According to a new study on teenagers’ relationships to their religions commissioned by B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, Jordan Kaplan is not typical. The Livingston High School student is 17, has a leadership position in his BBYO region, and wants to be a rabbi.
But he’s not atypical because he’s interested in his religion; he’s an anomaly because he actually found a way to connect to it.
The study, conducted online by Teenage Research Unlimited and released on Wednesday, asked 1,153 10- to 18-year-olds how they felt about religion; 68 percent answered that faith is important to them, and that’s all to the good, BBYO executive director Matthew Grossman said at a teleconference Wednesday.
Yet the survey also showed some disturbing numbers, according to Grossman. First, while nearly 75 percent of teens between 13 and 15 said that religion was important to them, that number dropped to 6′ percent for 16- to 18-year-olds. It also showed that the drop is more significant in boys than it is in girls, as 75 percent of boys 13 to 15 find religion, while only 55 percent of those 16 to 18 do.
But most disturbing, he said, is that according to the survey, while many teens feel that religion is important, 40 percent of them say that it is difficult for them to connect to it, and 68 percent think that they could better connect if there was a less conventional way to do so.
"Our point is and certainly our research shows that we need to find unconventional ways of reaching our young people," Grossman told The Jewish Standard after the teleconference. "They are interested in finding in other ways. It would be misleading to say that teens don’t care . But I don’t know if [synagogues, youth groups, and other classic Jewish entry points] are failing. But they are not reaching our kids or are not relevant to kids."
The survey did not look specifically at Jewish teenagers and did not delineate religions or even ask respondents their religions, but Grossman said, "our assumption is that teens are teens."
He did say that BBYO had been collecting data on Jewish teens, but that was not released on Wednesday. The teleconference was more about the youth group, which spans all streams of Judaism, trying to push its b-link community at its Website www.bbyo.org, or www.b-linked.org.
The site, he said, is an online community that allows Jewish kids to talk with each other, and provides resources that are not overtly Jewish, but that are merely tools that they can use for everyday life, such as tips on getting into college or community service opportunities that they can use to fulfill their school requirements.
The goal, he said, is to draw them in with content that is not in-your-face Jewish, then to slowly introduce Judaism to them.
The free community, which has been online since October, has roughly 3,400 members, and Grossman said that BBYO is looking for partner organizations that can help provide spiritual content.
"When kids hit adolescence, they are interested in making religion part of their lives, and they would like to have stronger ties to religion," he said. "There is this very willing and open audience. And part of the challenge is to change how we connect to them."