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What is the connection between childhood faith and adult religious commitment? Parents and religious leaders are naturally interested in knowing if spiritual investment in young lives pays off in the long run.
A recent study conducted by the Barna Group provides new insights into this age-old question. The survey asked adults to think back on their upbringing and to describe the frequency of their involvement in Sunday school or religious training. The Barna researchers then compared those reported early-life behaviors with the respondents’ current levels of faith activity and faith durability.
Kids and Teens Have Spirit
One of the remarkable facts about the current U.S. adult population is the breadth of people’s exposure to spiritual training as children and teenagers. More than eight out of every 10 adults remembers consistently attending Sunday school or some other religious training before the age of 12. Those who recall being involved typically said they were engaged every week. In fact, seven out of 10 adults (69%) said they attended religious programs weekly.
Adults recall their church involvement as teenagers as less frequent than their participation as children. Still, about seven out of 10 Americans recall going to Sunday school or other religious programs for teens at least once a month. And half (50%) indicated they had gone to such teen programs at least once a week, on average, when growing up.
Among the most active as children were Catholics (86%), upscale adults (78%), Midwesterners (76%), notional Christians (75%), college graduates (75%), women (73%), political conservatives (73%), and those ages 65-plus (73%). The least likely population segments to have attended Sunday school or other religious programming as children were atheists and agnostics (35%), people associated with faiths other than Christianity (52%), Asians (53%), unchurched adults (56%), 18- to 25-year-olds (59%), never-married adults (60%), Hispanics (61%), and residents of the West (63%).
The types of Americans most likely to recall religious participation as teenagers were evangelicals (61%), those ages 65-plus (60%), born again Christians (58%), Catholics (58%), women (56%), political conservatives (56%), residents of the Midwest (56%), married adults (55%), and Protestants (54%). On the other hand, atheists and agnostics (19%), members of other faith groups (30%), unchurched adults (31%), never-married individuals (33%), economically downscale adults (40%), and men (44%) were the least likely to have frequently attended Sunday school or other religious programs during their teen years.
How do childhood and teen engagement connect to adult spirituality? The research examined four elements of adult religious commitment: attending church, having an active faith (defined as reading the Bible, praying, and attending church in the last week), being unchurched, and switching from childhood faith.
When it comes to church engagement, those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children or as teens were much more likely than those without such experiences to attend church and to have an active faith as adults. For instance, among those who frequently attended such programs as a child, 50% said they attended a worship service in the last week, which is slightly higher than the national average and well ahead of those who rarely or never attended children’s programs. Among those who frequently attended religious programs as teenagers, 58% said they had attended a worship service in the last week. In comparison, less frequent participation as a teenager correlated with less frequent adult participation.
Measures of disassociation – being unchurched and changing from childhood faith – were also correlated with activity before age 18. The highest proportion of unchurched adults was found among those who had never attended as children or teenagers. Weekly activity as a child and weekly or monthly activity as a teen were connected with the lowest levels of disconnection from church attendance.
Similarly, a person’s likelihood to switch faith views at some point was also correlated to their early-life spiritual experiences. The survey asked if people had the same faith perspectives today as when they were a child or whether they had ever significantly changed their faith views. The study indicates that individuals who recalled frequent religious attendance as a child were less likely to have changed central faith views than were those who attended less often. For example, among those who frequently attended religious programs as a child, 22% had significantly changed their faith views from their childhood faith. Among those who went to teen religious programs every week, 21% changed their core faith views. Although those proportions are significant, they are substantially lower than the percentage of people who had attended such programs less often.
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, made several observations about the research. “It is important to clarify what this research does and does not indicate. First, correlation does not imply causation. This means that the research does not prove that spiritual activity as a young person causes spiritual engagement as an adult. In fact, the research confirms the pattern that many students who are active early in life disengage from their faith as they get older. And people’s recollections of childhood activities are only one limited way of understanding faith durability.
“However, the study shows that most American adults recall frequent faith activity when they were growing up. Moreover, it provides clarity that the odds of one sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18. And it raises the intriguing possibility that being involved at least a few times a month is correlated with nearly the same sticking power as weekly involvement – especially among teenagers.”
NEW YORK — So you’re between the ages of 13 and 24. What makes you happy? A worried, weary parent might imagine the answer to sound something like this: Sex, drugs, a little rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe some cash, or at least the car keys.
Turns out the real answer is quite different. Spending time with family was the top answer to that open-ended question, according to an extensive survey — more than 100 questions asked of 1,280 people ages 13-24 — conducted by The Associated Press and MTV on the nature of happiness among America’s young people.
Next was spending time with friends, followed by time with a significant other. And even better for parents: Nearly three-quarters of young people say their relationship with their parents makes them happy.
“They’re my foundation,” says Kristiana St. John, 17, a high-school student from Queens in New York. “My mom tells me that even if I do something stupid, she’s still going to love me no matter what. Just knowing that makes me feel very happy and blessed.”
Other results are more disconcerting. While most young people are happy overall with the way their lives are going, there are racial differences: the poll shows whites to be happier, across economic categories, than blacks and Hispanics. A lot of young people feel stress, particularly those from the middle class, and females more than males.
You might think money would be clearly tied to a general sense of happiness. But almost no one said “money” when asked what makes them happy, though people with the highest family incomes are generally happier with life. However, having highly educated parents is a stronger predictor of happiness than income.
And sex? Yes, we were getting to that. Being sexually active actually leads to less happiness among 13-17 year olds, according to the survey. If you’re 18 to 24, sex might lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general.
From the body to the soul: Close to half say religion and spirituality are very important. And more than half say they believe there is a higher power that has an influence over things that make them happy. Beyond religion, simply belonging to an organized religious group makes people happier.
And parents, here’s some more for you: Most young people in school say it makes them happy. Overwhelmingly, young people think marriage would make them happy and want to be married some day. Most also want to have kids.
Finally, when asked to name their heroes, nearly half of respondents mentioned one or both of their parents. The winner, by a nose: Mom.
“...two kinds of ice cream,” according to the song from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” John Lennon, more darkly, described it as a warm gun. A much more typical description comes from Stacy Rosales, a 23-year-old recent college graduate, who calls it “just a general stress-free feeling where I’m not really worried about anything. THAT makes me happy.”
For Chad Fiedler, 17, it’s “just waking up in the morning and looking forward to what I’m going to be doing that day.” And for Eoshe Roland, a 14 year old from Nashville, it’s “playing trumpet in my school band.”
However you express, define or feel it, 65% of those surveyed say they’re happy with the way things are going for them right now.
