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HOW RELIGION BENEFITS TEENAGERS by Robert Furey, Ph.D.

"My teenager doesn't want to go to church. She says it doesn't do any good and that she has things she needs to do."

I've heard this a hundred times from parents who are trying to keep their kids involved with church and feel like they're losing the battle. Many of these parents give in to their sons and daughters because deep inside they're not sure how kids benefit from church. They're not sure if it's worth the struggle to get them there.

Well, let's begin with the research. Twenty years ago, when the government began spending millions to understand what keeps adolescents away from drugs, a theme emerged from the data. Consistently, the research pointed to the fact that kids who attended church were the least likely to be involved with street drugs. The stud­ies have been repeated and the results remain the same. A teenager who attends church is less likely to use drugs than one who does not.

So the research continued.  We now know that adolescents who are regularly involved in religious prac­tices such as prayer and mass are less likely to smoke or to act out sexually. They do better in school, spend less time playing video games and report being happier than their peers who are removed from religion.

In recent years, evidence has emerged that involvement with religious practices - what researchers refer to as "religiosity" - may help protect adolescents from problems with anger, depression and anxiety.  Furthermore, there is data that indicates that religiously involved young people are less likely to commit suicide.

Beyond these significant issues, religion can address the restlessness of youth. It can help teenagers deal with important questions, questions that they feel but cannot yet articulate.

Author and pediatrician Meg Meeker in her fine book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters writes, "Kids are ' born with an inherent sense that life is more than what they see."  Each, in his or her own way, tries to understand what that is.  Religion helps young people find what they need to know.

St. Augustine said that there is a void in every person's heart that only God can fill. The awareness of this void begins early in life. Many people, young and old, however, fail to address this void. They don't know how. They need someone to shepherd them to the place where the void is filled.

Some parents believe that adolescents should be allowed to decide how they will live their spirituality. Consequently, they refrain from any substantive involvement in the spiritual lives of their children. Some of these parents take the same approach with drugs, alcohol, sexuality and schoolwork. But this parental stance is really just a form of abandonment. Mothers and fathers, using all sorts of rhetoric, continue to abandon their chil­dren in the face of their most important life decisions.

Adolescent spirituality usually involves questioning. Without support and encouragement, these questions may remain unspoken and unanswered.

Adolescent spirituality may also include frustration when the answers are not as simple as they may like. Teens often need help working through this frustration. Sadly, this is the point where many kids are spiritually abandoned by adults who do not understand what they're going through.

Their questions may take on an intensity that can seem like anger. In reality, this may be the beginning of a spiritual passion. What may feel like "I disagree with you," may actually be "Please help me sort this all out."

No matter how good a parent you are, you will not be able to protect your kids from all the challenges and adversity that are coming their way. They will need more than you. They will need what only religion can pro­vide.

Make sure they get what they need.