Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 27, 2003
Faith-filled kids rach up happy lives
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
No real surprises, but lots of interesting results. That's the thumbnail story of a survey of high school students released a few weeks ago. It shows that teenagers whose faith is important to them get into less trouble than their nonreligious peers. If that doesn't strike you as stop-the-press news, you've got company. Even the author of the study agrees. "Our findings are not radically surprising," says Dr. Christian Smith, sociology professor at the University of North Carolina.
They may not be surprising, but they're important. They confirm what most parents realize in one way or another: Young people who are well grounded in their faith behave in the way you might expect them to. They're good kids.
Smith polled 2,400 high school seniors, who identified themselves as Baptist, Protestant (other than Baptist), Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, "other" or not religious. They were asked how often they attend religious services, how important religion is to them and how long they had participated in a church youth group.
The most religious high school seniors are less likely to skip school, less likely to be suspended or expelled, more likely to have strict parents, less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs and less likely to take part in any kind of crime, including shoplifting. On the positive side, they're more likely to do volunteer work or take part in sports and student government. They're even more likely to use seatbelts!
In short, religious kids tend to behave better. It's reasonable, then, for parents or anyone else to ask the obvious question: How did they get that way?
Almost always it begins in the home, in the family. It begins with simple prayers, with the example of loving parents.
Mothers and fathers provide that example best when their own behaviour puts religion in a positive and happy light. They smile, they laugh. They conduct their own lives as if faith really matters to them. They love - and they listen. They know that young people, like all humans, experience the mystery of God in everyday events, and they do what they can to encourage this encounter.
If you want to get into this a bit further, I've got a great book to recommend. It's Raising Faith-Filled Kids: Ordinary Opportunities to Nurture Spirituality at Home, written by Tom McGrath and published by Loyola Press. Tom, the former editor of U.S. Catholic magazine, is one of the most respected figures in the Catholic press and a fine family man himself.
Early on he asks an important question. Of course you want to raise children whose faith matters to them, makes a difference to them. But why? What's the real reason?
Not, surely, so your boy will wear his seatbelt! Not even so your daughter will stay out of trouble, or get good grades. The real answer should go much deeper, and the one McGrath offers is one I like very much.
"My hope (for my children)," he writes, "is that they will know a God who can meet them in their joys and in their sorrows, accompany them with strength in their exultation and in their pain, and offer them life on a new level that transcends all pain and sorrow."
I can't think of a nobler goal for a mother or father to have than that. For any youngster whose parents succeed in reaching it, or even making it part of the way, the rest ought to be easy.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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