WE ARE FAMILY:
When asked what one thing makes them most happy, 20% mentioned spending time with family — more than anything else. About three-quarters — 73% — said their relationship with their parents makes them happy. After family, it was relationships with friends that people mentioned most.
“It’s good news to hear young people being realistic about what really makes them happy,” says psychologist Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me” and a professor at San Diego State University. “Research has shown us that relationships are the single greatest source of happiness.”
Also confirming existing research, Twenge says, is the finding that children of divorced parents are somewhat less likely to be happy. Among 13-17 year olds, 64% of those with parents still together said they wake up happy, compared to 47% of those with divorced parents.
FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES...:
Overall, romantic relationships are a source of happiness — but being in one doesn’t necessarily lead to greater happiness with life in general.
“It would be nice, but where I am right now is, I want to take care of myself,” says Rosales. “Before you can be in a committed relationship you have to know who you are and what you really want.”
Eventually, though, marriage is a goal for most young people, with 92% saying they either definitely or probably want to get married.
“I don’t want to be one of those career businesswomen who just doesn’t ever settle down,” says St. John, the New York high school student.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY:
Money may make the world go around, but when asked what one thing makes them happiest, almost nobody in the poll mentioned money or anything material. Still, money does play a role in happiness.
Those who can’t afford to buy many of the things they want are less happy with life in general. Just under half of young people think they’d be happier if they had more money, while the same percentage (49%) say they’d be just as happy.
“I’m going to college next year,” says Fiedler, who will attend Drexel University in Philadelphia. “Not the cheapest thing nowadays. Money isn’t the most important thing, but if something happens, it can turn into it.”
Young people in this survey had a 10% higher stress rate than adults did in a 2006 AP-Ipsos poll. For ages 13 to 17, school is the greatest source of stress. For those in the 18-24 range, it’s jobs and financial matters.
Only 29% feel very safe traveling, and 25% very safe from terror attacks. Still, those interviewed said the fear of terror interfered very little with their lives.
DRUGS AND ALCOHOL:
Alcohol users are slightly less happy than those who don’t drink. The differences are more remarkable among 13-17 year olds; just 40% of those who drank in the last seven days reported being happy with life, versus 68% of those who didn’t. And 49% of illegal drug users reported being happy with life, compared with 66% of those who didn’t use drugs.
While 72% of whites say they’re happy with life in general, just 56% of blacks and 51% of Hispanics say that. And 66% of whites were happy at the moment the interview began, compared with 57% of minorities.
SUSTENANCE FOR THE SOUL:
“I just like believing in something greater than me and everybody else,” St. John, who attends a Catholic school, says of her commitment to religion. “When I pray, sometimes it just makes me feel better, if I’m freaking out about things.”
Those for whom religion and spirituality plays a bigger role tend to be happier, according to the poll. More than half — 55% — say it is either a very important part of life or the single most important thing in their lives.
I NEED A HERO:
Oprah Winfrey? Michael Jordan? Hillary Clinton? Tiger Woods? All those names came up when people were asked about heroes. Of public figures, Martin Luther King, Jr. got the most mentions. But nearly half mentioned one of their parents, with mothers ranking higher (29%) than fathers (21%.)
“My parents came here from the Philippines in the ‘70s,” says Rosales. “They raised a family and got to where they are from scratch. My mother’s now the director of a hospital. I admire them both so much.”
“My mother is a pastor, and she’s my role model,” says Esohe, the 14 year old in Nashville. “She’s so giving.” Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to name their mothers.
Also mentioned: God (more than 10%), teachers (nearly 5%); and members of the military, policemen and firefighters.
THE CRYSTAL BALL:
Will young people grow up to be happy adults? Overall they’re optimistic: Sixty-two percent think they’ll be happier in the future than they are now. (Those over 18 are more optimistic.) But many anticipate a more difficult life than their parents had.
“I think a lot about my kids and what their lives are going to be like,” says Fiedler. “There may be wars going on, who knows. I just have a feeling it’s going to be harder for the future generation to be happy.”
Yet book after book, magazine after magazine, could easily lead you to believe otherwise. Oh, they don’t literally promise perfection. But the relentless series of easy, multi-step formulas — designed to stop tantrums, break your kids of junk food, get little ones to sleep through the night and avoid screaming matches — certainly leave you with the impression that perfection is (more or less) attainable.
Of course, it could be that the publishers of these books and magazines know their audience — and its hunger for pat answers. “We want guarantees,” writes Betsy Hart in her new book, It Takes a Parent. “But the only thing we really know is that we have a duty to as parents to persevere. And in that perseverance lies the best hope for our children.”
I recently had the privilege of appearing with Betsy on Michael Medved’s nationally syndicated radio show, and as a mother of three teenagers, I can truly appreciate her point. Most parents have solid instincts about what’s right and wrong, and they have a pretty good sense of how to raise their children to understand one from the other. These parents make mistakes — we all do — but they learn from them. The trick is in sticking with it, day after day, for years.
But as Betsy points out in her wise and readable book, stick with it we must. Why? Because we love our children — even when they’re unlovable. And because, as she puts it in a theme that recurs throughout the book, “we need to be on a rescue mission for our children’s hearts.” The reason is simple: What we do is a reflection of our character. If we persevere in planting good virtues in our children, we won’t have to worry so much about how they will behave under pressure. (Of course, we’ll never stop worrying altogether — we are parents, after all.)
Consider two people that Betsy uses as examples to show that “training can take over when it comes to the heart”: Bruce Ismay and Todd Beamer. Ismay was president of the White Star Line, which produced the Titanic and was on the ship when it sank. But unlike hundreds of his passengers, he survived. Why? Because, Betsy says, he was able to board a lifeboat “ahead of other potential male passengers because of his status.” Contrast that with Todd Beamer, who was on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. When it became apparent that terrorists were using the plane on a suicide mission, Beamer rallied his fellow passengers (“Let’s roll”) to stop their attackers. We know the result: Instead of slamming into the U.S. Capitol or a similar target, the plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
Was Bruce Ismay a born coward and was Todd Beamer a born hero? No. But in a moment of supreme peril, both showed their true character. Vice and virtue had no doubt been reinforced time and again during their lifetimes. When the Big Moment came, each acted accordingly.
So how can parents improve their chances of raising a hero? They can start, Betsy says, by recognizing that they have authority simply because they’re parents. They don’t have to plead with their children to behave. They should make it clear (from a very young age) that they expect to be minded. Sometimes this means (brace yourself, modern parents) saying a well-considered “no” and sticking to it. Despite what many parenting “experts” will say, your child won’t be scarred for life. Indeed, he’ll be much better off. If you really love him, you’re more concerned with shaping his character than with winning a popularity contest.
