Helping Teens Find Their Spiritual Self
Life can be confusing and difficult to navigate. When you add in the tumult of teen years? Well, things can get complicated. When it comes to teens, we spend a lot of time focusing on school and the skills they’ll need to become successful adults. Often, that comes at the expense of their emotional and spiritual growth. The two often travel in tandem. That is, living a spiritual life can not only help teens navigate the challenging emotional roller coaster of young adulthood, but being in tune with their emotions can, similarly, help them live a fulfilling spiritual life. But how do we get teens engaged in exploring their spiritual sides? How do we help them experience their spiritual selves?
We took an opportunity to connect with some students at The Academy of the New Church and gained some valuable insights into teens and their experience of and with spirituality. We’d love to share some of their stories as well as some great information about our church communities to connect with these invaluable members.
- What is Spirituality?
- Why is Spirituality Important for Teens?
- Benefits of Spirituality for Teens
- Challenges for Teens in Living a Spiritual Life
- How to Help Your Teen Explore Spirituality
What is Spirituality?
By nature of the question, and nature of our own experiences, this can be a difficult question to answer. Nearly every person you ask will have a different experience and definition. For that reason, spirituality has many different interpretations.
Some might even suggest that seeking an answer to this question is, in itself, a spiritual exercise. Still, generally speaking, spirituality refers to a belief in something greater than one's physical self or the material world. It can include a connection to the natural world around us as well as a higher power or divine force, whether that is God, the universe, nature, or an amalgam of all of those. Spirituality can also, however, refer to developing a personal relationship with this power through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices which may vary by individual or faith.
For many, spirituality directly calls on us to cultivate and nurture universal values such as love, kindness, peace and respect for all living things. As much as it requires an outward expression, much of spirituality also asks us to seek inner knowledge to understand one's place within the universe.
Ultimately, it’s the practice of understanding the interconnectedness of energy and spirit, both inwardly and outwardly. It asks us who we are and what our purpose in life may be. What brings us joy or fulfillment beyond physical pleasures, what fills our soul? It asks us to look beyond our daily existence and see how we fit into a bigger picture of our worlds, both microcosm and macrocosm.
Why is Spirituality Important for Teens?
Developmentally, adolescence is a tumultuous period. There is so much going on physically, physiologically, and emotionally that it’s easy for adults to see how a spiritual framework could be helpful.
For the first time in their lives, teens are starting to ask questions about how they fit in, not just with their families, social circles or school cohorts, but they’re also starting to ask how they fit into the world. They’re starting to explore who they are, what they want, and who they, ultimately, want to be. They’re starting to search for their purpose in these communities as well. What is their role as child, as sibling, as friend? What are their obligations to others? To self? To the greater good and larger world?
Because spirituality and spiritual communities are centered on these questions, adolescence is the perfect time to introduce spiritual practices.
Benefits of Spirituality for Teens
The benefits of spirituality for teens are significant and run the gamut from emotional and social to physical. More specifically, spirituality helps provide comfort and guidance for teens as they navigate through adolescence, whether they are struggling or not.
In fact, research has shown that engaging in spiritual activities, such as prayer, meditation, or attending religious services can have a positive impact on mental health. For teenagers, that means reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood and self-esteem, providing an outlet for emotional support, developing a sense of purpose and direction in life, establishing meaningful connections with others, increasing resilience to difficult situations or events, and promoting healthy decision-making skills.
Further, when it comes to emotional well-being, spiritual practices can help teens become more mindful of their thoughts and feelings. This heightened awareness can help reduce stress levels while also providing clarity during times of confusion or doubt. Additionally, connecting with something larger than themselves—like God—can bring teens a sense of peace and calmness amidst chaotic events or overwhelming emotions.
Finally, there’s a physical benefit as well. As mentioned above, teens are likely experiencing a lot of physical changes as well and the great part about spirituality and fitness is that, according to experts, they have a pretty symbiotic relationship. That is fitness benefits spirituality and spirituality can benefit physical health and well-being.
