Good news for parents: Teenagers responding to a recent survey stated that it's not things, but relationships, that make them happy. Even more good news: The relationships that make them happiest are their relationships with us, their parents!
"So you're between the ages of 13 and 24. What makes you happy?" began a report by the Associated Press. "Spending time with family was the top answer to that open-ended question. . . . Nearly three-quarters of young people say their relationship with their parents makes them happy."
The report goes on to say that these young people "overwhelmingly" want to be married someday and have children, which implies that many of them are seeing some great examples. Also, "close to half say religion and spirituality are very important" and help make them happy. In all, "65 percent of those surveyed say they're happy with the way things are going for them right now."
So despite growing up in a toxic culture that emphasizes materialism and sensuality, the majority of kids still value people more than things and appreciate their parents for more than just what Mom and Dad can buy for them. And many of them have an interest in spiritual matters. It's great to feel that, as a parent, you're doing something right, isn't it?
All the same, we can't let ourselves get too complacent about this. When you look deeper into the study, you realize that we parents still have some work to do. And one of the areas for improvement, strange as it may sound, is teaching children what happiness really means.
Not many of the teens interviewed for the article seemed to have a very clear definition of happiness besides being "stress-free." That may not sound like much, but research suggests that even that hazy definition may be over-emphasized in teens' lives.
Chuck Colson once delivered a BreakPoint commentary on the insightful book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. As that book showed, "many religious teens just don't get the point of religion. They unknowingly subscribe to a philosophy that [the book's authors] call 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.'"
Instead of learning the basic tenets of their faith or developing a loving relationship with God, teens are simply absorbing a belief that if you try to be good all the time, you will be happy—and being happy is what life's all about. This philosophy, the authors suggest, "is colonizing many historical religious traditions and . . . converting believers in the old faiths to its alternative religious vision of divinely underwritten personal happiness and interpersonal niceness."
Comments from teens who took the new survey echo this idea, such as one girl's vague remark, "I just like believing in something greater than me and everybody else."
When we look at it from that angle, we see that while parents are to be commended for supporting their kids and helping them feel a general sense of well-being, we could be doing a much better job of teaching them the tenets of their faith.
It's marvelous that our children understand that relationships are essential to happiness. Now, we must help them realize what happiness is: knowing, loving, and serving the living God. When they understand that, then we can praise Him—and even give ourselves a pat on the back.
From BreakPoint®, September 4, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship