Spirituality in a teenager’s galaxy

From guest-blogger Dawn-Marie Cornett:

Being the mom of three teens, there are days I wish the idyllic life portrayed by June Cleaver and her TV family were the truth of today. But it’s just not!

From pop-culture TV shows like “Teen Mom” to scholarly works on the subject like “Promoting the Health of Adolescents : New Directions for the Twenty-first Century”  (Susan G. Millstein, Elena O. Nightingale, Editor, Anne C. Petersen, Editor), society is overflowing with public opinions, religious dogma, and “scientific findings.”

Despite all the research, teens seem to be more uncomfortable with each other and more confused on big issues like sex and its part in their physical and emotional health than ever. The Guttmatcher Institute released statistics on teen sexuality in February of 2012. Here are a few snippets:

  •   70% of teens will have had sex by the time they are 19 with the average starting age being 15-17
  •   average marriage age is mid-twenties “This means that young adults may be at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs for nearly a decade or longer.”
  •   “Although 15–24-year-olds represent only one-quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half (9.1 million) of the 18.9 million new cases of STDs each year.”
  •   ” Each year, almost 750,000 U.S. women aged 15–19 become pregnant.” 26% of those pregnancies are terminated.

These statistics show a youth population at great risk, and indicate that the current approach by concerned community members–in schools, churches, and families–is not making enough of a difference. We need something different from the stereotypical “it’s just wrong until you’re married” approach. Some teens would rather poll their friends for answers to their questions than ask a responsible adult–and that’s scary.

I propose that we begin a more open and honest dialogue that helps young people get to the bottom of their questions about relationships and other major issues in their lives. We need to ask questions like: what do they hope to gain by engaging in physically intimate activities, what perceptions/ideas are they getting from adults and society in general, what kind of dating life do they really want, are they finding solutions, and if so, from where? How is do they feel spirituality can or cannot help them?

And then we need to really listen.

I also propose that a young person’s concept of spirituality is pivotal to their success as an individual and of great value when making life choices. Parents need to engage in the kind of thoughtful, open conversations with teens that allow for a wide range of ideas, and help to reinforce moral and spiritual grounding as a means to finding truly satisfying solutions.

A recent 7-year long study done by researchers at UCLA – “Spirituality in Higher Education: Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose” – shows that young people (18 to mid 20s) are very likely to want to know about spirituality and how it relates to their lives. It also shows that teens and young adults have a growing desire to “spiritually quest” the older they get. Researchers concluded that higher education “should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.”

The outcome? That when a student’s spiritual growth is nurtured, this will help create “a new generation who are more caring, more globally aware, and more committed to social justice than previous generations, while also enabling students to respond to the many stresses and tensions of our rapidly changing technological society with a greater sense of equanimity.”

The study found that what keeps spirituality and faith out of the average conversation is the perception, false as it may be, that God, spirituality, etc. is an off-limits topic. Yet as soon as the topic is breached, many young people open up to it quite naturally and enthusiastically.

If we, as adults, can get deeply honest about the issues teens face, if we can listen more than talk, if we can allow for spirituality to be a tool for success, we may just find these young people create a new world for themselves where deep love, character, integrity, and genuine commitment become the norm.

Guest-blogger Dawn-Marie Cornett is a Christian Science practitioner and community-involved mom who lives with her family in Framingham, MA.


  1. Dave says

    First I want to say that I am not a parent, and have not experienced what parents do in regard to the questions raised here. One that always makes me shake my head however is “what perceptions/ideas are they getting from adults and society in general?

    Really, that’s one is still on the table? A friend of mine just recently shared with me an experience they had when having their car worked on in a repair shop.
    When it came time to settle up, the two women working in the office and at the
    window were attired in such a manner that left little to the imagination, so much
    so that my friend was offended, and she was a woman.

    My point here is that yes communication/discussion is a must, but one of the first topics to engage in is respect. That’s one that has fallen by the wayside as far as
    I see. First, respect for yourself, and second for others. Whether to engage in sex or not to me is tied to respect. Do you respect yourself? Does the other person respect you? Are you thinking of yourself as at the mercy of impulses that you can’t control? Society is saying on virtually every front you can’t control yourself. Look at the movies, TV, magazines, etc. The message is screaming at all of us everyday.

    Respect is taught/learned and is foundational in finding a solution to this problem. Do parents as a whole teach kids what respect is these days, and what a major part it plays in determining ones behavior and actions? Seems to me that
    the world needs a refresher course before we see things begin to shift in the right

  2. Virginia McCullough says

    Thank you for this thoughtful, thought-provoking blog. I love the promise it holds — “young people create a new world for themselves where deep love, character, integrity, and genuine commitment become the norm.” I have teenage grandchildren on the other end of the continent, and this subject is very close to my heart and in my prayers. Continuing prayer and listening is supporting an atmosphere where we can all feel free to be our better selves and feel satisfied. Overcoming our own fears is an important part.

  3. says

    Thanks for the article, Dawn-Marie. I’ve been delighted to find how receptive teens are to talking about spirituality. A couple of my daughter’s friends have asked to come to church with me over the years after we’ve engaged in sharing discussions on spirituality. Of course, one doesn’t need to attend church to be a spiritual thinker, but it’s been a blessing to see their wonderfully receptive thought mulling over new ideas.