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Carole Mikita ReportingHow does religion affect the lives of American teenagers? A new book contains several years of research from professors who recently came to Utah to talk about how Latter-day Saints fared compared with their peers. For several years, by telephone and in person, researchers have been studying the religious life of U.S. teens.
Christian Smith, Ph.D. University of North Caroilna: "It struck me some years ago that there haven't been any great studies on the religious and spiritual lives of teenagers, so it just seemed like a need, something we didn't know enough about."
His is the largest national survey ever done on the subject. He shared his results with a BYU audience. Some of those results, he says, revealed surprising answers. American teens are not rebellious about religion and even if they are not interested in it, they aren't bothered by it.
Christian Smith, Ph.D.: "There's a popular stereo-type that parents have sort of lost influence over their teenagers, but it's clear that parents are the most significant influence in their teenagers' religious and spiritual lives."
Most teens have a hard time expressing what they believe, he says. But at the top of the list of young people who can are Latter-day Saints.
Christian Smith, Ph.D.: "I think that there are sociological dynamics around the subculture, geographical concentrations and so on, that help to keep teens serious about their faith in the LDS Church."
And religion often affects lifestyle; this was another positive outcome for Latter-day Saints.
John Bartkowski, Ph.D., Mississippi State University: "Lower incidence of pre-marital sex, drug use, and then pro-social behaviors like civic engagement and other types of positive effects that come from religious belief, seem to be particularly pronounced among LDS teens."
This research project has received funding to continue for another four years; the professors hope to follow these teenagers even longer than that.