Ties Shown Between Religious Affirmation And the Emotional Health of Youth

Dec 07, 2002 07:35 PM EST

According to a recent survey by the National Study of Youth and Religion, regular religious service attendance, observance of faith and years spent in religious youth groups correlate with high self-esteem and positive self-attitudes.

The report released Dec. 4, showed a higher level of self-esteem in U.S. 12th graders who participated in religious youth groups for at least six years, than those who haven’t. The statistics also showed that high school seniors who participated in youth groups for any number of years are significantly more likely to appreciate life and to enjoy.

Robbie Robison who had been a youth pastor for 14 years, and have experience in being a youth speaker for 7 years, find the results to be true.

"Part of the reason is because of the community that's built," he said. "Everybody is hungry for a sense of belonging and community. Schools are so big that youth groups help break the kids down to some sense of relationship and connection, especially if they're part of Sunday School, a discipleship group or retreats. We can't underestimate the significance of an adult or adults in their lives that connect with them and show a sense of caring and concern for them. Those are things they don't receive on a regular basis if they're not involved in church."

The report showed a close tie between the attitudes of youth, and religious affiliation. It reported that Catholic youth differed most from the non-religious and are significantly more likely to have positive attitudes, feel pride, feel hopeful, feel like their lives are useful, feel good to be alive, enjoy school and foster a conventional behavior.

Jewish youth, statistically, are more likely to enjoy being in school, and Mormon 12th graders are more likely to feel hopeful about their futures and feel that their lives are meaningful, according to the report.

"Although highly religious 12th graders generally have better life attitudes and self-images than non-religious 12th graders, it is still noteworthy that a minority of highly religious 12th graders in fact to have negative life attitudes and self-images," said Christian Smith, co-author of the study and professor and associate chair of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Religion is no cure-all for everyone when it comes to these issues."

However, research found that a small percentage of seniors who were involved with religious activities sensed hopelessness and meaninglessness in their lives. 13 percent felt the future to be hopeless, while 18 percent viewed themselves as being worthless.

"The reason for that is a lack of consistent adult contact in their lives," Robison said. "For example, a Sunday School teacher or discipleship teacher not consistently calling them, encouraging them. A lack of adult leadership and the community of students being taught the aspect of love and community contributes to some kids feeling left out. If it's not being taught, they're not looking for kids that need significant encouragement in life."

The National Study of Youth and Religion is a four-year research project, which began in August 2001 through funding by the Lily Endowment Inc. The study utilized 1996 data from Monitoring the Future, a nationally representative survey of U.S. high school students administered to eighth, 10th and 12th graders, since 1975.

By Pauline J.
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