Four Keys to Supporting Teenagers’ Spiritual Growth

At first glance, it might seem like we’re talking about two divergent realities: adolescence is all about exploration of the outer world, while spirituality is about inner awakening. But if we look more closely, we find that they can be two parts of an integrated whole. Living Wisdom High Schools are founded on four essential themes: Adventure, Service, Self-Discovery and Personal Excellence, with each theme providing a crucial dimension for a teenager’s growth.

❶ Adventure
Explore Larger Realities

One of the biggest impulses for teenagers is proving to themselves and others that they are no longer children. In essence this compulsion is healthy and appropriate, though usually poorly managed by modern society. When we as adults fail to provide constructive ways of supporting this drive toward expansion, it is all too common for teens to grasp at the most superficial badges of adulthood: drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, premature sex, etc. Unfortunately, these activities often lead to problems that can take years to heal. One of the ways our high schools meet the need to expand is through our Adventure Trips that have taken us to such places as India, South Africa, Mexico, and this coming year to the Findhorn Community in Scotland.

❷ Service
Become Part of the Solution

Along with the teenager’s growing awareness of larger realities comes the realization that our planet is filled with problems such as wars, lack of food and water, and homelessness. Left unaddressed, this realization can easily lead to cynicism and a rejection of the adult society that allows these conditions to exist. A key element of a high school curriculum is to provide opportunities for students to get involved in solving these problems. On a local level our students have helped at places like animal shelters, homes for the elderly, and preschools that serve special needs children. Farther afield, our students have helped at orphanages in Mexico, protected endangered Sea Turtles, and this year will be attending an international conference on Climate Change and Consciousness.

❸ Self-Discovery
Strengthen Life Skills that Support Success and Well-Being

Often in high school there is a lot of stress around learning material that will be of little use later in life. There are however, many Life Skills that can be developed at this age that will have a large impact on future success and well-being. At a Living Wisdom High School students are encouraged to focus on such skills as Developing Concentration, Choosing Happiness, Cultivating Courage, and Living Truth. In developing these skills, teens realize that their possibilities for growth and self-improvement are endless.

❹ Personal Excellence
Apply Effort and Perseverance to a Chosen Discipline

Finally, we come to making sure that each teenager puts in the effort to attain a level of excellence in some part of life. Everyone has different talents, and it should be the role of the high school to help students identify these areas of interest and then provide the support to develop these talents. In this way, each teen can establish a meaningful basis for self-confidence and respect, tools that are essential in contending with the strong currents of peer pressure that they experience. The possibilities are as varied as the students and have included everything from singing, to cooking, to mathematics, to caring for animals.

A Student’s Perspective on Adventure and Challenge

Italy/Slovenia Trip Overview

Jr. at Living Wisdom High school, Rachel Anderson

This trip was a fantastic experience for me. It combined things that were fun and enjoyable with challenges that I would never have expected. I was so glad to have had this opportunity to travel with my peers, serve internationally, experience a new culture, and challenge myself.

Every trip has its ups and downs. It’s hard to pick a favorite experience or to know what the most challenging obstacle was, but I learned more about others and myself in six weeks abroad in Italy and Slovenia than I had all summer. I feel like we were all challenged to a sufficient extent academically, physically and emotionally: it was enough of a challenge just balancing these things!

Admittedly, my academic studies suffered a little. I didn’t do as much math as usual, or read as much, and my U.S. history and biology studies were put aside for Italian history classes, the time I spent staring at bugs that I’d never seen before, and followed the Italian Living Wisdom Students in hikes through il bosco (the forest). Do I feel like I lost any knowledge? No. I have seen La Fontana di Trevi, looked over Ljubljana, cheered for the archers of San Bernadetto and sat in St. Francis’s tomb with true Franciscan monks. Pictures will never be able to do justice to the beauty of the Umbrian countryside and it is one thing to say “St. Peter was crucified in St. Peter’s square in the Vatican City bla, bla, bla….” And it’s another thing altogether to stand there. As much as those experiences will be valuable to me for the rest of my life, I feel like the more valuable thing than any of that will be the lessons I learned about myself and interacting with others.

I found that if I don’t force myself to think of exercise as an assignment, I won’t do it. I found that I prefer a schedule that tells me exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and when, as opposed to open-ended days. I found that I love trains.

Through the course of the trip I was working on ‘doing whatever I want’ – another way of saying independent thinking. It was a challenge for me, having always been eager to please everyone and avoid confrontation whenever possible. I had good examples of independent action through my peers, which helped set the wheels in motion for me to be empowered to ‘do whatever I want’. This lesson, and many others (that I can’t mention within 500 words) will be ones that I keep with me for the rest of my life.

There were challenges on the trip, of course, and looking back I see ways that they might have been avoided. Firstly, I think a trip later in the year would help the students (and the teachers) prepare academically for study outside of a set schedule. I think that researching the location and putting together a more detailed plan of what we want to do, how, when, and using the resources available would be a good exercise, and beneficial to the overall chaos- because you know there’ll be some- when we arrive. But these challenges can all be addressed, and if not addressed, overcome in the moment.

When I look back on this trip, I will remember a time of my life that tested my strengths and illustrated my weaknesses, that challenged me and forced me to think and live ‘outside my box’. But this was a trip that, in the end, improved my character, opened new doors to me, gave me new perspectives and inspiration, and taught me lessons that I will never forget.