Surfing the Web gets spiritual

UNC study shows teens visiting religious sites; most do homework

So maybe teens surfing the Net isn’t as scary as we thought.

The results of a survey of 2,600 U.S. teens released today indicate that far more teens visit religious Web sites than pornographic sites.

Or at least say they do.

According to the UNC Chapel Hill findings, 5 percent of teens said they use the Internet to access pornographic sites a few times each month or more — compared to 17 percent who said they search for something spiritual.

Teachers, rejoice. More than 75 percent of teens ages 13 to 17 with access to the Internet said they use it to help with homework — by far the most prevalent use of the Internet among U.S. youth surveyed.

UNC sociology professor Christian Smith said it’s “a very good question” when asked whether teens are telling the truth about checking out the wrong sites — even in a survey where they don’t have to give their names. Still, he’s heartened by the findings, touted by UNC as the first major study on the importance of the Internet to teens interested in spirituality.

“It shows that teens at least are more interested in spiritual things, religious issues, matters of their own faith,” Smith said. “We are in the midst of a digital revolution right now, and it will be very interesting to see how successfully and carefully religions use the Internet and other new technologies for their own purposes.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the more religious the teens, the less they say they go where they shouldn’t. Three percent of teens who said their faith is extremely important to them admitted to visiting pornographic sites a few times a month or more.

Fourteen percent of those who said their faith is not at all important to them admitted to visiting pornographic sites.

The telephone survey of teens in all 50 states was conducted last year. Perhaps the least surprising finding was the power of the Internet — 8 out of 10 teens say they have Internet access.

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