Well-being and Religion in Children and Youth

This fall as leaves fall and the air chills, we as a congregation are looking towards the theme of Heritage- to borrow words from Paul Gauguin and our grey hymnal, who we are, where we came from and where are we going.

It is the last one that this article concerns. As we explore our relationships and traditions with our ancestors, what does it mean for the next generation? What does engaging in these reflective and spiritual practices mean for our children and youth?

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wondered the same thing and this September, they published the results of their inquiry into religion and well-being in children and adolescents in the American Journal of Epidemiology. This study of over 5000 youth between the ages of 8-14 found that young people involved in spiritual practices like daily prayer or meditation or attending weekly religious services were less likely to use illicit drugs, smoke, have sexually transmitted infections and showed a greater resilience to depressive symptoms as well as more likely to volunteer.

The study raises questions: their cohort were primarily white middle class so more research is needed with more diverse populations and how parents influence their children’s spiritual decisions but this study clearly shows that spirituality is beneficial to well-being.

One reason religion may be beneficial to children is that it increases their social connections. A teen struggling with depression may have increased social support in their religious community to connect them to mental health resources and provide them emotional support. In regards to making wise sexual decisions, our OWL (Our Whole Lives) graduates are equipped with the knowledge to do so.

This October as we reflected on the past, take a moment to cherish the present and the community at UUCSS for the connections that make our future generations more resilient.

Director of Religious Education