At a young age, many children start learning about religion at home with holiday celebrations and rituals and in the community through services and religious education classes. But when they become teens, religion may become less of a priority.
With less free time, teens may not want to attend weekly services or participate in daily prayers. In addition, they may become disillusioned with religion and wonder how these old traditions are relevant in their modern world.
But for teens who find a way to connect with their religion, there are benefits. The National Study of Youth and Religion reports that compared to their less-religious peers, religious 12th graders:
- are less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or use drugs
- tend to be better behaved in school
In addition to these positives, religion seems to provide a variety of emotional benefits.
The Benefits of Religion: Belonging, Direction, Structure
The teen years can be confusing and stressful. Teens may yearn for independence but also crave a sense of belonging. They may distance themselves from their parents, yet still want advice as they face big decisions and moral conflicts.
“Many teens find themselves at a crossroads, looking for direction,” says Scott Chapman, director of the Christian-based Glorieta Camps and Wilderness Programs.
“Religious programs can offer teens support. They can provide a community of like-minded peers and older mentors that can give them guidance.”
Belief in a higher power and a sense of spirituality can help some teens make better decisions, especially about ethical issues.
“Religion can serve as a protective factor for teenage struggles and experimentation,” says Sarah Sayeed, a board member of the Women of Islam Inc., a Muslim women’s human rights organization. “It can provide structure at a time when there is a lot of boundary-testing.”
It can also help them get outside of their own little worlds, adds Chapman. “In general, teens tend to be self absorbed and believe they are immortal,” he says. “But belief in a higher power can steer them toward humility and patience. Religion can help teens understand not only who they are, but who they want to become.”
Activities Designed for Teens
Passively attending a worship service—or as Chapman describes it, “sitting in a chair listening to some old guy talk”—may not be the best way to interest a teen in religion.
“To participate in our programs, kids don’t have to put on their Sunday best (clothing). They don’t even need to be their Sunday best personality,” he says. “Instead, we encourage them to share their true selves and discuss their problems in an environment where they will be accepted and listened to.”
Being a part of a religious youth group or volunteer organization can also strengthen a teen’s sense of community and belonging.
“Participating in these meaningful activities and communities helps teens think beyond themselves. It inspires them to make a positive impact in their community and in their world,” notes Micol Zimmerman, Director of National Federation for Teen Youth, Union for Reform Judaism.
What Can Parents Do?
Even when kids start becoming more independent, the parent’s role is still important in teen’s religious development. Eighty-two percent of children raised by religiously active parents were themselves religiously active as young adults, according to 2014 research from “The National Study of Youth and Religion” at the University of Notre Dame.
In addition to being religious role models for teens, parents can also influence their teens by engaging in honest discussions about spirituality and beliefs. Rather than forcing teens to practice religion in ways they are not comfortable with, encourage them to participate in religious activities that are meaningful to them.