Baptist Survey Finds
Many Teens in Trouble

50% say they cheat, 25% have considered suicide,
but 93% pray regularly

By Terri Lackey
Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A recent survey of Southern Baptist teenagers revealed three-fourths have trouble with their tempers, nearly half cheat on tests and almost one- fourth have thought about killing themselves.

The same survey, however, shows 78 percent don't drink, 83 percent do not take drugs and a total of 93 percent pray "daily" or "weekly."

"It's shocking to know that some of the same kids who think about killing themselves may pray either daily or weekly," said Clyde Hall, manager of the Sunday School Board's youth discipleship section.

The survey included 2,501 youth surveyed at 1997 summer youth conferences. Ninety-five percent of the youth answering the survey claimed to be Christians. Fifty-five percent of the respondents were female; 45 percent were male.

A random sample of 500 was analyzed from the total number of youth surveyed, according to Hall, who commissioned the survey. He said the findings cannot be projected to all Southern Baptist youth, but only to those who participated in the survey.

On the issue of teens contemplating suicide, an analysis by school grade revealed that 25 percent of high school students compared to 18 percent of all junior high students considered killing themselves.

Hall said he believes the older students feel more pressure to succeed.

"I think older youth are feeling and reacting to stress brought on by school, the strong desire of their parents to see them succeed, pressure to excel, meet standards and just trying to please and be the best," Hall said.

Forty-four percent of the youth said they "sometimes" cheat on tests, while 48 percent do not. Eight percent of those surveyed said "yes" they do cheat on tests.

"I think the pressure to succeed at school is part of the reason they cheat on tests and have trouble with their tempers," Hall said. "You can tell by looking at the percentage who pray and who don't drink or take drugs that they are basically good kids. There's just so much going on in their lives."

Of the youth surveyed, 64 percent read their Bibles weekly or daily, yet 51 percent said they seldom tell people about Jesus, and 79 percent would or might date someone who is not a Christian.

"Youth are reading the Bible. They know about the Bible, but they don't know the Jesus of the Bible," Hall said. "They don't seem to have a personal relationship with him, and so they don't tell others about him.

"That gets to some of the problems at the heart of youth ministry. Some youth programs are more about fun and activity and less about discipling and equipping," Hall said. "As ministers, we have to do a better job, a more purpose-oriented job, in helping our youth know who Jesus is."

Meanwhile, nearly half the teens surveyed (47 percent) said violence in movies does not upset them. Likewise, almost half (44 percent) of the youth are not bothered by nudity in movies, but it does concern 54 percent of them.

Eighteen percent of the 76 percent who indicated they have some problems containing their anger reported having serious temper problems.

"Basically, our youth have become desensitized to violence and its effects on them," Hall said. "They think, 'It must be OK if it's on television.' I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that our youth have trouble containing their tempers or that they act out."

Twenty-nine percent of the youth respondents said they were "sort of" holding a grudge against someone in their youth group and 8 percent said they were definitely holding a grudge against a friend. However, 63 percent of the youth respondents said they were not holding a grudge against someone in their youth group.

"Youth are not being taught ways to deal with anger or hostile feelings. They are not being encouraged to relate to one another and to have relationships based on Christian principles of love and Jesus and peace," Hall said.

"They get their impressions from entertainment media that say, 'Be a bully. Take from life what you want.' It doesn't seem like 'turn the other cheek' exists in today's culture," he said. "Youth might need to learn more about valuing other human beings."

Hall said parents and youth leaders have to be very intentional about teaching youth "what's right and what's wrong."

He mentioned several youth products produced by the Sunday School Board that can help in that intentional teaching. Those include: "Share Jesus Without Fear," youth edition (due out in May); StraighTrak: Teen Bible Studies on Current Issues;" "The DiscipleLife Strategy" (comprehensive, church-based youth discipleship program that includes Bible study, short-term topical and in-depth studies, events and special projects); "Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Youth Edition;" "Winning in the Land of Giants" (fosters healthy self-esteem among teenagers); "Setting You Free to Make Right Choices," based on the Right from Wrong series; and "Fake Answers" and "Violence -- The Desensitized Generation" (both examine issues facing teens day). For a youth ministry catalog with a complete listing of youth products, call (615) 251-2855.

Other findings in the 1997 survey include:

Approximately three-fourths (74 percent) said sex before marriage is wrong. That's a 6 percent increase over the 68 percent who answered the 1994 survey. Three percent of the youth said sex before marriage is "OK." Eleven percent said it's OK only if the people love each other; another 11 percent just weren't sure how they felt, and 1 percent didn't answer the question.

The majority (51 percent) of the youth surveyed said they handle their problems with others by "sitting down and talking it through." When checking "all that apply," the youth said they also handle problems with other people by: ignoring them (26 percent); crying (14 percent); tearing things up (8 percent); clamming up (8 percent); and most or all of the above (26 percent).

A total of 73 percent of the youth said they would lie for a friend to keep him or her out of trouble (24 percent, yes; 49 percent, maybe). Ten percent said they would not, and 17 percent said they were undecided.

Seventy-one percent of the youth surveyed said they lie to their parents, 28 percent said they do not and 1 percent didn't answer the question. Of those who said they lie to their parents, the majority (56 percent) do so seldom, and 32 percent do so occasionally.

The majority (58 percent) reported they "sometimes go along with what their friends do, even if they know it is wrong." An additional 7 percent do this on a regular basis. However, 35 percent of the youth reported they do not participate in wrongful acts with friends.

Fifty percent of the youth said their friends do (8 percent) or sometimes do (42 percent) get them into trouble, while 48 percent said their friends do not get them into trouble. Two percent of those answering the survey said they are more likely to get their friends into trouble.

A total of 91 percent of the youth said they make excuses when they know they are wrong or trying to cover up a mistake. (68 percent marked sometimes, while 23 percent marked yes.)

Seventy-seven percent said they do (9 percent) or they sometimes (68 percent) say bad things about people behind their backs. However, 23 percent said they do not speak badly of others when not around.

Hall said the surveys are conducted to give the SSB's discipleship department a handle on what type of resources youth need.

Posted: January 28, 1998
Copyright ©1998 Baptist Press

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