There is a caricature of young people that says they are hopelessly self- centered and uncaring, pleasure-seeking and unspiritual. That vision of the kids coming behind us makes some educators, politicians, and churchmen cry out in holy horror. What will happen when they are at the levers of power?

Things may not be nearly so bad with high school and college students as some have led us to think. If one takes seriously the findings of a couple of researchers whose work is being done under the auspices of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, there is reason to be encouraged.

The study collected a wealth of data from 112,232 entering college freshmen during the first week of school at 236 U.S. colleges last fall. Dr. Helen Astin, co-leader of the project, said their findings "have taken us by surprise."

  • Almost 80 percent of college freshmen believe in God.

  • More than two-thirds of them pray.

  • More than 70 percent say they wrestle with the question of life's deeper meaning and want their college experience to help them in their struggle.

  • Forty percent say it is very important to follow religious teaching in their everyday life in the classroom and workplace.

Perhaps things aren't quite as bleak as some have been telling us! And maybe it would be wiser for parents, teachers, and clergy to do something helpful to provide positive spiritual nurture for these young men and women than to castigate them for the sake of the image some of their peers may have projected.

If college years constitute a time of intellectual and social exploration, we should expect these twenty-somethings to raise and wrestle with fundamental questions. Perhaps some of us who are older haven't taken them seriously enough. Haven't offered them very compelling responses to their hard questions. Haven't modeled the sort of life that reflects the values we claim to embrace.

Previous studies of spiritual interests and religious activity among college students indicate that these concerns lessen as they move through four years of undergraduate training. Perhaps that finding reflects the sad fact that many students fail to find mentors and role models during their educational careers.

Set yourself the goal of helping at least one of them.
Whether educator, workplace guide, or parent, take heart that the kids behind you aren't the hopeless cases some have said. And set yourself the goal of helping at least one of them find the meaning he or she is searching to know.

Timothy, my dear son, be strong with the special favor God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach many things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to others. (2 Timothy 2:1-2)