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Before They Drift Away

If you’ve read Real World Parents or have attended one of the seminars, you’ve heard us talk about the research of sociologist Christian Smith. His 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers provided key and practical insights for parents, youth workers, and educators.

Equally revealing and useful for parents is his newer work exploring the inner lives of 18-23-year-olds. In Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, Smith uncovers a generation even more disconnected than has been the norm for this stage of life in recent history. That disconnect extends especially to the willingness of young adults to continue in the traditional faith doctrines and practices of their upbringing.

For a thumbnail, you might want to check out The Lukewarm Generation, an excellent summary from W. Bradford Wilcox over on FirstThings.com. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but I liked his encapsulation of what Smith suggests we might be able to do to help keep our kids from simply drifting away from Christianity and into isolation in their college-age years.

According to Smith’s analyses, children are more likely to end up as committed and consistent young-adult believers if their parents integrate religious faith into daily family life; if children are exposed to engaging adult believers in their churches; if they have good religious friends; if they live chaste lives; and, interestingly, if they have to suffer for their faith.

This says to me, for starters, that our influence as parents in the lives of our young adult children starts when they’re much younger as we fully engage our families in the life of a healthy community of believers where joyful discipleship is taught and modeled.


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Ask God to help your child not to be blinded to truth by loving or worrying about money. (See Matt. 6:22-23.)

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