Surprising News About Teenagers and Emerging Adults

Souls in Transition by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell, both of Notre Dame, is packed with fascinating insights into today’s 15-23 year olds. The basis of their conclusions is the National Study of Youth and Religion, which followed the same group of kids between the ages of 13-23. Interviews (both phone and face-to-face) allowed the researchers to get a good grasp on many of the issues facing teens and emerging adults and how those issues affected their spiritual development.

Here are some of their findings that I found particularly interesting primarily because they run counter to conventional wisdom:

1. Today’s Emerging Adults (19-23) are not any less religious than the same age group was in previous generations.

2. Attending a university or college does not have a negative impact on faith.

3. Teenagers want parental input in their lives even if there are times in which it appears that they are rejecting that input. Their resistance is an attempt to renegotiate their relationship with their parents and specifically how the input is given.

4. The number one factor in determining whether a teenager successfully survives the transition to adulthood with their faith intact is their parents. The old saying that “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” applies to the spiritual area of life as much as any other area.

5. Although the attendance at mainline liberal Protestant churches has been declining for decades, that’s not because they lost the battle of ideas but because they won it. Large portions of our culture have adopted the relativism of liberal Protestantism along with its emphasis on the innate goodness of mankind.

6. The religion of the day among high school students and emerging adults is filled with therapeutic jargon. Words like “sin” and “repentance” have been replaced “what makes me feel good/happy.”

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