We’ll be reflecting on the year 2020 for many years to come. It’s something that our children and youth won’t ever forget, especially since their lives tend to revolve around their participation in school, religion and extracurricular activities. Whether it has been their inability to meet in person for secular activities, it’s no surprise that they’re also feeling disconnected to their regular religious experiences like seminary, youth night or Sunday school. Much of the “earthly experience” needed to “progress toward perfection” (paragraph 3, Family Proclamation) has certainly been put to the test.

The BBC has reported that the pandemic’s disruption on our children may “follow them for the rest of their lives.” The article focuses on the negative impacts of the pandemic, like missing school, socializing and sports. It doesn’t, however, mention the effects of children and youth missing out on regular religious education and experiences, such as attending church or youth activities. It also doesn’t talk about the positive things come from increased home and family time. Ironically, these are the very things which provide youth with the most powerful protective influences they will ever experience in their young lives.

The Protective Influence of Religion

Most articles or reports in the media aren’t talking about the importance of religion in the lives of our children and youth. Yet, religious activity is more essential to their well-being than we may ever realize. One day, it will be interesting to look back and reflect on the impact the shutdowns have had on youth missing out on a year of their in-person Catholic parish programs, Jewish youth conventions, Muslim young women groups, Hindi youth summer camps, or Christian seminary or youth conferences. These in-person religious activities are some of the most powerful protective factors for adolescent success.

For example, in a study titled “Religiosity, self-control, and antisocial behavior: Religiosity as a promotive and protective factor” researchers Robert Laird, Loren Marks and Matthew Marrero explain that higher religiosity has been associated with more positive health outcomes and provides consistently lower rates of drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior and delinquency. They also note that “high levels of religiosity may protect individuals who are otherwise at risk of, or inclined to engage in, misbehavior or health-compromising behaviors.”

A Study of Jewish Teenagers

In one of the largest studies of its kind, nearly 18,000 Jewish teenagers were surveyed to determine the impact religion and religious activity had on their spiritual, emotional and social well-being (especially religious youth group activities). Among the findings:

  • Jewish teens like their parents; they enjoy spending time with their family and often look to their parents for guidance and to demystify the world around them.
  • For most teens surveyed, Jewish beliefs and practices are closely linked with their family relationships and loyalties.
  • The respondents believe teens need help in coping with pressures like academic pressure, self-esteem issues and a fear of failure.
  • Jewish teens see social media as a mixed blessing, saying it can both cause stress and help them deal with stress, as well as connect with friends and help change the world.
  • Most crucially, the study found that teens active in a Jewish youth group (regardless of denomination) tend to flourish socially, emotionally and spiritually as compared with those who are not. They also report feeling more connected to being Jewish, have higher self-esteem and better relationships with family, friends and other adults, and feel empowered to make positive change in their world. (See “Study finds Jewish teens flourish socially, emotionally and spiritually when connected to youth groups“).

“[This study] makes a pretty good case for religious education and youth groups specifically. It seems that, along with a strong family and the belief in a higher power you’re connected to—this makes for someone who’s healthier in every way. It’s almost like these young people have a protective shell around them.”

Rabbi Michael Shire, dean of the Graduate School of Education, Boston Hebrew College

The Silver Lining

The findings of these studies can be very encouraging to people of all faiths. They help us better understand why participating in religious activities so positively affect the well-being of our children and youth. To be sure, during the pandemic the Come, Follow Me curriculum, online youth activities, quorum and class meetings, virtual worldwide youth devotionals, musical events, social media challenges and many more activities have provided children and youth with opportunities to virtually connect to their faith community. While the efforts have been significant, youth have undoubtedly suffered the consequences of losing in-person religious socialization and education, whether it be through daily seminary, weekly Sunday school classes, weekly youth nights or camps and conferences. Perhaps the silver lining in all of this that we can begin to see anew just how essential and protective these religious activities and education are in the lives of children and youth.

What remains to be studied is the influence religion (or the lack thereof) has had in shaping our children and youth’s post-pandemic lives. What effect did a parents’ religiosity have on their children during the pandemic? Which gospel traditions and daily religious habits were strengthened and which were weakened? What might the long-term effects of restrictions on religious education and activities have on our children and youth? How will this affect a young person’s future commitment to the gospel and membership in the Church? How many have been baptized or grown stronger in their faith during the pandemic–and how many have fallen away? While there is much to be researched, we can be hopeful knowing that any increased time engaging in church or family-based religious activities or traditions can follow (and bless) our children and youth for the rest of their lives.

Visit the rest of this website to find out what the research says about social issues and how to create, strengthen and heal your family by following the principles of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Print out a custom free scripture insert of the first-ever scripture annotated proclamation.

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