NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Regular religious service attendance, high subjective importance of faith and years spent in religious youth groups are clearly associated with high self-esteem and positive self-attitudes, according to a recent survey by the National Study of Youth and Religion.
U.S. 12th graders who participated in religious youth groups for at least six years are more likely to have positive attitudes toward themselves and feel that they have something to be proud of than those who had never participated in youth groups, according to the report released Dec. 4.
Similarly, high school seniors who participated in youth groups for any number of years are significantly more likely to feel good to be alive and to enjoy school than those who have never been in a religious youth group.
Robbie Robison, who was a Southern Baptist youth pastor for 14 years and has been a full-time youth speaker for seven years, said he has found the study 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 31 percent of all seniors who attend religious services weekly and the 30 percent of 12th graders for whom religion is very important are significantly more likely than non-attenders and the non-religious to have positive attitudes toward themselves, enjoy life as much as anyone, feel like their lives are useful, feel hopeful about their futures, feel satisfied with their lives, feel like they have something to be proud of, feel good to be alive, feel like life is meaningful and enjoy being in school, the report said.
For the 18 percent of seniors who attend religious services only once or twice a month, the data indicated occasional positive associations compared to the 15 percent who never attend.
Religious affiliation is a factor in the attitudes of youth who attend church. Catholic youth differed most from the non-religious and are significantly more likely to have positive attitudes toward themselves, feel proud of something, feel hopeful, feel like their lives are useful, feel good to be alive, enjoy school and be conventional in their behavior.
Baptists are more likely to have positive attitudes about themselves, feel proud of something, feel hopeful about the future and enjoy school. The report said that youth in non-Baptist Protestant denominations are more likely to feel proud of something, are more likely to enjoy school and are more conventional than non-religious high school seniors.
Jewish youth 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.
“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 do 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.”
Thirteen percent of seniors who attend religious services once a week or more and 15 percent of those who say faith is important in their lives indicate that the future often seems hopeless and that life often seems meaningless. Eighteen percent of youth who attend services and count faith as important said they sometimes think they are no good at all, researchers found.
“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 and is funded by Lily Endowment Inc. The study utilized 1996 data from Monitoring the Future, which is a nationally representative survey of U.S. high school students administered to eighth, 10th and 12th graders since 1975.