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Spiritual Development in Adolescents

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Many adolescents have a hunger to explore and experience spiritual activities, according to a 2006 study on twentysomethings by the Barna Group, a research group focusing on spiritual and religious topics. Barna’s 2006 research indicates that 50 percent of youth pursue some form of religious or spiritual experience each week and more than 75 percent talk to their peers about spiritual topics. They might question what they’ve been taught as a part of normal spiritual development.

Spiritual Awakening

Adolescents seek a spiritual connection in three ways, according to Elizabeth Kimball, a lecturer at the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota and a researcher at the Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence in Minneapolis, Minnesota. First, they become aware of their connection to the divine, then seek to share it with others and then find a way to put faith into practice. Kimball states that this progression is a normal part of development regardless of religious, philosophical or worldview beliefs, in her presentation at the North American Conference on Spirituality and Social Work.

Expressing Spirituality

More than half of adolescents say they have attended religious activities at a church in the previous three months, according to Barna’s twentysomething study. About one-third of youths say they have taken part in a faith-based club on campus. Adolescents are looking for a way to express their spiritual nature and organizations such as churches and faith-based teen clubs can attract them if they offer lively discussion and activities that encourage youth to explore faith in a relevant way. Teens who express their faith in home through prayer, Scripture reading and other religious practices are more likely to retain their faith into their adult years, according to an article in “Lifelong Faith” about helping teens maintain faith into the adult years. Strong parental leadership seems to help teens find and keep a strong spiritual faith.

Investigating Faiths

During adolescence, youth might investigate other faiths to pursue spiritual answers, according to Barna’s 2011 study on why young Christians leave the church. If the church seems to be too exclusive or antagonistic to other faiths or science, youths might decide that Christianity isn’t relevant to them and seek alternatives. Churches and parents can accept that teens will question their beliefs and answer questions when asked. Barna’s twentysomething study revealed that 75 percent of teens experience at least one psychic or witchcraft activity, but their experience does not necessarily lead to a turning from Christianity.

Faith Practice

Teens who build a strong faith practice are more likely to retain their faith into their 20s and beyond, according to the “Lifelong Faith” article. Building a faith practice indicates that youths have found relevant answers in their spiritual quests. Faith practice elements could include an active prayer life, reading of the Scriptures, involvement in a local faith group and finding a service option that puts faith into action.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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