The concept of spirituality is a positive youth development construct. In the field of positive youth development (PYD), the work with youth focuses on each child’s talents, strengths, interests, and future potential in contrast to approaches that focus on problems that youth display when they grow up, such as learning disabilities and substance abuse.
In the literature, every successful youth development programme would have one or some of the fifteen (15) PYD constructs fulfilled:
- Promotion of bonding,
- Promotion of social competence,
- Promotion of emotional competence,
- Promotion of cognitive competence,
- Promotion of behavioral competence,
- Promotion of moral competence,
- Development of self-efficacy,
- Fostering prosocial norms,
- Cultivation of resilience,
- Cultivation of self-determination,
- Cultivation of spirituality,
- Promotion of beliefs,
- Development of clear and positive identity,
- Opportunity for prosocial involvement, and
- Recognition for positive behavior.
In his various research, Daniel Shek, Associate Vice President and Chair Professor in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, highlighted that there are both broad and narrow definitions of spirituality.
He found that one broad definition holds that spirituality is a “personal and private beliefs that transcend the material aspects of life and give a deep sense of wholeness, connectedness, and openness to the infinite”. According to this conception, spirituality includes:
- Belief in a power beyond oneself,
- Behavior in relation to the infinite such as prayer,
- Meaning and purpose of life,
- Hope and optimism,
- Love and compassion,
- Moral and ethical guidelines
- Transcendental experience.
Another broad definition holds that as “the life affirmed in a relationship with God, self, community, and environment which leads to the nurturance and celebration of wholeness“.
Within this context, spiritual needs include “meaning, purpose and hope, transcendence circumstances, integrity and worthiness, religious participation, loving and serving others, cultivating thankfulness, forgiving and being forgiven, and preparation for death and dying“.
There are also relatively narrower definitions of spirituality, it includes “focus on existential or transcendental questions, belongingness to involvement of cardinal values underlying every aspect of life, and self-reflective behavior“.
When we put all the research on spirituality together, the literature shows that several elements are commonly employed in the definition of spirituality.
These include meaning and purpose of life, meaning of and reactions to limits of life such as death and dying, search for the sacred or infinite, including religiosity, hope and hopelessness, forgiveness, and restoration of health. These can be categorized into three key elements:
- The first element is horizontal as well as vertical relationships in human existence. While horizontal relationships are related to oneself, others, and nature, vertical relationship involves a transcendental relationship with a higher being.
- The second element is beliefs and values which are integral to answers to spiritual questions such as life and death.
- The third element is the meaning of life.
From almost two decades of my work, I have grown to subscribe to a broader conception of spirituality (i.e., horizontal and vertical relationships, beliefs, meaning of life). In my view, adolescents often enters into world searching for something – it could be searching for self, a purpose, attention, recognition, a sense of belonging, care, even love; just to name a few.
Therefore, spirituality has to encompass the dynamic character of human life lived in conscious vertical relationships as experienced within a community. The nature of vertical relationships may be that of the divine or anyone or anything of a transcendental character. The nature of horizontal relationships may be that of connection with families, friends, colleagues, neighbors, the community, nature, etc.
The idea then is for us, for our adolescents, to attend to what is divine or transcendent, and to deepen in a life of conversion that has authenticity as its goal.