Religious Participation: Fundamental Part of Adolescent Development?

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Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA

Does religion change the quality of teen development? According to earlier and current research, it certainly does!

Even the notables of developmental psychology such as, Piaget, Erikson, and Elkind, claim religious involvement to be an integral part of children’s psychological health.

Psychologists agree however, that the understanding of religious beliefs and practices is not present in young children, but rather develops across childhood. And it’s not until kids reach the ages of 7 to 8 that their brains are capable of assimilating religious theory into practical behaviour.

So what are these fundamental benefits that religion offers to youth? It plays an important role in the following ways:

1. Identity development: One’s identity doesn’t just consist of strengths and interests, but also of value systems, moral beliefs, behaviours, etc. Where societal values shift by generation, religious values tend to stay constant across generations giving youth the feeling of stability and connection to individuals from different age groups.
2. Sense of belonging: One of the most important aspects for adolescent development is a sense of connection and belonging. Religion often provides an inspirational and hopeful worldview within a ‘community’ that publically practices the same perspective. This community often sticks together and when the community is tight enough, youth tend to adapt a group member as role model.
3. Behavioural and decision-making guidance: Children who are regular attendees of a religious institution from a young age are more likely to absorb the beliefs, values, principles, and guidelines of the practiced religion and accept them as valid. These values and morals become ingrained in their identity and will impact behaviour throughout adolescence and in later life; the teachings also tend to influence their plans for the future.
4. Social competence: Religions teach its followers about the ideal way of living (e.g., how to treat people, how to treat self, what to avoid, what to embrace). An ample amount of research has connected religiosity to various dimensions of social competence (e.g., social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral). Youth who are involved in the teachings are generally more likely to stick to them when interacting with members of the community. They are also more likely to take another’s perspective, have an understanding of what’s acceptable, have more compassion, and have more evolved expectations of themselves.

All of the above categories play an important role in the outcome of children’s self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence levels. Like adults, children measure their value based on their action, a feeling of belonging, and on the quality of their achievement.

It appears that regular religious participation has an overall positive impact on those categories that influence youths’ self-image and self-evaluation.

Best Wishes to You and Your Family!