Having the guts to say “no” when appropriate is also a good way to save your children from what Betsy calls the “It’s All About Me” culture that surrounds us. Far too many parents enthrone their children and constantly reinforce the notion that the world revolves around them. In the process, they create monsters who are a terror not only to others but to themselves, if the rising rates of depression are any indication.
Needless to say, these spoiled children are filled with “self-esteem” (or the modern equivalent, at least — a counterfeit of true self-esteem). The trouble, as Betsy says, is that “it’s becoming clear that too much self-esteem can create narcissistic, arrogant, even dangerous people.” Parents who truly care about their children are willing to train them to be good people — not let them wallow in self-love.
Why go to this trouble? Because, Betsy says, “Children are not born with wisdom. Wisdom is gained only through experience or through the experience of watching or learning from others and being able to apply that experience to ourselves. These things require maturity, and they require parents, and other adults, who are willing to properly interpret such experiences for children.”
That’s why perseverance is crucial. As I say in my own book, Home Invasion: “Seize every minute, find reinforcements, gather all the resources you can, and quickly establish your family in faith, in unconditional love, and in open communication.”
It all comes back to that rescue mission. Have you launched one for your children?
When does a boy become a man? That interesting question was recently posed to me, and it raises some of the most important issues facing Christians today. While the world seems increasingly confused about matters as basic as what it means to be male and female, Christians are called to frame our arguments in distinctively biblical terms.
All around us, cultural developments and media messages communicate a fog of confusion over questions of gender. In reality, these issues lie right along the fault lines of today’s culture war and its most controversial points of debate. For many years, this society has been experimenting with the most fundamental realities of human existence. The essence of what it means to be male or female has been routinely discounted by a society infatuated with unlimited self-expression and assertions of personal autonomy.
Women are now joined by men, who complain that traditional expectations about gender roles are oppressive, limiting, and intolerant. An entire generation of young women is trying to find a way to genuine womanhood against the tidal force of ideological feminism. Similarly, boys and young men are desperately looking for models of manhood and answers to their urgent questions of male identity, male responsibility, and male roles.
Christians understand that God created human beings as male and female—for His glory and for our good. The differences between the sexes are not matters of evolutionary accident, but are clear indications of God’s sublime and perfect design for human happiness. As followers of Christ, we understand that it is our responsibility to embrace, affirm, and fulfill the roles and responsibilities God has given us.
In the context of this confusion, boys are especially vulnerable. The feminization of society, mixed with confusing cultural signals, has led many boys and young men to be uncertain and unaware of their masculinity and proper role. In a desperate search for a secure male identity, some are attracted to gross distortions. Some embrace a brutalized and arrogant posture while others retreat into insecure manhood, never understanding a man’s responsibility to lead.
We now face the phenomenon of perpetual boyhood on the part of many males. Refusing to grow up, these young men function as boys well into their twenties—some even into their thirties and beyond. An extended male adolescence marks the lifestyles, expectations, and behavior of far too many young males, whose masculine identity is embraced awkwardly, if at all.
When does a boy become a man? The answer to this must go far beyond biology and chronological age. As defined in the Bible, manhood is a functional reality, demonstrated in a man’s fulfillment of responsibility and leadership. With this in mind, let me suggest thirteen marks of biblical manhood. The achievement of these vital qualities marks the emergence of a man who will demonstrate true biblical masculinity.
1. Spiritual maturity sufficient to lead a wife and children. The Bible is clear about a man’s responsibility to exercise spiritual maturity and spiritual leadership. Of course, this spiritual maturity takes time to develop, and it is a gift of the Holy Spirit working within the life of the believer. The disciplines of the Christian life, including prayer and serious Bible study, are among the means God uses to mold a boy into a man and to bring spiritual maturity into the life of one who is charged to lead a wife and family. This spiritual leadership is central to the Christian vision of marriage and family life. A man’s spiritual leadership is not a matter of dictatorial power, but of firm and credible spiritual leadership and influence. A man must be ready to lead his wife and his children in a way that will honor God, demonstrate godliness, inculcate Christian character, and lead his family to desire Christ and to seek God’s glory. Spiritual maturity is a mark of true Christian manhood, and a spiritually immature man is, in at least this crucial sense, spiritually just a boy.
2. Personal maturity sufficient to be a responsible husband and father. Christians often speak of raising boys to be men. In the face of today’s cultural onslaught, this is an important goal. However, it is just not enough. Biblical manhood is always defined in terms of functions, roles, and responsibilities. True masculinity is not a matter of exhibiting supposedly masculine characteristics devoid of the context of responsibility. In the Bible, a man is called to fulfill his role as husband and father. Unless granted the gift of celibacy for gospel service, the Christian boy is to aim for marriage and fatherhood. This is assuredly a counter-cultural assertion, but the role of husband and father is central to manhood. Boys must be raised to see themselves as future husbands and fathers. They must be taught what to look for in a godly wife and how to fulfill all of the responsibilities that Scripture invests in a husband and father. Marriage is unparalleled in its effect on men, as it channels their energies and directs their responsibilities to the devoted covenant of marriage and the grace-filled civilization of the family. Boys must be taught what it means to be a husband, how to respect and honor marriage, and how to earn the respect and confidence of a wife. Similarly, boys must be taught about the responsibilities of fatherhood. Christians must reverse generations of inattention by speaking directly and clearly to boys about their future responsibilities, including the care, training, education, protection, and discipline of children. They must aspire to be the kind of man a Christian woman would gladly marry and children will trust, respect, and obey.
3. Economic maturity sufficient to hold an adult job and handle money. Advertisers and marketers know where to aim their messages—directly at adolescent boys and young men. This particular segment of the population is inordinately attracted to material goods, popular entertainment, sporting events, and other consumer options. The portrait of young manhood made popular in the media and presented as normal through entertainment is characterized by economic carelessness, self-centeredness, and laziness. A real man knows how to hold a job, handle money with responsibility, and take care of the needs of his wife and family. A failure to develop economic maturity means that young men often float from job to job, and take years to “find themselves” in terms of career and vocation. Once again, an extended adolescence marks a huge segment of today’s young male population. A boy must be taught how to work, how to save, to invest, and to spend money with care. He must be taught to respect labor, and to feel the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, and a dollar honestly earned. Too many boys are coddled and entertained, demonstrating a laziness that will be highly detrimental to their future prospects as husband and father. Slothfulness, laziness, and economic carelessness are marks of immaturity. A real man knows how to earn, manage, and respect money. A Christian man understands the danger that comes from the love of money, and fulfills his responsibility as a Christian steward.
