Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Fosters Spirituality


A search of the literature across the various disciplines associated with positive youth development did not produce a definition of spirituality appropriate to this review. To capture components of either religiosity or non-traditional forms of applied spiritual practice, spirituality is defined here as "relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; concerned with or affecting the soul; of, from, or relating to God; of or belonging to a church or religion" (Webster's New College Dictionary, 1995). The construct of spirituality has been associated in some research with the development of a youth's moral reasoning, moral commitment, or a belief in the moral order (Hirschi, 1969; Stark & Bainbridge, 1997). Recent reviews of the relationship between religiosity and adolescent well-being found that religiosity was positively associated with prosocial values and behavior, and negatively related to suicide ideation and attempts, substance abuse, premature sexual involvement, and delinquency (Benson, 1992; Benson, Donahue & Erickson, 1990; Donahue & Benson, 1995). Several authors (Meyer & Lausell, 1996) recently argued for the value of including a "higher power" in violence prevention efforts, asserting that promoting an adolescent's understanding of his or her spiritual belief system will positively contribute to other aspects of the young person's development. Another author suggested that because adolescence is inherently a developmental stage characterized by the search for meaning, spiritual exploration should be supported through assisting youth in finding appropriate reading materials to address their questions (Mendt, 1996).

Operational Definition.  Programs were classified as fostering spirituality if they promoted the development of beliefs in a higher power, internal reflection or meditation, or supported youth in exploring a spiritual belief system, or sense of spiritual identity, meaning, or practice.