Perhaps inadvertently, a Harris poll released earlier this month shows the benefits of a religious education over a secular one. “Our results indicate that while materialistic young people display reduced generosity, those who are thankful for their family, friends and possessions are less likely to display these negative effects,” Aric Rindfleisch, one of the professors who worked on the study, says. “This suggests that although parents may be able to do little to squelch materialistic messages, they may be able [to] limit the adverse effects of materialism by cultivating a sense of thankfulness and gratitude in their children.”
Aric Rindfleisch is an associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The sense of gratitude that Dr. Rindfleisch stresses the importance of is generally a key tenet of most religions but does not show up much in most public school “agendas.”
On this score, incidentally, American youth, at least as polled by Harris, are not doing badly. “Overall, tweens are slightly more likely than teens to say that they have a lot to be thankful for (92% vs. 86%, respectively), but the large majority of both groups feel this way,” the Harris poll found. “Most youth also say they can think of a lot of people who have helped them (81%), and that a list of things they have to be thankful for would be very long (76%).”
The “tweens” Harris pollsters interviewed are between the ages of 8 and 12. Where these attitudes come from is apparent in the listing students gave of the people who make them happy.
“Mom is still an important figure in the lives of both tweens and teens, as majorities (91% of tweens and 77% of teens) say that Mom makes them happy,” the Harris people found. “Overall, Friends (85%), Grandma (69%), Dad (67%) and pets (58%) round out the top five of those people and pets that make youth happy.”
Teachers come way down the list for half of the tweens surveyed and one-third of teens. Only principals were less popular, getting their best reviews from 12 percent of tweens.
As for the generosity of students, the Harris poll found that:
• “Three-quarters of youth or more say that they like to help new kids at school (91% of tweens, 81% of teens);
• “Raise money for needy people (86% of tweens, 79% of teens);
• “Spend time helping others (83% of tweens, 81% of teens);
• “Share their favorite things with other people (81% of tweens, 75% of teens); and
• “Do favors for friends or family even when they’re busy (77% of tweens, 75% of teens).”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.