WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Psychologist Nancy Reeves says it is possible to discuss God and spirituality with teens.
EDMONTON - With adolescence comes a surge of egocentrism, hormonal changes, peer pressure, risk-taking behaviour, development of abstract thinking, less time at home, interest in other forms of spirituality, and oftentimes loss of faith.
With all of these uncontrollable influences, how does one nurture a teen's spirituality?
Dr. Nancy Reeves says that despite all the outside influences, parents are the single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of teens.
A registered clinical psychologist, spiritual director and best-selling author from Victoria, Reeves presented a session March 10 at Good Shepherd Church on nurturing teen spirituality and how teens experience God. Among the 50 or so in attendance were parents, educators and youth pastors.
"It can be harder to speak about our spiritual life than our sexuality," said Reeves.
Giving them a good start as children helps them later in their teen years. She suggested that adults could also help teens' spiritual growth by being role models, listening more than speaking and by gently encouraging a spiritual view of adolescent experiences.
For example, telling a teen about a recent dream and how it seemed like the voice of God might spark a conversation about God.
More than anything, she recommended helping teens find themselves because a central task of any adolescent is the importance of identity development.
Prior to the Second World War, there was no such thing as adolescence. A person went from child to adult virtually overnight, without an in-between phase.
"It was the baby boomer generation that started talking about adolescence, being a teenager and how to parent this new, strange creation. It was often uncomfortable for them," said Reeves.
Adolescence was invented for a specific reason. During the Second World War, unemployment was high. So it was illogical for teens to work when the adults were jobless. Therefore, instead of leaving school after Grade 6 to work on the farm, the young people remained in school. From this trend, youth developed their own culture, music, clothes and language.
The comic book superheroes of the 1970s reflected this idea with Superman, Batman and Spiderman, all orphans, self-made men finding success independently. By the end of the 1970s, the popular superheroes (X-Men, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers) had older mentors who assisted them.
Those baby boomers eventually became parents themselves and their teens were much different from them, unfamiliar with adult responsibilities.
"It's only been now that we're getting used to this phenomenon of adolescence that we're starting to study it more, and we're starting to ask young people what they need and finding some meaning for them," said Reeves.
"The kids have changed from a long time ago because of the war, when kids could no longer go out and find a job at nine years old. I thank God for that," said Aline Savoie, a grandmother at the presentation.
Savoie knows firsthand how difficult it can be to connect with teens about spirituality. She found the presentation useful in learning how to help her grandchildren grow in Christ. She also helps prepare young people for Confirmation at the francophone St. Anne Parish.
"I don't go to church because I have to or because I am obliged. I realize that I've been invited to Christ's table, but sometimes it's hard to communicate that message to young people today," said Savoie.
Mary Heelan has eight grandchildren. Quite often she has trouble having a conversation with them because they are texting. High-tech gadgets have become obstacles to having meaningful, face-to-face communication with them.
"They are so involved now with their iPods and everything, our relationship is different," said Heelan.
"They are more interested in their friends and their music than with me. When they were younger, they loved to see me coming, they were so excited and wanted to play, and now the relationship has changed."
Heelan found some solace when Reeves told the group that even when teens do not go to church or start to question their faith, Jesus is still with them.
"I am quite concerned because sometimes I hear them listening to music and the lyrics aren't appropriate," said Heelan.
"Then I read a very good article in the Western Catholic Reporter by Father Ron Rolheiser, about that. He said they are still in the hands of God. It was consoling to me because I get worried about all the dangers out there. I think it's a difficult time to be a teenager."