4. Physical maturity sufficient to work and protect a family. Unless afflicted by injury or illness, a boy should develop the physical maturity that, by stature and strength, marks recognizable manhood. Of course, men come in many sizes and demonstrate different levels of physical strength, but common to all men is a maturity, through which a man demonstrates his masculinity by movement, confidence, and strength. A man must be ready to put his physical strength on the line to protect his wife and children and to fulfill his God-assigned tasks. A boy must be taught to channel his developing strength and emerging size into a self-consciousness of responsibility, recognizing that adult strength is to be combined with adult responsibility and true maturity.
5. Sexual maturity sufficient to marry and fulfill God’s purposes. As a boy develops into a man, he becomes aware of the sexual powers God has put within him. In an age saturated with distorted sexuality, bombarded with sexual stimulation, and confused by unbridled sexual passion, boys must be taught to discipline their sexual energies into anticipation of marriage. Even as the society celebrates sex in every form and at every age, the true Christian man practices sexual integrity, avoiding pornography, fornication, all forms of sexual promiscuity, and corruption. He understands the danger of lust, but rejoices in the sexual capacity and reproductive power God has put within him, committing himself to find a wife, and to earn her love, trust, and admiration—and eventually to win her hand in marriage. Boys must be taught to respect this incredible gift, and to protect this gift until, within the context of holy marriage, they are able to fulfill this gift, love their wives, and look to God’s gift of children. Male sexuality separated from the context and integrity of marriage is an explosive and dangerous reality. The boy must understand, even as he travels through the road of puberty and an awakened sexuality, that he is accountable to God for his stewardship of this great gift.
6. Moral maturity sufficient to lead as example of righteousness. Stereotypical behavior on the part of young males is, in the main, marked by recklessness, irresponsibility, and worse. As a boy grows into manhood, he must develop moral maturity as he aspires to righteousness, learning to think like a Christian, act like a Christian, and show others how to do the same. The Christian man is to be an example to others, teaching by both precept and example. Of course, this requires the exercise of responsible moral reasoning. Boys will not learn this on their own, but must be taught. True moral education begins with a clear understanding of moral standards, but must move to the higher level of moral reasoning by which a young man learns how biblical principles are translated into godly living and how the moral challenges of his day must be met with the truths revealed in God’s inerrant and infallible word.
Biblical manhood does not develop in a vacuum. A boy’s most important teacher is his dad, and one of a father’s chief responsibilities is to instruct and inspire his son into true manhood.
Next time: Seven More Marks of Biblical Manhood
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
When does a boy become a man? This is not just a hypothetical question, for an incredibly large number of boys and young men are struggling to answer this question, and many are without fathers who are faithful to guide them, or other male role models who offer inspiration and instruction. Furthermore, our society is so confused on these issues that boys are understandably puzzled. Tragically, far too many churches never even address this question, and thus sow the seeds of a greater and even more culpable confusion.
Part one of this series presented six vital marks of manhood, intended to define the transition from boy to man. Now, seven additional marks to complete the picture:
7. Ethical maturity sufficient to make responsible decisions. To be a man is to make decisions. One of the most fundamental tasks of leadership is decision-making. The indecisiveness of so many contemporary males is evidence of a stunted manhood. Of course, a man does not rush to a decision without thought, consideration, or care, but a man does put himself on the line in making a decision—and making it stick. This requires an extension of moral responsibility into mature ethical decision-making that brings glory to God, is faithful to God’s word, and is open to moral scrutiny. Parents often leave their sons unprepared for this role by making decisions for them, and by failing to teach boys how to think and reason in responsible terms, how to weigh evidence and think clearly, and how to prioritize values according to a biblical standard. A real man knows how to make a decision and live with its consequences—even if that means that he must later acknowledge that he has learned by making a bad decision, and then by making the appropriate correction.
8. Worldview maturity sufficient to understand what is really important. An inversion of values marks our postmodern age, and the predicament of modern manhood is made all the more perplexing by the fact that many men lack the capacity of consistent worldview thinking. For the Christian, this is doubly tragic, for our Christian discipleship must be demonstrated in the development of a Christian mind. The Christian man must understand how to interpret and evaluate issues across the spectrum of politics, economics, morality, entertainment, education, and a seemingly endless list of other fields. The absence of consistent biblical worldview thinking is a key mark of spiritual immaturity. A boy must be taught how to translate Christian truth into genuine Christian thinking. He must learn how to defend biblical truth before his peers and in the public square, and he must acquire the ability to extend Christian thinking, based on biblical principles, to every arena of life.
9. Relational maturity sufficient to understand and respect others. Psychologists now talk of “emotional intelligence,” or EQ, as a major factor in personal development. While the world has given much attention to IQ, EQ is just as important. Individuals who lack the ability to relate to others are destined to fail at some of life’s most significant challenges and will not fulfill some of their most important responsibilities and roles. By nature, many boys are inwardly directed. While girls learn how to read emotional signals and connect, many boys lack the capacity to do so, and seemingly fail to understand the absence of these skills. While a man is to demonstrate emotional strength, constancy, and steadfastness, he must be able to relate to his wife, his children, his peers, his colleagues, and a host of others in a way that demonstrates respect, understanding, and appropriate empathy. This will not be learned by playing video games and by entering into the privatized world experienced by many male adolescents. Parents—especially fathers—must draw their sons out of inwardness, and demonstrate what it means to relate to others as a man and as a Christian.
10. Social maturity sufficient to make a contribution to society. While the arena of the home is an essential and inescapable focus of a man’s responsibility, he is also called out of the home into the workplace and the larger world as a witness, and as one who will make a contribution to the common good. God has created human beings as social creatures, and even though our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, we must also fulfill our citizenship on earth. A boy must learn to fulfill a political responsibility as a citizen, and a moral responsibility as a member of a human community. The Christian man bears a civilizational responsibility, and boys must be taught to see themselves as shapers of the society even as the church is identified by our Lord as both salt and light. Similarly, a Christian man must learn how to relate to unbelievers, both as witness and as fellow citizens of an earthly kingdom.
11. Verbal maturity sufficient to communicate and articulate as a man. Here’s a striking phenomenon of our times—many adolescent boys and young men seem to communicate only through a series of guttural clicks, grunts, and inchoate language that can hardly be described as verbal. A man must be able to speak, to be understood, and to communicate in a way that will honor God and convey God’s truth to others. Parents must work with boys, requiring them to speak, to articulate, and to learn respect for language. This respect must extend to an ability to enunciate words so that articulation is clear and communication succeeds. This skill must be learned at the dinner table, in family conversation, and in one-on-one talk, especially between father and son. Beyond the context of conversation, a boy must learn how to speak before larger groups, overcoming the natural intimidation and fear that comes from looking at a crowd, opening one’s mouth, and projecting words. Though not all men will become public speakers, every man should have the ability to take his ground, frame his words, and make his case when truth is under fire and when belief and conviction must be translated into argument.
12. Character maturity sufficient to demonstrate courage under fire. The literature of manhood is replete with stories of courage, bravery, and audacity. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Now, with manhood both minimalized and marginalized by cultural elites, ideological subversion, and media confusion, we must recapture a commitment to courage that is translated into the real-life challenges faced by the Christian man. At times, this quality of courage is demonstrated when a man risks his own life in defense of others, especially his wife and children, but also anyone who is in need of rescue. More often, this courage is demonstrated in taking a stand under hostile fire, refusing to succumb to the temptation of silence and standing as a model and example to others, who will then be encouraged to stand their own ground. In these days, biblical manhood requires great courage. The prevailing ideologies and worldviews of this age are inherently hostile to Christian truth and are corrosive to Christian faithfulness. It takes great courage for a boy to commit himself to sexual purity and for a man to devote himself unreservedly to his wife. It takes great courage to say no to what this culture insists are the rightful pleasures and delights of the flesh. It takes courage to serve as a godly husband and father, to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It takes courage to maintain personal integrity in a world that devalues the truth, disparages God’s word, and promises self-fulfillment and happiness only through the assertion of undiluted personal autonomy. A man’s true confidence is rooted in the wells of courage, and courage is evidence of character. In the end, a man’s character is revealed in the crucible of everyday challenges. For most men, life will also bring moments when extraordinary courage will be required, if he is to remain faithful and true. Parents should give close attention to their sons’ character, for if character is corrupt, nothing else will really matter.
13. Biblical maturity sufficient to lead at some level in the church. A close look at many churches will reveal that a central problem is the lack of biblical maturity among the men of the congregation and a lack of biblical knowledge that leaves men ill equipped and completely unprepared to exercise spiritual leadership. Boys must be taught to know, to treasure, to honor, and to understand the Bible. They must know their way around the biblical text, and feel at home in the study of God’s Word. They must be taught how to read with care, “rightly dividing the word of truth,” and they must learn how to apply the eternal truths of God’s Word to the challenges of modern manhood. Furthermore, they must stand ready to take their place as leaders in the local church. While God has appointed specific officers for his church—men who are specially gifted and publicly called—every man should fulfill some leadership responsibility within the life of the congregation. For some men, this may mean a less public role of leadership than is the case with others. In any event, a man should be able to teach someone, and to lead in some ministry, translating his personal discipleship into the fulfillment of a godly call. There is a role of leadership for every man in every church, whether that role is public or private, large or small, official or unofficial. A man should know how to pray before others, to present the Gospel, and to stand in the gap where a leadership need is apparent.
When does a boy become a man? I’m glad I was asked this question, and this series represents my attempt to provide an answer that will be both faithful to Scripture and applicable to the real-life challenges faced by men today. More urgently, it was good for me to think through this question and articulate these hallmarks as I seek to show my own son how to grow into biblical manhood. I am absolutely sure that there is more to be thought and more to be said, but this may help us all to see the challenges before us.
Dads, you are absolutely crucial to the process of man-making. No one else can fulfill your responsibility, and no one else can match your opportunity for influence with your son. By word and by example, we are teaching our sons the meaning of manhood. May God make us faithful as we seek to lead our boys to become true Christian men.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Throughout the world, there are believers spreading the light of Christ in the darkest areas.
And as Jesus had done, many are going out and reaching to those labeled by society as the worst of sinners.
No doubt, there are often risks involved – risks that missionaries, pastors, chaplains, evangelists, and even everyday Christians choose to take for the proclamation of the gospel.
But are they risks that their parents would be willing to allow them to take if the decision was up to them?
That will likely depend on what their age is and what types of risks are being discussed here.
At a recent gathering of more than 3,000 children’s ministry workers, Pastor Larry Shallenberger encountered some unexpected resistance when leading a workshop on cultural trends that affect children’s ministry.
“We talked about the risks of raising children who were serious about bringing Jesus to all the children in their classrooms,” Shallenberger reported on Friday, recalling the events from the day before.
“The concern was that if we teach our children to have concern for ‘bad kids’ and to befriend them that their character would suffer,” he recalled in his personal blog.
While Shallenberger, pastor of Next Generations Ministries at Grace Church in Erie, Penn., said he is aware that a verse in the book of Proverbs says bad company corrupts good character, he also notes that “the savior of our children dined with famous sinners.”
“If our children are to imitate Jesus they are going to need to learn how to enjoy the rough kids in their class without being changed by them,” he says.
The idea of allowing or even encouraging their children to befriend “bad kids,” however, will not likely sit well with many parents, especially parents of teenagers.
When asked to identify the most significant or challenging issues facing their teenagers, most parents participating in a 2007 Barna survey listed peer pressure (42 percent), followed by performance in school (16 percent) and substance abuse (16 percent). Among parents of younger children, peer pressure was the second most significant or challenging issue mentioned (24 percent). Topping the list for parents of children was school performance (26 percent).
Parents of teens especially have reason to worry considering that young adults under 25 were found by a Barna poll late last year to be more than twice as likely as all other adults to engage in behaviors considered morally inappropriate by traditional standards.
Furthermore, the percentage of young people plagued by peer pressure issues more than doubles once a child reaches high school, George Barna of the Barna Group noted in his analysis of the 2007 study.
When asked by one participant of last week’s workshop if parents could teach their children to love their classmates without being friends with them, Shallenberger said the answer, in one word, is “no.”
“I’m convinced that children’s pastors need to cast a vision to families to raise children willing to serve and love lost people,” says Shallenberger.
And for parents who are concerned that their children will pick up sins while engaging “moral misfits,” Shallenberger says the only safeguard parents can offer their children is love.
“If our children are passionate about loving God and loving their neighbor (all of them) they will less likely to contaminate themselves,” he argues.
Furthermore, there may be greater risks in keeping children inside a protective “fortress” rather than properly equipping them for life in the world.
“We ... build these walls in a sincere but misguided effort to protect our children,” Shallenberger says.
However, Shallenberger says life “inside the fortress” creates an “Us-Them game” and builds boredom, cynicism, and legalism in children.
“God has given us children to develop. We are to multiply their talents and passions,” he says, referring to the parable of talents told by Jesus to his disciples.
“We are to give them a passion for lost people. If we bury these young ‘talents’ in an effort to not lose them, even for the most noble of reasons, we become the evil and lazy servant,” Shallenberger adds.
In mulling the tension between protecting children and raising Christ followers, Shallenberger came up with seven initial thoughts.
o There are no guarantees in parenting. There are no formulas.
o God loves our children. He is not asking us to discard our own children to reach the lost.
o If we raise children to hide behind our “fortress” they will grow up living behind the fortress.
o If our children watch us repairing our walls by being judgmental and hypocritical, they will grow up to do the same thing.
o There is no way to eliminate risk in the parenting process. (I’m the father of three sons).
o We need to challenge our children at age appropriate levels. I’m NOT advocating tossing our kids to the wolves.
o We still don’t believe that the two Great Loves are among the “Fundamentals.”
Shallenberger’s workshop was one of 60 that were presented during the course of last week’s “Conspire” conference, hosted by the Willow Creek Association in South Barrington, Ill.
Children’s ministry leaders representing 1,000 churches of varying styles, sizes, and locations gathered for the Mar. 18-20 event, which has been held annually under different names since 2003.
This year’s conference was held just a week after a study released by The Barna Group revealed that less than one percent of the youngest adult generation in America, those between ages 18 and 23, has a biblical worldview.
Furthermore, a study last month by LifeWay Research found that the majority of parents (60 percent) heavily rely on their own experiences growing up for parenting guidance but only one-fifth say they receive a lot of guidance from sacred text such as the Bible or Koran.
“We believe that when the church and home are working together in partnership, a child will be spiritually formed for a lifetime,” organizers of “Conspire” say.
The conference’s name, “Conspire,” is the combination of the words “connect” and “inspire.”
By Doug Giles
This week in the uber-liberal state of Massachusetts, another dense liberal has come up with one more dumb idea to potentially add to their states’ stack of stupidity.
The brain fart the libs pulled out of their booty this time was the proposal to make it illegal for parents to spank their unruly kids’ backsides. The culprit: Democratic Representative Jay Kaufman. The proposal: House Bill 3922 which would make it unlawful for parents to use corporal discipline on their children within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
It would also create a presumption that any spanking is child abuse and neglect. And this Kaufman critter is pro-abortion. Let’s see, according to Jay, it’s wrong to spank an eight year old who drowns puppies in the toilet, but it’s okay to crush the skull of a pesky unborn child. Okay, Jay.
Now, for the record, I am against child abuse and neglect (duh) and feel sorry for kids who have been the recipient of Mommie Dearest’s coat hanger. That said, I have no problemo with cool and modulated tough-loving parents wearing their kid’s butt out, if necessary, for bad behavior. To me and my admittedly warped worldview it’s child neglect and abuse for the parent not to apply the paddle when the little punk—I’m sorry, precious darling—needs it.
Question: How many of you have had the displeasure of being exposed to the kids whose parents didn’t spank them? If you haven’t seen one of these little hellions or you’re unsure if you have, just go to church, the mall, or Barnes and Noble and simply stop, look and listen for a moment. The kid who’s wailing like a siren or stamping his feet and holding his breath with his arms crossed, telling his grandmother to F— off because she won’t buy him a seven pound chocolate chip cookie, a bucket of coke, a $900 cell phone and the new Wii . . . FYI . . . that’s the kid who has not been spanked.
Kids who do not get spanked when they need it turn out to be nightmares on Elm Street, and we all know it. That’s why the Massachusetts moron and his house bill (and all others like it) should be shouted down and booed and hissed by the good parents of the USA like Donald Trump would be if he stumbled into a plus sized lesbian Tupperware soirée hosted by Rosie O’Donnell.
Generally speaking, undisciplined (read unspanked) kids ruin every atmosphere they enter. Whether it’s in school, or a family reunion, or at the pool, or during church, or just a quiet evening of simply trying to suck down some spaghetti at Macaroni Grill, the kid who hasn’t had his clock regularly cleaned by mom and dad, when needed, is a disaster we can count on to regularly pee on the public’s peace. Speaking of restaurants, why can’t we have a “Non-Screaming Kid” section? These little fiends and their coddling parents bug me way more than a thick cloud of second hand smoke ever could.
Now, not only should we have a Non-Screaming Kid section in restaurants, but we should also make it illegal for parents to refrain from smacking their children when they behave badly. I’m a thinkin’ that most of the crap the Left comes up with is bass akwards in regard to common sense and traditional values anyway so . . . ipso facto . . . we should, as good conservatives, volley into the legislative court the proposal that if your kid acts up in public and you don’t spank them then we fine or imprison you. We could call it House Bill 666: The Anti-Little-Damien-Act.
If after this law goes into place and some parents are a wee bit squeamish to spank their children or have been cowed into obedience to their toddler, the private sector could provide spanking stations throughout the city by every Starbucks, shopping mall, Toys R Us, Blockbuster and McDonald’s, where with parents’ permission, their Johnny could be yanked into line.
Inside the spanking station we’d employ only big black mamas who have no problem whatsoever beating the white, black, yellow or brown off the backsides of rebel children. The parents would bring their child to the station, tell big mama what the kid did, and big mama would spank the child with the weapon of the parents’ choosing for, say, three minutes for fifty bucks. What do you think?
Hey Kaufman, kids today are out of control. They cuss, spit, hit, scream, brandish weapons and throw fits, and parents don’t do squat. Consequently, we have a generation of entitled 13-year-old miscreants who have no problem killing their parents in their sleep for not letting them get their genitals pierced or their face tattooed with a Maori warrior tribal sign.
Look folks, nothing works like a loving rap on the butt of a stubborn kid. Time outs don’t work. You might think they do, but we all know while the little angel is in the corner for thirty minutes with the TV off he’s not thinking about what he did wrong but rather how he can get a lawyer to sue you or which set of drapes he’s going to light on fire when you go out for your afternoon jog.
In addition, reasoning with a kid doesn’t work either. Attempting to convince a four-year-old who eats his boogers that he really shouldn’t pull his 14-month-old sister’s eyelashes out is an exercise in futility.
Also, bribing your sweetie with gifts gets both old and expensive and yields no fruit except an obese, gadget glutted, entitled 12 year old who has a BMW he’s too young to drive.
