- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An interfaith survey of 1,153 teens released yesterday by B’nai Brith reveals nearly 70 percent of all teenagers value religion in their lives and say they would like to connect better with their religion.

But 43 percent of them don’t know how to do so, according to the B’nai Brith Youth Organization, a Jewish group that commissioned the study to find better ways of keeping Jewish youths faithful.

“The issue’s not how to get teens interested in religion, because they already are,” said Matthew Grossman, executive director of BBYO. “The issue is how to use more clever ways to connect them.”

The survey, conducted in mid-October by Teen Research Unlimited among teens of various — or no — faith groups, revealed that while more than two out of three teenagers said religion is important to them, their interest dropped as they grew older. In the 13-15 age group, 74 percent said religion is important. This fell to 62 percent among the 16- to 18-year-olds.

The survey found boys’ interest in the topic dropped more than that of the girls. Interest levels among the 13- to 15-year-old girls (72 percent) remained nearly the same with 16-year-old girls (70 percent). But among the younger boys, the 64 percent who showed interest dropped to 55 percent in the older age group.

The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, shows a window of opportunity especially among younger teens, said psychologist Anthony Wolf, author of two books on teen parenting. He said although teens typically reject parents and authority during this stage, they are not rejecting religion.

“Teens have a spiritual side to them,” he added, “if you can only find out how to connect with it.”

Religion, for this age group, needs to be more “fun and engaging,” Mr. Grossman said, which is why the BBYO is investing in a youth-oriented Web site: www.b-linked.org. He said teens don’t want to go to temple or church for classic spiritual teachings, thus religious groups have to reach them through high school “culture clubs,” coffee houses and other hangouts.

Religious Internet sites offer the extra plus of anonymity, Mr. Grossman said, whereby teens can explore spiritual options without committing their name or identity to anything. Another plus is that a site can offer meaningful religious options to stimulate interest, such as the trips to Israel offered by the BBYO.

Another way to market one’s faith group to teens is to meet a core need, such as help in getting into college, he added.

“If a faith organization can help teens deal with their most pressing needs in their ordinary lives, they’ll see us as more valuable,” Mr. Grossman said.

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