Thursday, June 19, 2008

Youth Culture, part 3 of 4: Ideas

My last two posts have taken a look at youth culture. I see 4 major elements of identity formation when it comes to what constitutes any given culture, all of which apply to youth: (1) Artifacts, (2) Behaviors, (3) Ideas, and (4) Language.

This post, the third in the series, discusses some of the ideas youth have--what they believe and think. Of course, there are as many ideas or beliefs as there are teenagers in the world, but there are at least some common categories of concern to consider here, and some common questions that most adolescents share:

*"What are the most important things in my life?"
*"What are my biggest fears?"
*Junior High students often ask and assess: "Do you like me?"
*Senior High students often ask and assess: "Do I like you?"
*Friends, place, whether or not they are loved
*"What is God’s will for my life and my future?"
*Family—getting along with parents, siblings
*Relativism in religion—mixing and matching religion ("Have it your way!")

Regarding the current landscape of religious ideas, author Christian Smith has coined a phrase to express the overriding religious paradigm of teenagers today: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Smith, together with another sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, completed an extensive study on contemporary American teenagers and their religious and spiritual lives. Based on phone interviews and face-to-face conversations with thousands of teenagers and their parents, the National Study of Youth and Religion was the largest and most detailed survey of its kind ever undertaken.

The Study reported that 84% of U.S. teens believe in God. (84%!) Only 3% of those surveyed said they did not believe in God. But 60% of U.S. teens believe that “many religions may be true”. American teens believe in God at a high rate, but are very uncertain as to who that God is. In a confusing world with loads of pain, at a time when our young people encounter many changes and challenges, there are a lot of gods that would have the hearts and minds of our young people.

And while the vast majority of teens consider themselves theists, 33% of those surveyed do not believe in a personal God who is involved in the lives of people today.

You can find more details about the study in Smith's book, here.

This current cultural landscape of ideas is one that poses both great challenges and rich opportunities to the youth worker.

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