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Adolescents and Spirituality

Most people are familiar with the usual developmental tasks of growth in the physical, mental, and emotional realms. What might be less familiar is how adolescents grow spiritually. Some might even wonder if this is possible before the other areas develop. This discussion looks at the ways that spirituality can develop and how these fit with adolescent development in general.

Maturity is not always a prerequisite for spirituality. What maturity allows are more levels of expression of spirituality, but maturity alone does not mean that spirituality is proceeding at an equal pace. Maturity is measured by how a person maneuvers in the physical/social world. Spirituality is in a different realm and it is a much more intrapersonal level of development. Should parents even worry or consider where their adolescent is spiritually? Is it something that they can influence? What is the difference between spiritual development and religious knowledge and education? Does a religion-based education increase the spiritual development of an adolescent? These questions may or may not have crossed your mind, but if so how do we seek answers?

Assessing the level of spiritual development of an adolescent is similar to how it is measured for anyone. Consider the manner in which the traits we consider the embodiment of spirituality are expressed. This can be through acts of compassion, humility, and unconditional caring. Introspection, meditative/prayer practices, and spiritual study would be other ways that an adolescent can demonstrate a level of spiritual development. Memorization of religious texts or ceremonies can be part of spiritual development, but it alone is not enough to declare development, only that a step toward it is being taken.

Supporting spiritual development is an important role for the adults in an adolescent's life. Ways to do that include the following:
1. Allow time for discussion of this important topic.
2. Allow the adolescent to express his/her views without argument or challenge.
3. Do ask how they came to the conclusions they have made.
4. Do ask how they express their beliefs in their life and if it will sustain them over the long term.
5. Do ask if their belief system is open to other ideas and change.

In conclusion, while this is not a topic that is often discussed, it is an important part of adolescent development and deserves the same attention that other elements of development command. It plays an important part of the development of a whole person able to live a fulfilled life.

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