- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

Teenagers who attend worship and rate religion as important have positive self-images, are optimistic and enjoy school, a study released yesterday said.
The survey of thousands of 12th-grade students found that optimism and confidence correlate with exposure to religion as much as with success, race, wealth or "self-esteem" education in public schools.
"The more religious the kids are, based on its importance to them or their attending worship, the greater their positive outlook on life," said sociologist Chris Smith of the University of North Carolina, where the National Study of Youth and Religion is being conducted.
"They have more self-esteem and confidence," he said. "The more religious they are, the less they hate school."
The study, the second part of a four-year project, required 12th-graders nationwide to respond to questions about their attitudes concerning themselves, school and their future. The project's goal is to determine religion's role in adolescent lives and identify effective practices.
The survey found 31 percent of students attended religious services weekly, and 30 percent said religion was important to them, with some overlap of the two groups.
In both cases, these teens were "significantly more likely" than nonattending or nonreligious youth to enjoy life, feel they have useful lives and hope for the future, and have a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Only 15 percent of 12th-graders said they never attended religious services. Meanwhile, even passive religious affiliation and some youth-group activity were linked with optimistic outlooks.
The project, which in an earlier survey found religious youths avoid high-risk behavior such as drug and alcohol use, is part of a growing interest in the religious attitudes of adolescents and young adults.
Some research suggests young people are "spiritual, but not religious," while Mr. Smith said strong evidence also indicates that religious youths will stick with institutional religion, especially when they start their own families.
Mr. Smith said the findings are not scientific proof that religion produces positive traits in youths, but rather are a strong association of the two.
For example, the findings could mean that only optimistic young people take an interest in religion or that children with problems did not find solutions in religion and had lost interest by the 12th grade.
"But there's very good reason to support the idea that religion itself is making kids turn out optimistic," he said. "It's not a mystery to me that a more religious student has more hope."
The most striking finding, he said, is that nonreligious students "hate school" more.
Mr. Smith said the reason for this is less obvious. Other research shows religious people join more activities than the nonreligious, and this may also apply to enjoying school and the classroom, he said.
But he doubts that religious youth are optimistic because they block out a complex world of human problems.
"There may have been an era when kids were sheltered from the real world, but I don't think that's true anymore," Mr. Smith said. "Young people, with the Internet and the rest, are often more clued into the world than their parents."
The study should not be taken to have policy implications, Mr. Smith said, even though public schools are experimenting with self-esteem curriculums.
"This is more relevant for families," he said. "This may have to do with the practices that only parents can control."
He said churches often make teen programs a low priority. "They may want to consider what these young people are saying," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide