Young people's faith doesn't grow in a vacuum

March 26, 2020

Young people who are given a religious upbringing at home by both parents have the strongest faith in God throughout their adolescence. Distancing from and wavering in faith are also less likely among them. They are also clearly different from their peers who are given a religious upbringing by one parent only, or by neither.

The findings were reported in British Journal of Religious Education. The 10-year longitudinal study explored changes in faith in transition to adulthood from the viewpoint of religious upbringing at home. The study participants, 14 -15-year-old adolescents confirmed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, were followed up until they reached the age of 25. The study especially focused on young people who were not given a religious upbringing at home: how do they differ from those who have been given a religious upbringing, could their faith become stronger in transition to adulthood, and which factors play a role.

"In roughly half of the young people studied, their faith remained fairly stable from the age of 15 to the age of 25. However, one in three became more distant from faith, both according to their own assessment and a longitudinal analysis. One in seven felt they had become closer to God or that their faith had become stronger," says Professor of Practical Theology Kati Tervo-Niemelä from the University of Eastern Finland.

According to Professor Tervo-Niemelä, other religious influences also tend to accumulate in young people who have been given a religious upbringing at home, whereas young people who do not get a religious upbringing at home are less likely to get it elsewhere, either.

"Many of the young people studied said that they were surrounded by a non-religious atmosphere everywhere, including among friends and family."

Young people who were not given a religious upbringing at home were also more likely to become distant from faith after the confirmation period, although this period was often experienced as faith-growing.

"It is noteworthy that the developmental path of young people who were given a religious upbringing by one parent only is closer to that of young people who were not given a religious upbringing by neither of the parents, than to that of young people who have been given a religious upbringing by both parents."

The findings of the study highlight the importance of both parents as role models in a young person's religious growth.

"However, young people who have not been given a religious upbringing at home aren't necessarily destined to become distant or estranged from faith: other factors outside the home environment can contribute to the growth of their faith," Tervo-Niemelä points out.

One such factor for most young people is the confirmation period. Other important factors were the influence of grandparents, parish workers young people had become familiar with, and school. School was regarded as something that contributed to general education, whereas the confirmation period and the influence of grandparents and parish workers was described as something that had a deeper influence on faith.

"Overall, the findings strongly indicate that a young person's faith isn't born and doesn't grow in a vacuum: it needs supporting experiences and people who give an example of what it is like to have faith. The influence of just one person can be course-altering."
Article: Kati Tervo-Niemelä (2020) Religious upbringing and other religious influences among young adults and changes in faith in the transition to adulthood: a 10-year longitudinal study of young people in Finland, British Journal of Religious Education, DOI: 10.1080/01416200.2020.1740169

For further information, please contact:

Professor Kati Tervo-Niemelä: kati.tervo-niemela(at), tel. +358 50 325 3876

University of Eastern Finland

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