The Role of Religion and Spirituality in Adolescent Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand
The life stage of adolescence is rich in developmental change. Previous research has acknowledged the positive characteristics that youth bring to their own developmental journeys and the importance of a positive approach to the study of adolescent wellbeing. However, adolescence is also associated with a decline in wellbeing and high mortality rates in comparison to other life stages; therefore, an important focus for developmental research is that of identifying protective factors for adolescent wellbeing. Some studies have indicated that religiosity and spirituality may play such protective roles, whereby adolescents who have some form of religiosity and/or spirituality in their lives tend to also experience better wellbeing as compared to adolescents who are not religious and/or spiritual. Importantly, previous research has identified some of the components of religiosity and spirituality that seem to benefit religious and/or spiritual youth such as connection with others and the belief that one’s life has meaning and purpose. Researchers have also considered how those components can be delivered using both religious/spiritual and non-religious/spiritual frameworks. Much of the research showing better wellbeing for religious and/or spiritual youth has come out of the United States, which as a society has relatively high levels of religiosity. The extent to which such associations are true for more secularized societies remains largely untested. Moreover, although it is well established in the literature that personality is associated with wellbeing, many of the studies linking religiosity and spirituality with adolescent wellbeing have not taken personality into account. The current study aimed, therefore, to determine whether similar protective roles for religiosity and spirituality would be shown for adolescent wellbeing in the more secularised society of New Zealand. If so, would such associations remain after accounting for personality? Data were collected as part of a broader developmental study examining children’s cognitive and social development, in which the participants’ were first assessed as toddlers. A cross-sectional design was used for the participants when they were 15 years of age, and nine wellbeing outcomes were assessed: life satisfaction; total difficulties (feelings of anxiety or depression, problems with peers, hyperactivity-inattention, and behavioural conduct problems); prosocial behaviour; risk-taking behaviour; depression; self-esteem; gratitude; social-emotional wellbeing (social and emotional functioning such as emotion recognition and empathy); and empathic concern. The adolescents who identified as religious/spiritual reported significantly more satisfaction with life, prosocial behaviour, gratitude and better social-emotional wellbeing as compared to the non-religious/spiritual adolescents. Further analyses revealed that those significant associations were still present after controlling for personality and socioeconomic status. Furthermore, significant gender differences were observed whereby; the boys experienced better life satisfaction than the girls after controlling for personality (extraversion, agreeability, conscientiousness, and openness), whereas the girls experienced better social emotional wellbeing after controlling for personality (neuroticism). Determining which aspects of religiosity and spirituality are most relevant to adolescent wellbeing and how such moral and value based resources might be delivered using a non-religious framework in more secular societies provides an important direction for future research.
Advisor: Reese, Elaine
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Department of Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Spirituality; Adolescent; Wellbeing; Protective
Research Type: Thesis