Spirituality for Teens: Mindfulness… | Center for Growth Therapy

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Spirituality for Teens: Mindfulness Therapy for Teens in Philadelphia

Jonah Taylor

MSW, LSW — Associate Therapist

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Mindfulness Therapy for Teens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey

Adolescence is a developmentally sensitive period of life. Just about any adult could reflect on their teen years and tell you a story about risky behavior, dramatic relationships, school troubles, substance abuse, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and/or depression (many mental illnesses first present during adolescence). And most adults alive today didn’t even live their teen years through a pandemic!

With the current mental health crisis for teens, parents are understandably desperate for support, but many don’t know where to start. It turns out that spirituality is one of the strongest protective factors for teens against depression, substance abuse, and risky behavior.

When you hear spirituality, you wouldn’t be alone if the first thing that comes to mind is rosary beads or ancient texts. While many teens do indeed connect to their spirituality through religion, that’s not the only way. In fact, recent psychological and neurological research suggests that all teens (and children and adults) have an innate spirituality that is distinct from any sort of religious practice. We’re “hardwired” with it (spirituality is in our nature!), and like any trait, it can be strengthened or weakened based on our environment (which is to say, how spirituality is nurtured within us).

In a narcissistic, achievement-oriented, and social media-driven culture where teens’ sense of self becomes based on their performance and appearance, spirituality isn’t necessarily very nurtured. The good news is that as parents, you can help.

What is Spirituality for Teens

Mindfulness Therapy for Teens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey

Most scholars agree that spirituality means having a connection to something larger than yourself and involves reflecting on meaning and purpose. Teens can connect to a personal spirituality through a direct relationship with nature, a universal presence, or higher power (by any name).

Teens can tap into their spirituality through activities that encourage a sense of transcendence from the self and the many pressures teens face today. And actually, as part of their innate spirituality and need to cope with pressures, teens tend to seek transcendent experiences on their own, often through drugs, alcohol, and unsafe behavior. As a parent, you can help teens to find healthier ways to experience transcendence and build an inner spiritual life that supports them through the tumult of adolescence. Research shows spirituality is a strongly protective factor for teens against substance abuse, mental health issues, including depression, and risky sexual behaviors.

How to Help Teens Explore Their Spirituality

Mindfulness Therapy for Teens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey

Teen Spirituality and Nature

Teens can find spiritual transcendence by taking long adventures in nature, where a mindful presence of their surroundings can help teens to viscerally experience the interconnectedness of the natural world. Spiritual transcendence can occur when paying attention mindfully to the springiness of a pine needle bed, the quality of light filtered through the tree canopy, and a symphony of birdsong. It’s hard for teens not to feel a sense of awe and connectedness when immersed in the complex web of nature. In those moments, the separate sense of self that teens present on social media and in college applications tends to fall away.

Teen Spirituality and Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is another way for teens to access their spirituality. Teens can learn how to meditate by working with a mindfulness therapist, by joining a mindfulness group especially for teens, or by downloading a meditation app like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier. Mindfulness meditation helps teens become more conscious of their internal and external environment by focusing on the present moment. In this mental state, teens can become more aware of and accepting towards thoughts, feelings, the body, and all that is arising around them. When teens are in a more mindful headspace, they develop improved insight and discernment for how to live in the world in a more intentional way guided by their values and sense of purpose.

Teen Spirituality and Creativity

Teens can cultivate their spirituality through a regular art practice, from painting to singing to theater. The key here is finding a teacher, art therapist, music therapist, dance therapist, or drama therapist who focuses on the expressive side of creativity rather than the technical one. Most creative classes for teens are focused on technique, like learning how to paint an apple realistically or play Beethoven accurately. Expressive arts, however, encourage teens to search inside themselves and express whatever thoughts or emotions they find. The focus is on the art-making process rather than the art product. Art, when it is taught this way, helps teens to feel more at ease, transcend their day-to-day worries, and search for meaning in their lives—all important aspects of spirituality.

Teen Spirituality and Prayer

Like meditation, prayer cultivates calm and contemplation and helps teens to make sense of their lives. Unlike meditation, however, prayer typically involves a direct relationship with a higher power. The higher power can be different depending on the teens’ religious beliefs. In addition to a daily prayer practice, regular religious service attendance is shown to support the well-being of teens across their lifespan. Praying as part of a religious community provides teens the experience of being part of something bigger than themselves. Weekly attendance of religious services during the teen years, when accompanied by family, is associated with greater life satisfaction, positive affect, character strengths, and lower rates of drug use.

Spirituality for Teens: What You Can Do to Support Your Teen

In addition to supporting teens to strengthen their spirituality through nature, mindfulness, creativity, and prayer, parents can model for their teens what it looks like to live a spiritual life. Modeling can take the form of caring for others, expressing compassion and empathy, and conveying hope. One of the best ways to model these qualities is through altruistic acts of service. Whether volunteering or starting a project to support the local community, acts of service make us feel connected and provide a sense of community, purpose and meaning, all important aspects of a vibrant spiritual life.

Parents can encourage their teens to tap into their spiritual selves by maintaining an open dialogue about the “big” questions in life. Teens are naturally curious about themselves and their world as they begin to question knowledge that they’ve been taught at an earlier age. Parents can support this natural curiosity, a sense of wonder, by responding to their teens with these same qualities. Some parents, feeling overwhelmed when their teens pose big questions like, “Is there a god?” or “Why is there suffering?”, may inadvertently shut the conversation down by responding with black and white answers or an “I don’t know.” Instead, parents can encourage a contemplative stance that fosters spirituality by responding to their teens with open-ended questions that start with “what” or “how.” Parents may respond by saying “What makes you ask?” or “How do you understand things?”. The way parents respond makes all the difference. When parents respond to their teens with curiosity and openness, parents encourage teens to live a deeper, more profound life that is supported by their innate spirituality.

If you have teens in your life who are struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, substance use, or troubling behaviors, investing in their spiritual growth may make all the difference now and in the transition to adulthood. The teenage years are rocky times, and spirituality is shown to be one of the most effective ways to make it through safely. If you feel stuck trying to talk about these things with your teens, consider reaching out to a trained therapist who specializes in spirituality.

The Center for Growth has a number of therapists who work with teens and have a strong spiritual orientation to their work. You can schedule an intake appointment by going to our website or by calling the intake line at (215) 922-LOVE x 100 (5683 x 100). You can also call the practice founder directly to discuss your particular concerns: Alex Robboy, (267) 324-9564.

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