Teen Views on Religion
Throughout time, there have been religious conflicts of one type or another. From a child shot for admitting her beliefs to a presidential candidate discussing religious freedom, the topic of religion continues to be controversial.
Far from isolated, teens face this controversy right on campus as officials continue to debate the issue of prayer in school. So what do teens think and feel about religion?
Following the Columbine and Littleton School shootings, the media, students and faculty reported that teens were shot simply for admitting their belief in God and Christianity. This fact may be responsible for teens' reluctance to discuss what they believe.
"When someone says 'religion,' it gives me a weird feeling," says Kristen, a 13-year-old from Vancouver, Wash. "My feelings are a mixture between nervous, uneasy and excited. I don't want to do anything to upset other people about my religion or make them mad at me because I believe a certain way or a certain thing."
Freedom to Choose
But what about religious freedom? Should teenagers have the right to express themselves without the fear of being condemned? And should those with differing beliefs face persecution?
Many teens feel they should be entitled to religious freedom – regardless of what religion they practice.
"Religious freedom to me is that you can share your religion to whoever and whenever," Kristen says. "[It means] you could be walking on the street praying because that was your religion, or you say 'yes' to a question about your religion and not be killed like Cassie in the Littleton shooting."
Religious freedom is why the pilgrims originally emigrated to the New World, says Holly, a 16-year-old from Springdale, Ark. "It's about having the freedom to choose what you believe and not have some guard over you telling you what you should believe. I believe in God through the Christian ways; some people believe in God other ways, and heck, some people don't even believe in God at all. We are all entitled to our own beliefs and our own opinions. But I wouldn't stop being someone's friend just because our beliefs were different."
Acceptance Through Education
With so many religions in our society today – Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, pagan, Hindu, Jewish – perhaps the first point of religious acceptance is education. Whether through the school system, church or parents, teaching children about other religions may offer them the tools to understand and accept others as a whole.
Answers to questions about religion or God reflect belief and opinion, not objective truth, says Dr. Paul Coleman, author of How to Say It to Your Kids.
"While the content of your answers may differ from someone who possesses a different set of beliefs, the tone behind the words should show interest in the topic and a sense that the mystical aspects of God and religion cannot always be understood, but that it is accepted," Dr. Coleman says. "Parents do not have to know the right answers to questions their children ask about God and religion. They do need to answer the questions that are asked of them to the best of their ability – regardless of what religion it pertains to."
Do teens wish to know more about religions other than their own? Yes, say the majority.
"I don't know anything about any religions other than mine," Holly says. "But I think it would be neat to learn about other religions. I would like to learn about what other people believe in."
Prayer in Schools
As for prayer in schools, teens feel prayer is a personal thing and should not be mandatory or required. "I think that mandatory prayer time in schools will only cause further controversy," says Mallory, a 17-year-old from Leaf River, Ill. "I think that if a person wants to pray, they will find the time."
Chessy, a 16-year-old from Summit, N.J., agrees. "It doesn't really belong at school unless it's a certain type of school, such as a Catholic school," she says. "Not everyone would participate and lots of teenagers would rebel."
Religion – regardless of belief – touches every life one way or another. Parents can help their teens accept their own beliefs and those of others by offering their input and allowing their children to ask questions.
"Polls show that 96 percent of adult Americans believe in God," Dr. Coleman says. "Your children will hear about these ideas regardless of your personal beliefs, but your influence will be the most important."