Got God? Spirituality Increases Well-Being in At-Risk Adolescents

African-American youth living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are exposed to many conditions that their more advantageous peers are not. For African-American adolescents living in at-risk communities, violence, crime, and drugs may be a way of life. Because of this, these children are more susceptible to negative psychological outcomes than their non-at-risk peers. Various approaches have been developed and applied to help these young people overcome the challenges they face. However, often a significantly important coping strategy is overlooked. For young people who are religious or spiritual, accessing this emotional resource may be an effective tool that can improve their psychological well-being.

To test this theory, Donna K. Shannon of the Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care at Loyola University in Maryland recently led a study assessing the protective effects of spirituality and religion in a sample of 214 African-American teenagers enrolled in a parochial school in an urban community. She evaluated how spirituality weakened the negative effects of a violent environment, and how spirituality and religious coping strengthened life satisfaction. Shannon found that the teens who had daily spiritual experiences had higher levels of life satisfaction and used positive religious coping more than those who did not experience spirituality.

Shannon also discovered that even though family support was an important protective factor, spirituality acted as a more significant buffer against the negative impact of being exposed to violence. When she looked at trait levels of anxiety and negative affect, Shannon found that spirituality did not influence those levels. Perhaps individuals who have chronic exposure to violence develop more negative affect, and therefore do not respond as well to the positive effects of spirituality as those who are in a heightened state of stress. Regardless, Shannon believes that these results demonstrate that clinicians should consider spirituality in sessions as it may open new doors for some teens. “The findings of this study support the integration of spirituality in psychotherapy with religiously oriented adolescents,” said Shannon.

Shannon, D. K., Oakes, K. E., Scheers, N. J., Richardson, F. J., and Stills, A. B. (2012). Religious beliefs as moderator of exposure to violence in African American adolescents. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030879

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  • Jasmine


    January 26th, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    Good to see that spirituality and not just religion provides that buffer.because a lot of us do not wish to be confined by a religion but are spiritual.maybe spirituality even avoids some negative things that religion can bring along with it.nothing against any religion but sometimes too much affiliation can be not a nice thing after all.

  • marcus


    January 27th, 2013 at 5:25 AM

    The one issue that I have with this, and not really against it just something that needs to be considered, is that a lot of kids growing up like this in poor neighborhoods and home are probably going to have quite a few barriers that have to be broken down before they are really ready to hear and accept the word of God. Some of the have witnessed so much hate in their short lives that they will need someone really dynamic in their lives to help them move past that anger and hurt. Finding one’s spirituality could be the key to that, but they have to be willing to let it in.

  • larry


    January 27th, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    spirituality has helped me a lot over the years. there is this sense of peace when you feel connected to a higher power. negative things seem like just that- negative. I’m not saying non spatial people are the only ones doing the negative things but its far easier to cope with circumstances in life, it’s like there’s a helping hand guiding you, it’s just wonderful!

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