Fostering innate natural spirituality may be the hidden secret to preventing the proliferation of depression and anxiety in our younger generation.
In her latest book, The Spiritual Child: The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving, Lisa Miller, PhD shares 15 years of scientific research proving children who grow up with an active, positive personal relationship with spirituality have a 60% less chance of recurring depression, are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex, and 40% less likely to use and abuse substances, as well as less likely to engage in cutting or suffer from an eating disorder.
When I share these statistics, many ask, “What do you mean by spirituality?” Within Miller’s definition, an atheist can just as easily be spiritual as a devout follower of a religion. Miller defines natural spirituality as such:
While organized religions can clearly play a role in spiritual development, the primary engine that drives natural spirituality is innate, biological, and developmental: first an inborn faculty for transcendent connection, then a developmental impetus to make it our own, and the resulting deep personal relationship with the transcendent through nature, God, or the universal force. (9)
Many would call such a deep personal relationship with the transcendent an awakening, but not all children and teens experience this developmentally important connection.
Miller compares adolescents with a developed spiritual core and those without one, and the results are alarming:
A SPIRITUAL CORE SHAPES DEVELOPMENT:
MEANING, PURPOSE, CALLING, AND CONNECTION
Miller’s book encourages parents to foster the adolescent brain’s readiness for transcendence. When teens have a strong spiritual core, they possess “inherent worth, an identity of meaning and purpose, and work that includes a calling and contribution.” In essence they feel a place in the world as always connected and an existential reality that is purposeful (Miller 246). A teen with this strength goes to college with skills very different from a teen who does not have a developed spiritual core.
According to Miller’s research, teens lacking an innate sense of connection to the transcendent see a self defined by abilities and an identity judged on acquiring success. Work is based on talent and gains, and their place in the world as ultimately alone. Their existential reality is that of a random world. (Miller, 246) My question is what happens when these college students arrive their freshman year without the solidity of this spiritual core and are suffering from depression, substance abuse, high risk behavior, an eating disorder, cutting, or other mental health issues. The teen/young adult is in college, lacks parental support in the immediate vicinity and feels adrift in a lonely world. In addition, the cumulative impact of digital distraction may have further weakened the power of the pre-frontal lobe to withstand the fight, flight or freeze dual impact of anxiety and technology. Now what?
If these college teens are taken through a process to “Power Down for Presence, Passion and Purpose,” they may develop the missing spiritual core. Through one or all of these steps, the adolescent may experience the interconnection of a transcendence to self, to God, to a community, and/or the Earth, and a shift may occur where the student finds meaningfulness. Ideally this process serves the greater good as they feel the deep interdependence of a global community.