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The Decline in the Prevalence of Religion Among American Adolescents

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For thousands of years Christianity has been a mass movement worldwide. So why is it that a tradition so relevant in human history is seeing a decrease in it’s following? After years of consistency why, until just recently, has this tradition been flourishing? Research would suggest that this is largely to do with parents’ religious influence on their children. It should be addressed that parents can have different religious views and this can also affect their children’s religious future. In essence recent surveys and research show that younger generations are becoming less religious than their predecessors largely due to their parents.

First and foremost is to address how parents so largely influence their children’s future religious behaviors. Socialisation in childhood and adolescence is the biggest principle by which religious beliefs and behaviors are passed from one generation to the next. This criteria includes a child’s observation, participation, and education. The fortitude and stability a parent shows in their behavior has a direct relationship to religious values of their children. This idea relates to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory which states that the strength and consistency of the parents’ behavior determines the extent to which religious and political values are transmitted to the next generation. This idea would explain how parents religious tendencies are passed down to their children. A religious parent who is not firm and consistent in their practices, no matter how religious they believe themselves to be, will ultimately reflect on their children’s future religious commitments. A limitation to this that could be argued are the other surrounding influences of peer groups, siblings, and idols. However, considering the indirect influence a parent has on their child (Jennings Et al. 2009: 795) when deciding what other adults and children their kids encounter, which schools they attend, and what media they consume this limitation would be settled. It is unquestionable that parents religiously influence their children. Parents’ behaviors and tendencies will shape their child’s future religious involvement which can undoubtedly produce a less religious generation.

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A noteworthy feature of religious socialism is that it is aimed at reproduction rather than increase. To further detail parents’ affect on their children’s religion, there’s the idea that parents are content when their children are religiously similar to themselves. This idea differs from health, education and social status, where parents tend to hope for inter-generational improvement. Like partisanship and racial identity, religion has high rates of intergenerational reproduction as compared to less consequential values and behaviors such as opinions on particular current issues, which are more affected by changing political contexts (Jennings et al. 2009: 785) What this means is that religious ideas between parents and their children are typically the same because religious ideas are consistent and rarely changing. From this it can be concluding that parents are satisfied when their children match their religious commitments; they do not expect their children to be more religious than themselves. By merely setting the “religious bar” at an equal and not higher standard for their children it is more likely that the next generation could fall short of their parents’ religious commitments. Eventually this continuation would create a pattern of less religious generations from their predecessors.

It is not uncommon to see parents with different religious values and commitments. Some would argue that this would counter the claim that parents’ religious behaviors affect their children’s religious tendencies. This is due to the idea that having two conflicting religious ideas would be confusing for children and create irregular data. However, this is not the case. Firstly, a consistent finding across the Western world is that women are generally more religious than men on a wide range of measures (Walter and Davie 1998; Sullins 2006). The takeaway from this there may be a difference in the way mothers and fathers transmit religiosity to their offspring. Another American panel study conducted by Willits and Crider in 1989 found that mother’s attendance was a better predictor of church attendance in young adulthood than father’s attendance. Studies have also shown that having parents with different religious values have children who are less religiously involved. Having two conflicting religious views in a household can affect a child’s religious involvement but essentially it’s more related to a single parent’s tendencies which refutes the counter argument.

The decreasing involvement of younger generations in religion is a growing and prevalent situation. For churches and religious affiliations wishing to counter this the best solution would be to focus more on the parents religious involvement than the children. As research has shown parents play a significant role in children’s religious behavior in adulthood. The more the parents attend religious services, the more their children attend too, on average. The association is very strong although behind these averages there is some variation. By targeting parents and moving their focus from young adults with already set opinions, they can gain not just the parents but their kids as well. Also in gaining young attendees, Churches and religious affiliations are more likely to see a consistent return from them throughout adulthood than someone who did not attend church as a kid. The takeaway from this is that the best way to stop the decrease in religion among generations is to gain their parents as consistent followers to create a set routine in their children early on.

Generations have become less religious throughout the years and parents are largely at fault. The slow decrease in religion across the board is not going to dissipate by itself and will only continue to grow unless new ideals are set in place. A tradition that has prevailed for thousands of years is on the decline and the best solution can only be achieved through the parents of upcoming generations.

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