Measuring Spirituality in Children

By Sifers, Sarah K.; Warren, Jared S. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Measuring Spirituality in Children


Sifers, Sarah K., Warren, Jared S., Jackson, Yo, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


Spirituality is an integral part of the study of humanity and resilience. The Youth Spirituality Scale (YSS) was written to be a developmentally appropriate, inclusive measure of spirituality for children. The scale consists of 19 items and one item to identify invalid responding. A pilot study with a diverse sample of 175 youth, ages 7 to 14, suggests the YSS has good internal reliability and a second study with 144 participants ages 8 to 15 indicates it correlates significantly with relevant subscales from the Brief Multidimensional Measurement of Religiousness-Spirituality. Results suggest the measure is a reliable and valid way to assess spirituality in children. Future research to further validate the YSS and explore the relation between spirituality and other factors is recommended.

Spirituality is an internalized set of beliefs that an individual holds, which can include, but is not limited to, religious practices that involve dogma and organizational membership (Haug, 1998a). Spirituality can provide meaning for life and explanations for events, which may lead to a sense of comfort, hope, and value in the face of the challenges of human existence. It also can provide guidelines for the way people act, especially in relation to others (Exline, 2002; Haug, 1998b). Spiritual communities may provide social and instrumental support (Stander, Piercy, Mackinnon, & Helmeke, 1994). To better understand the development of faith and spirituality in youth (both older children and young adolescents), one must first differentiate some terms that are frequently used synonymously in colloquial language. Faith can be defined as a system of beliefs and values that give meaning to one's life, provide motivation for actions congruent with such beliefs, link individuals with others, and describe the ultimate reality (a deity or eternal truth). Faith includes conscious and unconscious components. Religion is a means of expressing one's faith through prescribed practices, group membership, and belief in particular concepts. Religion often includes traditions, rituals, art, and/or symbols. Spirituality is a drive to find meaning in one's life and to make sense of one's experiences as they relate to the divine or ultimate reality (Fowler, 1996). Spirituality may or may not be a core component of religion (Hill et al., 2000).

Considerably more research has been conducted on religion than spirituality and much (although by no means all) of the research on both has come from a Christian orientation (cf., Hodge, Cardenas, & Montoya, 2001; Regnerus & Elder, 2003)· Furthermore, most measures that are developmentally appropriate for children focus on religion rather than spirituality, and the majority of those are specifically geared toward Christianity (Sexson, 2004). A much broader perspective is needed (Benson, Scales, Sesma, & Roehlkepartain, 2005). The current study attempted to move beyond this limited perspective to create and test a developmentally appropriate measure of spirituality for use with youth from diverse religious and spiritual backgrounds. Such a measure could be used to assess spirituality in youth to explore the possibility of spirituality being a protective factor, for example.

Importance of spirituality

In a study of urban adolescents, over 90% of respondents reported that religion was at least somewhat important to them and only 1% reported not believing in a God or Higher Power (Holder et al., 2000). This suggests that the overwhelming majority of youth have spiritual or religious beliefs or engage in such practices. A review of the literature, however, indicates a tendency by the field to overlook spirituality, especially when one looks at spirituality outside of the context of organized religion (cf., Hodge et al., 2001; Kimchi & Schaffner, 1990; Regnerus & Elder, 2003)· This is problematic as it is possible for a person to engage in spiritual behaviors and beliefs but not participate in an organized religion, and this spirituality can be beneficial (Cotton, Zebracki, Rosenthal, Tsevat, & Drotar, 2006). …

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