For many athletes, for example, find the inner strength developed during spiritual practice to be remarkably helpful when pushing themselves to train physically as well. Further, it helps create a mind-body connection that benefits spiritual practice as well by helping connect our actions to our thoughts and feelings. These connections are a fundamental piece in helping teens understand how they move through the world and how their actions can impact themselves and the world around them.
Challenges for Teens in Living a Spiritual Life
If you have worked with or lived with teens (sometimes having been one isn’t enough), you likely understand that in addition to all of these questions about self, place, and purpose, one of their developmental responses is to begin to question everything, including advice from parents and adults.
It’s natural for them, on the journey to self-realization, to question whether activities, practices, and beliefs fit in with who they are and who they want to be. So, one of the biggest challenges in introducing teens to spirituality is the natural resistance to being told how to engage in spiritual practices.
One of the other biggest challenges for teens in living a spiritual life is the competition from other aspects of their life at this time. Many teens are juggling very busy schedules and lives that are demanding. They’re being pulled in multiple directions by friends and family, popular culture, their own desires, and other external pressures. Finding a balance can be difficult. Thankfully, one of the best ways to counterbalance these stressors and center oneself is through spiritual practice.
How to Help Your Teens Explore SpiritualityWhile some of these challenges, like the opposition and questioning that is dominant during this period can seem insurmountable, there are concrete strategies you can use to help teens develop a spiritual life.
1. Avoid prescriptive instructions
One of the biggest temptations, especially when we live a rich spiritual life ourselves, is to prescribe practices for others. It’s great to want to share what works for you, but leave the door open for teens to find their own way. They’re desirous of new experiences and those help them shape their world and, ultimately, their own spirituality. Encourage, and participate, in that exploration. You may find that you’re stretching your own spiritual muscles!
2. Help them create time and space
We live in the age of the overscheduled and, sadly, teens are no different. With school, sports, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, family responsibilities, social relationships, and more, it’s difficult to make time for one more “obligation” (we’ll get to that in a minute!). However, one thing teens can make time for is social media and online videos. That’s why options like online church and NewChurch Live’s 10 Minutes of Calm are a perfect way to integrate spiritual practice into a teen’s daily life.
3. Help them make spiritual choices
Perhaps your experience of spiritual practice as a child or teen was an obligatory trip to church on Sunday morning. It was something you had to do. Ever ask a teen to do something they may not want to do? Clean their room? Be in a certain place at a certain time to do something that’s pulling them away from things they’d prefer to do? Now consider the reaction when it’s something a teen wants to do. It’s amazing how they’ll find time and prioritize it. Strategies 1 and 2, listed above, are great ways to help them choose spiritual practices.
4. Invite friends or engage social circles
Another great way to help teens choose spirituality is to have them participate in spiritual practices with friends and social circles. Whether that’s finding a school, youth group, or even teen friendly church, when you combine these two needs for teens, they’re more likely to get engaged. Further, when peer pressure is shifted to participating in spiritual communities, you’re more likely to have a teen who’s learning and growing spiritually.
5. Make it fun
Spiritual practice is not about sitting in a pew. Practice, by its definition, requires action. Often, spirituality is viewed, by teens especially, as someone lecturing them about how to behave and who to be. Instead, consider spirituality about action. If you’re doing the things we’ve already listed above, you’ve already made it a more enticing experience, but action means you can take spiritual practice out of the church and out of your home. Volunteering, whether in your community or virtually, is just one way to take action. Consider letting the teens in your life choose the volunteer activity and let them choose a project or cause they’re passionate about.
6. Be a part of a spiritual community
Of course, one of the best ways you can help your teen find their spiritual self is to be actively engaged in spiritual communities…both you and your teen. That means finding a spiritual home that not only reflects your values, but finds a way to meet you where you are in your own spiritual journey. That means finding a community that is prepared to help you, and your teen, find your way and shape your spiritual experience all while adhering to the primary tenets of a true spiritual life: kindness, love, compassion, and service.
If you’re seeking a spiritual home, either in person or online, that reflects those values and is eager to help you as you explore your spirituality, we’d love to talk. The NewChurch Live community invites you to reach out to us, explore our blog, or check out one of our upcoming virtual/in person events.