Cultivation Blog

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Increasing Faith & Reducing Risky Behavior

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In my last blog, I detailed some of the distinctions and differences in today’s teens, known as the Millennial Generation. In this blog I want to discuss something that hasn’t changed.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” I think that old adage originated while watching the behavior of a group of teenagers. The truth is, teens will often adopt the values and behaviors of the peers they are hanging around. When a parent tells me their teenage child’s values and morals have suddenly changed, I usually respond by asking, “Has the group of friends he or she hangs around with changed recently?”

As close as Millennials are to their parents, they still want to be accepted and be a significant part of their peer group. For many teens, being embraced by their peers is more important than embracing their parents’ values. During the early and middle teen years, belonging is a Herculean instinct.

The implications to parents are obvious– watch carefully and discreetly guide your children into healthy friendships (especially when they are younger).

As for the church, we need to recognize that Affiliative faith is the dominant style of faith for most teens. Affiliative faith is the faith of belonging. When a parish intentionally builds a vibrant faith community, where teens feel like they belong and are meaningfully connected, the better chance they will function in life with the faith and values of that community. As important as faith content is to developing committed Catholics, it can be done in vain if it is not accompanied within a real and meaningful experience of Christian community. (For more on Affiliative faith)

Recent brain research reveals that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain used in decision-making, linking action to consequence is not fully developed until young adulthood. Reducing the context for risky behavior during adolescence is an important role for the parish community to play. If we take pains in building  strong positive peer pressure among teens and fully socialize them into the life and mission of the faith community, we will help reduce the risky behaviors that teens are famous for.

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