Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Adolescent and Parent Perceptions of the Influence of Religious Belief and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Adolescent and Parent Perceptions of the Influence of Religious Belief and Practice

Article excerpt

The purpose of the present study was to investigate lay conceptions of religious influence. Specifically, we explored adolescents' and parents' perceptions of the ways in which their religious beliefs and practices had impacted them and their life. The sample included 419 adolescents and 282 parents recruited from across the United States through an online survey panel. Participants were asked to list three different ways that religion had influenced their lives. Responses were coded using grounded-theory qualitative methods. Six main themes of influence emerged in both the adolescent and parent responses: Interpersonal Relationships, Character Development, Religious Values and Practices, Perspective, Peace of Mind, and Spiritual Connections. The parents had two additional categories that focused on the themes of Family and Negative Experiences. Looking at similarities across themes, responses seemed to indicate that people broadly perceive religion to guide them in interpersonal relationships, life decisions, and character development. While these findings are largely congruent with prior theory and research, they suggest a greater emphasis should be placed on empirically examining the role of religiousness in interpersonal relationships.

Religiousness seems to significantly influence people's lives. At the individual level, those who are more religious tend to experience greater mental health and physical health (Koenig, King, & Carson, 2012), as well as greater self-esteem and happiness (Hammermeister, Flint, Havens, & Peterson, 2001). Religious adolescents exhibit more prosocial behaviors (Hardy & Carlo, 2005) and less health-risk behaviors (Yonker, Schnabelrauch, & DeHaan 2012). In addition to these individual outcomes, religion is important to interpersonal relationships. For example, more religious couples show greater fidelity to their partners (Burdette, Ellison, Sherkat, & Gore 2007), and have stronger marital relationships with less distress (Fincham & Beach, 2013), Additionally, parental religiousness is related to parenting behaviors as well as child outcomes (Dumas & NissleyTsiopinis, 2006), and parents who believe in the sanctity of parenthood are less verbally aggressive to their children (Murray-Swank, Mahoney, & Pargament, 2006).

Overall, theory and research suggest religion can have many positive outcomes for individuals and families. Nevertheless, there is still much left to learn. First, it is unclear whether the current literature accurately captures the scope and nature of religious influence. There may be ways in which religiousness influences people that scholars have overlooked. Lay conceptions can be particularly useful for identifying such gaps in the literature (Hardy, Walker, Olsen, Skalski, & Basinger, 2011). Second, we still know little about the processes of influence. Thus, even if the field has adequately captured what areas of life religiousness influences, it is still unclear how or why these effects of religiousness occur. Qualitative selfreports of perceptions and experiences can often help elucidate such underlying processes (Daly, 2007).

To address these issues, we employed grounded-theory methods to discover how adolescents and parents perceived religion to influence their lives. Our rationale for doing this was twofold. First, qualitative instruments do not constrain results to a priori categories like quantitative measures (Daly, 2007), and they uncover lay perspectives on (Lambert, Fincham, & Graham, 2011) and deeper meanings of (Dollahite, Hawkins, & Parr, 2012) constructs studied. Secondly, subjective perceptions can be important predictors of behavior. For example, Schwartz (2006) found that adolescent perceptions of parental and peer religiosity predicted adolescents' religious behaviors and commitments.

Specifically, we pursued answers to the following research questions:

First, how do adolescents and adults perceive religion to influence their lives? …

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