Ryan Woodbury and Dr. Sam Hardy, Department of Psychology
As mentioned in my proposal, we sought to understand adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions of religious norms and how those norms predicted adolescents’ positive and negative behaviors. We asked six questions to help guide our research:
- What do adolescents think their religions encourage and discourage?
- What behaviors do parents think their religion encourages and discourages in teenagers?
- Are there gender and religious affiliation differences in adolescent and parent perceptions?
- Are adolescent and parent perceptions related?
- Are adolescent and parent perceptions predictive of adolescent behavior?
- Does religious involvement moderate relations between adolescent/parent perceptions and adolescent behavior?
We measured perceived norms both qualitatively (open-ended questions about what adolescents and parents perceive their religion telling adolescents to do or not to do) and quantitatively (adolescents and parents rated how much they perceived their religion encouraged or discouraged 18 behaviors).
I will answer each question, and then give an overall conclusion on how religious norms may play a role in understanding adolescent behavior.
Question 1: What do adolescents think their religions encourage and discourage? Nearly 400 adolescents responded to qualitative and quantitative questions. Quantitatively, adolescents perceived Stealing as most discouraged, and Telling the truth as most encouraged. Qualitatively, adolescents’ open-ended responses totaled over 1,000 per question (either encouraged or discouraged by their religion). These individual responses were coded into similar categories so overall themes could be used instead of hundreds similar individual responses. Researchers coded individual responses, which then produced eight adolescent themes (three encouraged themes, five discouraged themes). Adolescents responded
that the most discouraged behavior was “Dishonesty” (i.e., lying, cheating, stealing), and the most encouraged behavior was “Relationships” (i.e., Be kind, helpful, loving to others).
Question 2: What behaviors do parents think their religion encourages and discourages in teenagers? Of the 400 adolescents, about 300 of their parents responded to similar qualitative and quantitative questions as their adolescent. Quantitatively, parents also perceived that Stealing was most discouraged, and Telling the truth was the most encouraged adolescent behaviors. Qualitatively, parent responses also totaled nearly 1,000 per question. And again, the same coding procedure used for adolescent responses was used for parent responses. Parent responses, however, had nine themes emerge. Eight of the nine themes were similar in content (and therefore labeled the same) as adolescent themes. The other parent theme, “Encouraged to Avoid bad things/activities”, was the only different theme between parent and adolescents. The most frequent encouraged and discouraged themes occurring with parent responses were “Relationships” and “Vices” (i.e. substance abuse, pornography), respectively.
Question 3: Are there gender and religious affiliation differences in adolescent and parent perceptions? Overall, there are very few gender differences (for adolescent and parent gender), and quite a few religious affiliation differences (for adolescent and parent religious affiliation). There were no adolescent gender differences, mothers and fathers significantly differed on 11 of the 18 quantitative ratings, where mothers rated all negative behaviors as more discouraged and all positive behaviors as more encouraged than fathers. Quantitatively, no significant gender differences emerged for either adolescents or parents. For all religious affiliation analyses (adolescents’ quantitative ratings religious affiliation differences, adolescents’ quantitative themes religious affiliation differences, parents’ quantitative ratings religious affiliation differences, and parents’ quantitative themes religious affiliation differences), found significant differences between religious affiliations. Sixteen of the 18 adolescent quantitative ratings were
significantly different between six different religious affiliations (non-religious, Mainline Protestant, Conservative Protestant, Catholic/Orthodox, Jewish, Other Protestant), while all 18 parent quantitative ratings were significantly different between the six religious affiliations. Frequency of adolescent qualitative themes significantly differed on one encouraged theme and two discouraged themes. Frequency of parent qualitative themes significantly differed on two encouraged themes and three discourage themes.
Question 4: Are adolescent and parent perceptions related? In short, mostly yes. To explore these relations, we performed correlational analyses. These analyses suggested that all adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions were significantly related.
Question 5: Are adolescent and parent perceptions predictive of adolescent behavior? We explored this question by correlating adolescent and parent quantitative perceptions to adolescent behavior. We specifically looked at the correlation of particular ratings of behavior with the matched adolescent behavior (frequency within the past year). What we found was that while both adolescents’ perceptions and parents’ perceptions were related to adolescent behaviors, parents’ perceptions were more related to adolescent behavior. Therefore, overall, parents’ perceptions have higher predictive power in relation to adolescent behavior.
Question 6: Does religious involvement moderate relations between adolescent/parent perceptions and adolescent behavior? One of the purposes of this study was to explore a possible mechanism whereby adolescents internalize religious teachings. Researchers have only explored religious involvement and salience without measuring perceived norms explicitly. We explored this gap by using religious involvement as a mechanism which modifies the relationship between perceived norms and behaviors. What we’ve found thus far is religious involvement and religious salience do not modify the relationship between perceived norms and adolescent behavior, meaning, the perceived norms have similar effect on adolescent behavior whether the adolescent is religious or not.
In summary, the present study identified behaviors proscribed and prescribed by religions, and showed that such perceived norms are similar across gender, but differ somewhat between religions. Further, perceived norms, particularly those of parents, are linked to adolescent behaviors. Thus, perceived religious norms may play a role in linking religiousness and spirituality to adolescent positive and negative behaviors.
Currently, I am taking the lead on a manuscript with Dr. Hardy and his graduate student which we hope to be accepted for publication in the Spring of 2013. We also have been able to present some of the data at academic conferences throughout 2012. This research has also been used for preparation for a longitudinal study. This future study intends to use the responses from my study to inform us (the researchers) on how to best ask questions to teenagers to get better responses in understanding their motivations for engaging in positive behavior and/or avoiding negative behavior and how their parents and religious norms play a role.