20 January 2018
On January 10th, the London-based The Economist published an article on today’s teenagers. In general, the article noted that they are better behaved and less hedonistic than teenagers a few years ago; but they are also lonelier.
Today’s young people, The Economist report stresses, are indeed behaving and thinking differently from previous cohorts at the same age. The shifts can be seen in almost every rich country, from the USA to the Netherlands to South Korea. Some changes have been under way for many years, but have now accelerated.
On the positive side, teenagers are getting drunk less often. In Britain, for example, where a fifth of 16- to 24-year-olds do not drink at all, the number of pubs is closing by about 1,000 a year. Across Europe, teenagers are smoking less and drug use has diminished significantly; and, in the US as well, the decline in teenage opioid use is especially significant.
Teenagers are also having less sex. In 1991, by way of comparison, 54% of US teenagers, ages 14-18, reported they were sexually experienced; and 19% claimed to have had sex with at least four different partners. In 2015, however, those proportions were 41% and 12%. America’s teenage birth rate also dropped by two-thirds over the same period.
Teenagers of course are heavy internet users, thanks especially to smartphones. Teenagers are increasingly using social media as an alternative to face-to-face communication. In doing so, they miss opportunities for developing deep emotional connections with their friends, which are built on non-verbal cues as well as verbal ones.
Parental worries about teenagers texting and playing computer games too much have largely given way to worries about smartphones and social media. Today’s teenagers seem lonelier than in the past. Recent surveys, like the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), show that the share of 15-year-olds who say they make friends easily at school has dropped in almost every country. Some Western countries are beginning to look like Japan and South Korea, which struggle with a more extreme kind of teenage social isolation in which young people become virtual hermits.
The Economist report is one of two articles about teenagers that I read this week. The second is a report, issued on January 17th by St. Mary’s Press and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA), about teenagers and church membership.
The USA national two-year study offers a look at why young people are leaving the Catholic Church as early as age 13. Seventy-four percent of the former Catholics interviewed said that they decided to leave the Church between the ages of 10 and 20. Most have no religious affiliation. The St. Mary’s Press / CARA report resonates with Pew Research Center findings that the “Nones” are a growing category in the United States. The CARA researchers cite a 2015 Pew study that the number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. increased by 19 million between 2007 and 2014.
The two-year study, titled Going, Going, Gone! The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, is based on a national survey and interviews with 214 former Catholics between the ages of 15 and 25. The study found that church disaffiliation is a process that happens over time for young people. Typically, it is prompted by a series of events or unresolved questions that simply begin to accumulate. Questions and more questions and no answers. Many disaffiliated teenagers believe in God and believe in what Jesus taught. They perceive organized religion, however, as having corrupted Jesus’ teachings. Many had trouble connecting their identity as a baptized member of the church to their concrete life experiences in the real world. They struggled to articulate why being Catholic matters, so they just drifted away from the church. They see many of the church’s dogmas and doctrines as nonsensical; and they believe they can probably live better lives without the baggage of religion.
According to St. Mary’s Press President and CEO, John Vitek: “It’s clear that church leaders will need to open their minds and their hearts in order to view disaffiliation not as a grave threat, but as a new reality in which the church’s evangelizing mission must function in wholly new ways,” Vitek continued: “Most young people still believe in God and want to be connected spiritually….A critical first step for the church is to provide a nonjudgmental place for young people to openly and honestly wrestle with their questions, struggles, and doubts about faith and religion. If we don’t, they will leave and find a place where they can.”
Well, I as I stressed last week, it is necessary and good to have questions and to be a critical thinker. But critical thinkers and questioners need alert and wise listeners. That is our contemporary challenge ……….
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