Kelsey is a crazy 17-year-old from Franklin, TN. She loves writing, acting, and hanging out with friends. Her favorite subject is English and she hopes to teach it herself when she gets older.
According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, conducted back in 2005, 82 percent of teens affiliate themselves with a local congregation. A similar majority – 80 percent – had very few doubts about their religious beliefs in the past year, and 71 percent of these youths felt close to God on some level.
These are interesting numbers; based off my own experience, they seem accurate. But I hesitate to rely solely on percentages when it comes to studying teenagers and their religion; it is a matter of much more than statistics. It is a matter of real people and real ideals. So I prefer to look around, at the real people in my life, and how spirituality affects them.
My best friend shares my religious beliefs. We are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we both participate actively in the youth group, in choir, and in seminary. We have discussions sometimes about God, about prayer, and about doctrine. We keep very high standards (no drinking, no cussing, and no R-rated movies, for example). It is safe to say religion plays a huge role in both our lives.
Another friend, though, lets his religion take the passenger seat. He is Baptist, and enjoys going to church; he’s done mission trips with his youth group and he thoroughly enjoys Christian music. However, he is different from me in that he does not see the point in my abnormally high standards. He likes church, but it does not, for the most part, make a difference in his social or personal life.
Two close friends of mine are Jewish. For them, it seems, religion is more about tradition and heritage than spirituality. They do not pray individually, and they do not attend synagogue often. They both had bat mitzvahs, but that is just another part of their traditions. Despite the fact that religion is not extremely important to them, they keep many of the standards which I, as a Mormon youth, keep.
I know some teens, in contrast to the many devout Christians in my area, who don’t care for any sort of spirituality. They do not affiliate themselves with any religion and they do not believe in God. Science is their religion. But when I talk to them about my religion, and share with them my strong beliefs in what I practice, they are respectful (for the most part), because they see that I am not just a blind follower.
Recently, a boy who had graduated from my high school in May was killed in a car accident. It was a total tragedy, his being so young, and right about to start college. When word spread that he was in the hospital, statuses on Facebook began popping up everywhere – “Pray for Josiah,” “You’re in my prayers, Josiah!” and “I’m praying for Josiah B.” Similar statuses and groups always come up when someone well-known around my school is hurt or affected by some occurrence or another. It is interesting to me to see how deeply we teenagers rely on prayer and on God when bad things happen. That’s one of our first reactions, to pray. But in good, happy times, we often forget about God. We do not feel a need for extra strength, or to be buoyed up, when things go well for us.
For teens, whether we like it or not, religion plays a role in our lives. We choose whether or not we want it to direct us, whether or not we will follow in our parent’s traditions. But beneath the surface, even if we ignore spirituality in our daily lives, when trials come upon us we often turn to God. I think that teens do this because it helps to think of someone bigger, someone far more important, who cares about us and who can make a difference in how things turn out. We are not grown up yet, and so much of what we do and say has no impact on the adult world. But surely a supreme power, such as God, could make a huge impact on that world.
It varies from place to place, and from school to school. We are a diverse nation, and a diverse generation of teenagers at that. However, religion is one thing that ties all of us together. We all have a religion of some sort – be it God, or science, or video games.