Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

By Christian Smith; Melinda Lundquist Denton | Go to book overview

7
Adolescent Religion and
Life Outcomes

AS WE SAW in chapter 4, the majority of teenagers we interviewed said that religion is a good thing. But they had difficulty explaining how faith is particularly consequential or influential in their own lives. Instead, religious faith seems to operate largely invisibly, taken for granted and in the background of their lived experiences. Faith seems to help teens to feel good and maybe to behave better. But then again, many said that their nonreligious peers can be just as good and happy as believers. Many of the religious teenagers we interviewed actually had a difficult time imagining how their own lives would be much different if they were not religious, did not attend church, were not in a youth group.

The question is: Do teenagers know the truth about their own lives? This chapter examines the relationship between different levels of American adolescent religious involvement and a broad variety of outcomes in adolescents' lives. Such an examination allows us to assess whether religion is associated with any difference in teenagers' experiences. Are religious youth any different from nonreligious youth? Is faith actually consequential in the lives of American teenagers or not? Ironically, although many teens cannot see it or are not able to articulate it, according to the findings presented in this chapter, the differences between more religious and less religious teenagers in the United States are actually significant and consistent across every outcome measure examined: risk behaviors, quality of family and adult relationships, moral reasoning and behavior, community participation, media consumption,

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