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Family makes teens happiest, study finds


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Straight from MTV comes a report that says today’s youth are happiest when they’re with their family and most of them hope to marry and have children of their own someday.

The study, commissioned by MTV and the Associated Press, found that nearly three-quarters of people between the ages of 13 and 24 said their relationship with their parents makes them happy. They also said having sex and using drugs doesn’t really make them happy and spirituality is important to them.

Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said the study results are positive because great relationships with parents lead to stronger spiritual impact in the lives of youth.

“I like to picture relationships as a pipe connecting the hearts of parents and children,” Ross told Baptist Press. “When the pipe (the relationship) is strong, then spiritual impact flows easily from parent to child. But when the pipe is weak or even absent, even Christian parents have limited spiritual impact on their teenagers.”

Bill Maier, vice president and psychologist in residence at Focus on the Family, said one remarkable part of the study is that the results “fly in the face” of the corrupted cultural values MTV promotes.

“MTV would say that kids just want pleasure and material goods, and they’re not interested in marriage or commitment and they reject their parents’ values. This poll shows just the opposite,” Maier told the online newsletter CitizenLink.


“It frankly surprises me that MTV allowed the results to be posted because it really contradicts everything that that network is about,” he added.

Nearly half of the 1,280 students surveyed mentioned one of their parents when they were asked to name their heroes. More than 10 percent mentioned God as their hero, the study, released Aug. 20, said.

Forty-four percent of youth said religion and spirituality are either a very important or the single most important thing in their lives, and those for whom religion and spirituality play a bigger role in life tend to be happier, MTV said.

Ross said research such as the MTV study is leading youth leaders to make fundamental changes in how they approach their work.

“Rather than always separating teenagers from their parents, the forward-thinking ones are designing engaging ways to bring the generations together,” he said. “The most powerful tool the youth leader has to prompt transformation is not the sermon or lesson he gives each week. It is not the corps of volunteers who lead small groups. As important as these are, the most powerful tool is parents.

“Youth leaders who train parents how to build great family relationships and how to spiritually lead in the home have the greatest opportunity to see teenagers transformed,” Ross added.

MTV said the study is “part of the network’s ongoing commitment to maintaining an unparalleled understanding of the youth audience.” But Focus on the Family’s Maier thinks the MTV culture, unless it changes based on this research, is getting in the way of youth’s dreams.

“We know, for example, that girls who are highly promiscuous are much more likely to be depressed and suicidal,” Maier said. “We know that kids who live together, who cohabit or have a variety of partners are less likely to have a successful marriage.

“They would do well not to listen to what MTV is telling them because they’ll be sabotaging their own success in the long run,” he added.

Among other findings from the MTV study:

— While some might expect money to be the object of desire for most teens, it actually didn’t even come up in nearly all of the interviews.

“Almost no respondents mentioned anything financial or material as a source of happiness when asked an unaided question about what makes them happy,” MTV said.

— Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said cell phones, the Internet and other technologies make people happier. Rather than a source of stress, the youth said they would be more stressed without technology.

— Today’s youth have their share of stress, though. The study said a lot of young people feel stress, particularly those from the middle class, and females more than males. School is the greatest source of stress for those age 13 to 17, and for those age 18 to 24, it’s jobs and financial matters, AP said.

— Those who use alcohol are slightly less happy than those who don’t drink, and those who don’t use drugs are happier than those who do, the study said.

— For 13- to 17-year-olds especially, being sexually active leads to less happiness.

— Despite a frequent cultural portrayal of marriage as outdated, 92 percent of the youth surveyed said they either definitely or probably want to get married someday.

“I don’t want to be one of those career businesswomen who just doesn’t ever settle down,” Kristiana St. John, 17, a New York high school student, told AP.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.