to adhere to Biblical traditions.

Another interesting aspect of this study to me was that of the teens interviewed, there were several common beliefs about God. The teens said:
--God exists
--God wants people to be good.
--God wants people to be happy.
--God doesn't need us, but will help us if we need Him.
--Good people go to heaven.
Very few of the teens interviewed have actually read the Bible. The majority were very inarticulate about their beliefs. Most said this was the first time an adult had asked them about their relationship with God. They had discussed with adults other subjects such as STDs, or illegal drug use, but not God.

Kenda Creasy Dean wrote a book called "Almost Christian", and one of her chapters is titled, "Mormon Envy: Sociological Tools for a Consequential Faith." She discussed such things as our seminary program.
Of course, being LDS I know how our youth programs work, and they seem normal to me, but after hearing about this study, I realize that what we do isn't really normal at all. The fact that many teens wake up early in the morning to attend seminary before school is actually abnormal. Most of the LDS teens interviewed talked about how they attend seminary because it gives them a good spiritual start to the day. In my opinion, seminary is crucial to our youth learning the gospel. If they are going to believe our religion, they really need clear instruction about our beliefs, and about the scriptures. They don't come out of seminary as scriptural scholars, but they do have a good understanding of the gospel. In addition, many of our youth go on to serve full time missions for the church, and seminary helps greatly in their preparation.
In addition to seminary, we also have our young men and young women activities. The Young Men group uses scouting as a major part of their activity, but they also work on a program called, "Duty to God". It focuses more on the spiritual. Our young women work on a program called "Personal Progress" It focuses on the following values: faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue. They set goals to learn more about each of these virtues. Both the young men and the young women have Sunday classes where they are taught about the gospel, and also weekly meetings where they have activities to help them pursue their goals.

I probably sound a little proud, and like I"m blowing our own horn, but I think it is significant that our youth did so well in this study. Long term retention rates are something like 57%. That may not sound very good, but actually, that's quite high. But the main thing I gained from the study is that the teen years are extremely important in molding a person's religiosity for the rest of their life. We spend much of those years teaching other subjects, but if we focus on teaching them about God, they will respond, and they will stay true to what they have been taught!


Nene said...

I always told the parents of my Seminary kids that if their kids attended Seminary on a regular basis that they would not need to worry about them in their spiritual development. I'm a strong believer in Seminary, but then I'm probably biased....:0)

Looney said...

Sounds like a good book to fetch. We have had a high retention rate, but I haven't been very happy with the training the kids are getting.

Becky said...

Thanks for sharing. And you can work on Personal Progress yourself (it actually says that in the new manual) even if you're not serving in Young Women, and even if you don't have a teenage daughter. Of course, it does suggest that you find someone to work on it with and mentor them as well. But we don't need a formal program to set goals, and we can use the goal-setting tools we're given unofficially. Have fun! (Oh, and now it's online as well. That's what I've been playing with this morning. And as an adult, I don't need to get "parental approval" to pass things off!)