Finding safe passage: the experience of spirituality for adolescents
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Adolescents in the United States are at risk for a number of negative behavioral and health outcomes, and the literature suggests links between spirituality and various risk and protective factors associated with these outcomes. The purposes of this qualitative study were to gain a better understanding of adolescents’ conception of spirituality and to explore its role in their life experiences. A bioecological theory of human development provided a sensitizing framework, and a grounded theory of finding safe passage emerged through constant comparative analyses of semi-structured individual interviews conducted with twelve healthy Caucasian, lower to upper middle class adolescents ages 13-17 years old. One participant attended a private Christian school; all others attended public schools. Two participants lived in rural areas within 45 miles of a major city, and the others lived in the city or its suburbs. The basic characteristics of spirituality were categorized as felt awareness and wholeness. Awareness of spirituality was through its supernatural and physical properties and internal, dynamic, and constant presence. Properties of wholeness included ix encompassing and integrated parts, meaning and purpose, and essence of self. Spirituality was facilitated by a supportive environment, creativity, helping and being helped, and connecting to self, God, and others. Consequences were a changed perspective, positive behaviors, relating to others, and the core variable of an anchored self. For Christian participants, an important intervening condition was their relationship to God. Finding safe passage, the basic psychosocial process through which these participants employed their spirituality, had three sequential phases: turning inward, having an inner dialogue, and navigating the course. In turning inward, they turned their attention away from the external situation toward internal directions. They then thought through all relevant aspects of a situation in an inner dialogue. In navigating the course, they initiated and carried out the decisions they considered would best help them find safe passage. A key component of each phase was an anchored self, with its properties of self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-confidence, and independence. These phases led them through difficulty in a manner that maintained integrity of self and helped or did not harm others.