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Publication #FCS2302

Discovering Spirituality: A Guide for Teens1

Larry Forthun and Angelica Shaw2

Who am I? What is my purpose? Have you ever asked yourself these questions? You're not alone. Every teenager at one time or another has asked these questions. It's the answers that are hard to figure out. Searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in life is not easy. However, you can do a few things that will help you discover the answers. One of the most important is discovering your spirituality.

Spirituality can be defined in a variety of ways. Most definitions agree that spirituality is a connection to something that is greater than the self and inspires respect and admiration.1 This can be a connection to a religious being such as a deity or spirit. It can also be a connection to individuals, objects, or a set of beliefs that inspire both wonder and humility. In either case, spirituality refers to the activity of fostering a connection to what is sacred and meaningful in life.

Figure 1. 

Spirituality Collection by Megan Ross (Used with permission under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

People often think of spirituality in terms of religious beliefs and practices; however, one can be spiritual but not very religious. Religion focuses on the beliefs and practices of a religious organization or creed, while spirituality focuses on inspiration, self-reflection, and personal connection. One can be both spiritual and religious or neither spiritual nor religious. However, researchers are beginning to discover the importance of being a spiritual person, especially for teens.1,2 The benefits of spirituality include the following:3,4

  • Higher self-esteem and self-worth

  • More positive relationships

  • Lower alcohol and drug use

  • Greater sense that life has meaning and purpose

  • Greater sense of belonging and connectedness

  • Lower anxiety and stress

  • A stronger relationship with parents

  • More friends who are positive influences

  • More respect for yourself and others

  • Greater success in life

  • Experiencing a feeling of hope, even during hardships

All of these benefits can help you find the answers to the important questions in life because they help you develop better relationships with others and lead you to make healthy choices.

How can you promote spirituality in your life?

  • Don't be afraid to discuss spiritual questions with your parents or other trusted adults.4 Open up to someone whom you believe you can talk to and who will not judge you for asking some of the "tough" questions.

  • Express your spirituality through journals, music, and other forms of self-expression.4 Spirituality really flows through self-discovery.

  • Surround yourself with positive friends who strengthen your spiritual growth.4 Your values are influenced by those around you, so pick your friends wisely.

If you already attend a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque:

  • Learn more about your own religious beliefs by reading sacred books, praying or meditating, or attending religious activities.

  • Ask questions of your religious or spiritual leaders and share personal experiences with adults you trust.4

  • Get involved in religious activities just for teens. Participation in these activities will give you the opportunity to develop friendships with people who share similar values.

Whether you are religious or not, anyone can develop spirituality. Developing spirituality promotes self-discovery so that you can better understand your own values, competencies, and strengths. It helps to establish meaningful relationships with others you can count on to be there when times get tough. And it allows you to see the "big picture" and to make decisions in life that will benefit you in the long run. Spirituality can be formed and practiced in a variety of different ways. No matter which path you choose, a positive and healthy spirituality will provide you with a sense of meaning and purpose and help you to navigate the obstacles in life.

For additional information

The Center for Spiritual Development: http://www.search-institute.org/spiritual-development

Youth Spirituality: http://youthspirituality.com/

National Study of Youth and Religion: http://www.youthandreligion.org/

You can also visit your religious organization's website.

References

  1. Richard Lerner, Robert W. Roeser, and Erin Phelps (eds.), Positive Youth Development and Spirituality, (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008).

  2. Christian Smith and Robert Faris, Religion and American Adolescent Delinquency, Risk Behaviors, and Constructive Social Activities: A Research Report of the National Study of Youth and Religion, Number 1. Accessed May 9, 2011. http://www.youthandreligion.org/sites/youthandreligion.org/files/imported/publications/docs/RiskReport1.pdf.

  3. Eugene Roehlkepartain, Pamela Ebstyne King, Linda Wagener, and Peter L. Benson (eds.), The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006).

  4. "How your child may be developing spirituality: Ages 10-14," The Search Institute. Accessed May 9, 2011. http://www.search-institute.org/csd/articles/nurturing/10-14.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS2302, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Published May 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/.

2.

Larry Forthun, associate professor; Angelica Shaw, former undergraduate student; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.