Parent . . . just spank ‘em. They won’t die. They’ll get the message and respect you for it in the long run. Or if you don’t want to spank your kid, you can get a leash and walk them around like a dog—and if it gets really bad you can put them on drugs.
by Rebecca Hagelin
Do dads make a difference?
Judging by the way they’re often depicted in pop culture, the answer would seem to be no. From the big screen to the small screen, from books to advertisements, fathers are mostly bumblers, abusers or dullards.
When they’re around at all, that is: Many a plot revolves around deadbeat dads who are simply gone, and no one seems the worst for it. As a recent article in The Washington Post noted, “There’s an increasingly endangered species on modern television: functional marrieds.” The dysfunctional ones, by contrast, are legion. The message is clear: If you don’t have a father in your life, don’t sweat it. Heck, you’re probably better off.
Well, with Father’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to explode this so-called conventional wisdom for what it is: a vicious lie. In fact, a wealth of social-science data, much of which can be found on www.familyfacts.org shows the opposite to be true: Loving fathers bring a vital dose of love, security and stability to their wives and children and they make a very positive difference, indeed.
Here’s one finding about fathers — published in the journal Child Development and compiled from samples of girls in the United States and New Zealand, who were followed from age five to approximately age 18 — you can read in just two clicks from the familyfacts.com home page:
Even when controlling for differences in family background, father absence was associated with the likelihood that adolescent girls will be sexually active and become pregnant as teenagers. This association was strongest for daughters whose fathers were absent when they were younger. Compared with the pregnancy rates of girls whose fathers were present, rates of teenage pregnancy were 7 to 8 times higher among girls whose fathers were absent early in their childhoods and 2 to 3 times higher among those who suffered father-absence later in their childhood.
Another factor that positively affects the children in a family is whether a father is religiously active. W. Bradford Wilcox, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, conducted an extensive amount of research in this area for his book “Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands.” From it, the familyfacts.org site pulls this eye-opening finding:
Frequency of church attendance is a stronger predictor of paternal involvement in one-on-one activities with children than employment and income, and its effect is comparable to that of race, ethnicity, and education. Both active conservative and active mainline Protestant fathers have significantly higher one-on-one and youth involvement scores than their unaffiliated counterparts.
Yet where are the fathers that we so desperately need? Despite clear evidence of the positive difference that they make, we’ve seen their numbers drop precipitously over the last few decades. According to family expert Patrick Fagan of The Heritage Foundation, in 1950, 12 out of every 100 children born entered a broken family — four were born out of wedlock and eight saw their parents divorce. Fast forward 50 years, and the number quintuples: For every 100 born, 60 wind up in a broken family — 33 born out of wedlock and 27 see their parents divorce.
As Fagan concludes, in the space of one half century, America has transformed itself from being “a culture of belonging” to being “a culture of rejection.” And the children caught in the middle pay the price. As Fagan writes:
How much of a difference do these absent fathers make? Plenty. Survey data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, show that teen-agers without a dad around are almost twice as likely to be depressed as teen-agers from an intact married family. They are more than four times as likely to be expelled from school and three times as likely to repeat a grade. Drug and alcohol abuse is much more common. On top of that, they are also more likely to have sex before they are married-setting the stage for yet another fatherless generation.
Life without a father also is a good way to miss out on the American Dream. The poverty rate for all children in married-couple families is roughly 7%, NIH data show. By contrast, the poverty rate for all children in single-parent families is 51%.
Maybe the folks in the make-believe world of television and the movies can get by without “functional marrieds” and the dads who make up one half of that vital equation. But for those of us in the real world, fathers play an irreplaceable role. As I point out in my book, Home Invasion, they help us mothers raise the happy, healthy children who make a thriving society possible.
So to all the fathers out there: Don’t let the pop culture relegate you to oblivion. We need your leadership and your love – we need you. You are vital to your families, to our society and to our nation’s future. Please make every day a day of fathering.
Many families will celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday, but the tragic reality is that some 35-million children live absent or apart from their biological fathers. One in two children — and only one in five inner-city children — are in homes with their fathers.
Of course, any assertion that fathers are critical to the well-being of children will undoubtedly offend the PC NOW crowd — you know, those enlightened liberals who have, for the past four decades, insisted that mothers can do it all. Indeed, they’ve dismissed men as little more than a nuisance — one necessary for procreation but detrimental to proper parenting.
The Grande Dame of the so-called “women’s movement,” Gloria Steinem, once declared, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Liberal columnist Maureen Dowd’s forthcoming book, “Are Men Necessary?” is the latest manifestation of the man-hater movement.
Of course, many moms have no choice but to do it all because many fathers (in and out of their homes) have abdicated their responsibility for proper love, discipline, support and protection. The disastrous social consequences of this abdication are clearly evident and well documented. Though some single parents do manage to bring up relatively well-adjusted kids with the help of extended families, churches and schools, the correlation between social deviancy and fatherless homes is irrefutably linked.
Not all fathers are separated from their children voluntarily — many are forcibly removed by mothers who’ve bought into the lie that fathers aren’t necessary. Of course, there are also mothers who just want to upgrade. Under such circumstances, most state courts provide fathers limited responsibility or visitation with their children, and only now are some states acknowledging the critical role fathers play in the lives of their children.
Here is the truth — and it is a hard truth for men who have abandoned their families, but a harder truth for their children: Most social problems — crime, drug abuse, unwed pregnancy and abortion, youth suicide, school dropouts and the like — are the direct consequence of fatherless households.
“Children who grow up with their fathers do far better — emotionally, educationally, physically, every way we can measure — than children who do not,” notes Institute for American Values president David Blankenhorn. “This conclusion holds true even when differences of race, class and income are taken into account. The simple truth is that fathers are irreplaceable in shaping the competence and character of their children. ... [The absence of fathers] from family life is surely the most socially consequential family trend of our era.”
Indeed it is.
Here are some sobering statistics: According to the CDC, DoJ, DHHS and the Bureau of the Census, 63% of teen suicides, 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions, 71% of high-school dropouts, 75% of children in chemical-abuse centers, 80% of rapists, 85% of youths in prison, 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders, and 90% of homeless and runaway children are children from fatherless homes. In fact, children born to unwed mothers are ten times more likely to live in poverty as children with fathers in the home.
“[The causal link between fatherless children and crime] is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime,” notes social researcher Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. More to the point, a counselor at a juvenile-detention facility in California, which has the nation’s highest juvenile-incarceration rate, protested, “[If] you find a gang member who comes from a complete nuclear family, I’d like to meet him. ... I don’t think that kid exists.”
