- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

Church activities buoy the self-esteem of young adolescents as they struggle to express and define themselves at the cusp of their teen-age years, according to a new national study of eighth-graders.

"Religious involvement appears to have the largest impact on how early adolescents evaluate themselves," according to a report presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco on Aug. 24.

The survey found that adolescents not involved in religious activities are prone to feel like they don't have much to be proud of and are more likely to believe they are "no good at all." Their religiously active counterparts are more likely to view themselves positively and tend to be confident about their abilities.

"This finding," the study said, "seems to indicate that most churches teach people to have positive images of themselves, and thus positive teaching may be able to influence early adolescents' self-evaluations in a positive way."

The self-esteem study was based on responses collected from 1,261 eighth-graders by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. It was analyzed by researchers Yong Dai and Rebecca Nolan of Louisiana State University in Shreveport and Qing Zeng of Wells College in Aurora, N.Y.

They found that close family relationships serve to reinforce adolescents' religious involvement. Race and gender were also found to have a substantial effect on pre-teens.

Black female eighth-graders were more likely than their white counterparts to evaluate themselves positively, but white male eighth-graders evaluated themselves more positively than black eighth-grade males, the researchers said.

The disparities "may reflect a cultural difference in how parents teach their sons and daughters about self-esteem," they concluded.

Of those students who responded to the survey, 570 were males and 691 were females. A total of 1,011 white students were surveyed; 250 were blacks. They came from all regions of the country.

The survey offered students four positive and four negatives responses to gauge their level of self-esteem. The positives included: "I take a positive attitude toward myself; I am able to do things as well as most other people." Negatives included: "I feel I do not have much to be proud of; Sometimes I think that I am no good at all."

The students also were asked about their level of involvement in religious activities. The largest percentage of eighth-graders who participated in religious activities also reported the highest self-esteem, the researchers said.

The researchers surmised that religious activities are often a family activity, creating a closer bond between the youths and their parents.

"Relationship with parents is still strong in the younger adolescent's life in spite of increasing importance of peer relationships," the report concluded.

"Family influence may also have an effect on an adolescent's religious involvement, which leads to more chances to receive positive teaching."

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