From 2001-2005, researches from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill set out to study the religious and spiritual lives of American adolescents. They wanted to understand what teenagers think and why they act like they do.
The results of the study surprised many in the media. If you watch TV, you’d believe that all teenagers are rebellious drug-addicts who do nothing except complain about the older generation. The researchers found quite the opposite: teens generally have a favorable view of the church. They aren’t all pluralists who believe that “anything goes.” They really are pretty decent, after all.
Perhaps the most important finding of the study was this: when it comes to faith, teens generally mirror their parents’ actions.
Here’s what they had to say:
“…parents are normally very important in shaping the religious and spiritual lives of their teenage children, even though they may not realize it. It seems that many parents of teens rely primarily on the immediate evidence of the overt attitudes, statements, and sometimes behaviors that their teenage children dole out to them on a daily basis in order to estimate their current level of parental influence.
Many of the attitudes and statements that teenagers communicate to their parents do not exactly express great admiration and gratitude for and readiness to listen to, emulate, or freely obey their parents. Many parents therefore appear to come to the conclusion that they have lost their influence in shaping the lives of their teenage children, that they no longer make any significant difference. But for most, this conclusion is mistaken.
Teenagers’ attitudes, verbal utterances, and immediate behaviors are often not the best evidence with which to estimate parental influence in their lives. For better or worse, most parents in fact still do profoundly influence their adolescents—often more than do their peers—their children’s apparent resistance and lack of appreciation notwithstanding. This influence often also includes parental influence in adolescents’ religious and spiritual lives.
Simply by living and interacting with their children, most parents establish expectations, define normalcy, model life practices, set boundaries, and make demands—all of which cannot help but influence teenagers, for good or ill.
Most teenagers and their parents may not realize it, but a lot of research in the sociology of religion suggests that the most important social influence in shaping young people’s religious lives is the religious life modeled and taught to them by their parents.”
Parents, even when your teens roll their eyes or make bad decisions, don’t forget: you matter!
“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)