• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Faith and the Teenage Soul


    Research and policy proposals to make sense of the teenage years tend to address concerns such as educational achievement, sexuality, drug abuse and suicide.

    Noted sociologist and University of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith has spent much of his career delving into a curiously overlooked aspect of teenage life — religion.

    His research offers insights into teenage beliefs while addressing common questions from parents and youth pastors: Do today’s teens remain loyal to their parents’ faith? Are they abandoning traditional religious institutions to search for a newer, more “authentic” spirituality?

    Smith will share findings about teens and faith on Thursday, Oct. 29, as the keynote speaker at “Religious Practice and the Family,” a conference in Washington sponsored by The Heritage Foundation.

    Smith directs Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society and is primary author of the 2005 book “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.” Smith supports his work on adolescent religion and spirituality with an impressive array of data derived from interviews conducted with teens for the National Study of Youth and Religion.

    Smith and co-author Melina Lundquist Denton wrote:

    Most religious communities’ central problem is not teen rebellion but teenagers’  benign ‘whateverism.’ As long as religious communities presume falsely apocalyptic scenarios, they likely set themselves up for overreactions and pendulum swings in their ministry to youth. In fact, huge numbers of U.S. teenagers are currently in congregations, feel okay about them, mostly plan to continue to stay involved at some level, and generally feel fine about the adults in their congregations. But the congregation simply does not mean that much or make much sense to many of them.”

    Of “Soul Searching,” New York Times reviewer Peter Steinfels wrote:

    With a mixture of good news and bad news that punctures many stereotypes about adoloscent religious beliefs and behavior, this extensive study deserves attention for what it reveals across the full range of American religious groups.”

    Christianity Today, which selected “Soul Searching”  for its 2006  Book Award for Christianity and Culture, noted:

    No book in recent memory has as much potential to transform the
    practice of youth ministry…[T]he results overturn nearly every piece of conventional wisdom about teens and faith.”

    Heritage’s Oct. 29 conference also will bring together more than a dozen other leading researchers to present fresh findings on these key questions:

    • How has the “family revolution” changed religious involvement?
    • What effects do a father’s religious affiliation and commitment have on his young children?
    • What’s the connection between religious involvement and satisfaction and fidelity in marriage?

    The gathering is the third and last in a series of annual conferences called “Religious Practice in America: What the Research Says,” made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Heritage’s research partners for this concluding conference are Child Trends and Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

    “Religious Practice and the Family” is open at no charge to anyone interested in the intersection of faith with life in the here and now. It will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. For details, and to register, go here. 

    Ken McIntyre contributed to this post.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Faith and the Teenage Soul

    1. Bobbie Jay says:

      I appreciate the concept but I can't grasp it fully. I think it is how "religion" is used in this text. There is great benefit to all ages, regardless of "religion," in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

      He never preached or promoted a religion so there is no religious influence. His humanism he teaches to those that choose to be, for the greatness of individual lives and fellowman. And so there became the greatness of individual lives and the greatness of the ability to respect the good of all mankind, as taught.

      He was born, the skin color of all mankind and in the middle east. His teachings live around the world as he represents all decent human life and origins of the world. His teachings derived civil law. A law that benefits respect, of freedom, decency, survival and equally to all mankind who abide. Middle east sure could benefit from the greatest Man born on "their" earth.

      Jesus teaches freedom and life of personal: wisdom and strength of mind and soul…for ALL IN THE WORLD, WHO CHOOSE!

      How about replacing "religion" TO FAITH, ONLY…that avoids potential controversy. Faith and the bible are beautiful tools throughout all life's, ageless problems.

    2. Matt Spencer, Moultr says:

      Obvioiusly Jesus' teachings were not humanistic at all, the were theistic. He taught that man was corrupt from birth, and had no natural ability in himself to gain Gods acceptance. If this generation fails to pass down the teachings of Christ and the Bible, the next generation will inevitably be utterly corrupt, and mankind will certainly fall into wickedness not seen for many centuries. The time to reach anybody for anything, whether we speak of religion, education, trade training, or whatever, is when they are young (from birth, until they can go at it alone. This is why we start children in school when they are 3 to 4 years old. It works, it does not produce rebellion if it is done in a correct manner. But if it is irrelevant (whether education, or religion) it will fail misribly.

    3. Michael says:

      Peace, be with you. We that are gods children or those with strong character and values must not allow or selves to get side tracked by pointless debates. Yes; how we speak of our faith and beliefs reflex on our spiritually and values, and yes how we engage our children when there young help determine how they relate to their piers and elders as they grow up. We also must be consistent even when they are young adults because they still look to us for guidance. We all to often turn away young adults because we feel they are adults now and they are on their own when all they may need some one to listen to them; now with that being said; I am not saying butt in on their marriage or family business. This could be just as harmful or more so; I am saying if they came to you for advise when they were young they will when their older; please continue to be the shining example for them, and if your not please start it wont be easy; but it will be worth it for them and your self. I understand this is about teens and their faith and character, but we must understand the preteen years and the teen years are building blocks and we do them a great disservice if we kick the block out when they reach 18. I believe (speak from my experience) that most 18-25 still have some of the teen mentality rebellious, risk taken, over emotional etc.. We must be strong in our faith in values or they will mean nothing to them when they become our age.

      If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. James 1:26

      We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Romans 15:1

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.