“Maturity does not come with age, but with the accepting of responsibility for one’s actions,” writes Dr. Edwin Cole. “The lack of effective, functioning fathers is the root cause of America’s social, economic and spiritual crises.”
History also records the exploits of those who grew up without fathers, or with weak or abusive fathers. They became Adolf Hitler, Iosif Vissarionouich Djugashvili (Joseph Stalin), Mao Zedong and Saddam Hussein.
In any case, never let it be said that the Left allows facts to get in the way of its agenda. Arguably, liberal social policies are directly responsible for generations of homeless children, particularly black children. As we’ve noted before, Democrats have a vested interest in keeping blacks and other constituencies dependent on the state; such a dependency, after all, creates a strong allegiance.
The man-hating Left is not content merely to eradicate the traditional family. They also want to eradicate Judeo-Christian values from the home. Take NOW’s website, for example, which proclaims, “Underneath the facade of Christian religion are the workings of the radical religious right, mobilizing men against the rights of women, lesbians, and gays.” The University of Virginia’s Bradford Wilcox notes in a recent Heritage Foundation report that the Left sees religion as “a key factor in stalling the gender revolution at home.”
Is this agenda what generations of Americans have toiled and died to preserve?
Founder John Adams understood well: “The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families.... How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers?” Abigail Adams wrote, “What is it that affectionate parents require of their Children; for all their care, anxiety, and toil on their accounts? Only that they would be wise and virtuous, Benevolent and kind.”
So where to from here?
On Father’s Day, we should, indeed, pay tribute to the irreplaceable institution of fatherhood — and the importance of a father’s love, discipline, support and protection for his children. On this and every other day, those of us who are fathers should encourage other fathers to be accountable for their children. There is much that can be done for the fatherless — mentoring through Boy Scouting, coaching little-league sports, teaching in Sunday school, becoming a school tutor, and volunteering to work with high-risk kids through an inner-city ministry, to name just a few.
As for this father, it is a privilege beyond all others to be a husband and father of three, and no reward could be greater than the smiles and hugs that attend a close relationship with my children.
Quote of the week...
“A special bond exists between a father and his children. On Father’s Day, we recognize the important role fathers play in the American family, and we honor them for their strength, love, and commitment. A father’s words and actions are critical in shaping the character of his children. A father’s love helps teach them right from wrong, explains to them the consequences of bad decisions, and strengthens them with encouragement. We honor our fathers on this [Father’s Day and] express our heartfelt appreciation for their leadership, support, and protection for their children and families. We particularly recognize the many fathers who are far from home, serving our Nation and defending the cause of freedom around the world.”
—President George W. Bush
Mark Alexander is Executive Editor and Publisher of The Federalist Patriot, a Townhall.com member group.
Religion can be good for the kids, a new study has found.
Kids whose parents regularly attended religious services and talked with their kids about religion are better behaved and adjusted than other children, revealed John Bartkowski, a sociologist at Mississippi State University, according to LiveScience.
Bartkowski and his colleagues surveyed the parents and teachers of more than 16,000 kids—mainly first-graders. Kids were rated on self control, poor or unhappy behavior, and how well they respect and work with their peers.
The ratings were compared to how frequently the children’s parents said they attended worship services, talked about religion with their kids and argued about religion in the home.
Researchers found that when parents, especially both, attend religious services frequently and talk about religion with their children, the kids had better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.
No comparison, however, could be made among children of different religious groups such as Protestant kids and Catholic kids and which is better behaved.
Explaining some of the reasons religion has a positive impact on behavior, Bartkowski says religious networks provide social support to parents which can improve parenting skills. Also, the types of values and norms that circulate congregations tends to be self-sacrificing and pro-family, the sociologist told LiveScience. On a third note, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance, he said.
For kids whose parents argued frequently about religion, the children were more likely to have problems, the study found.
“Religion can hurt if faith is a source of conflict or tension in the family,” said Bartkowski.
The sociologist further noted it’s possible that children’s behavior can affect the parents’ attendance in a religious service.
“There are certain expectations about children’s behavior within a religious context, particularly within religious worship services,” he said, according to LiveScience. These expectations might frustrate parents and make congregational worship “a less viable option if they feel their kids are really poorly behaved.”
The study will be published in the Social Science Research journal.
The self-esteem movement has transformed much of America, but this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the schools. A brilliant article in New York Magazine provides a fascinating glimpse into why the movement is crashing and burning.
As writer Po Bronson explains:
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.
Author Melanie Phillips offered a devastating critique of the movement in her book All Must Have Prizes. As she revealed, achievement in all areas was being replaced with exercises intended to boost self-esteem. Every player on the team has to receive a prize and all prizes have to be equal. She put it this way in 2003:
Surely, in the immortal words of John McEnroe, they cannot be serious? Alas, the latest pronouncement from those in charge of our exam system is truly beyond satire.
Their new idea for boosting examination success is to abolish the very idea of failure, along with the difference between the right and the wrong answer to a question.
That was in Britain, but the same trends are fully present on this side of the Atlantic. Nevertheless, the point of Bronson’s article is that the tide appears to be turning. Take a look at this section:
For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10% on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.
When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85% of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100%. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.
But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.
It seems that a growing body of research indicates that the self-esteem movement, which argued for praising intelligence rather than effort, may be hurting the kids it claims to help. Bronson reports on the research conducted by Carol Dweck, Lisa Blackwell, and Roy Baumeister:
Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.
After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”
Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”
New York University professor of psychiatry Judith Brook explains that the issue for parents is one of credibility. “Praise is important, but not vacuous praise,” she says. “It has to be based on a real thing—some skill or talent they have.” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.
Scholars from Reed College and Stanford reviewed over 150 praise studies. Their meta-analysis determined that praised students become risk-averse and lack perceived autonomy. The scholars found consistent correlations between a liberal use of praise and students’ “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.”
Dweck’s research on overpraised kids strongly suggests that image maintenance becomes their primary concern—they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down. A raft of very alarming studies illustrate this.
The article indicates that older children and teenagers learn to become cynical about the undeserved praise they receive from parents, teachers, and others. They actually perform better if they receive serious and skilled criticism, rather than empty praise.
The article is a must-read for parents, teachers, and all concerned with the culture around us. The article is devastating to the self-esteem movement, but encouraging to all who hope for a recovery of cultural sanity — at least on this one significant point. Praising effort and achievement yields positive results. Praising for the sake of praising hurts far more than it helps. It is a recipe for individual and social disaster.
Supplemental Articles in a separate file (click here to read)