Religion can be a very positive thing for a teenager. By practicing the family religion, or even an alternative religion, a teen can develop high self-esteem, focus on schoolwork, and develop a positive social life. Being devout is also associated with avoiding negative things like drugs, alcohol and crime. Most parents, in fact, would be pleased if their teen attended religious ceremonies regularly and prayed on a daily basis.
While religion has the potential to be a positive force in the life of a teenager, it can also be a sign of mental health issues. When religion is practiced in an obsessive way, or when it interferes with a teen’s other activities, it may not be the positive part of his or her life that you want it to be. Practicing religious rituals and praying obsessively and to the exclusion of everything else may indicate that something else is going on with your child.
Religion and Mental Health
Before you start to panic and think that your teen is struggling mentally because she enjoys church, praying, and Bible study classes, remember that religion is largely a positive force. When a teen balances religious devotion with other activities, like sports, hobbies, spending time with friends, and academics, it is largely a good thing. Practiced in this balanced manner, religions may help your teen cope with stress and peer pressure and to develop a good sense of self-esteem and self-worth.
On the other hand, if your teen is obsessive about religion, she may be expressing signs of a mental illness. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for instance, is a mental illness characterized by such obsessive actions and thoughts. Someone with OCD typically thinks obsessively about bad thoughts. For example, if your teen has OCD, she might think constantly about getting in a car accident or someone she loves getting in an accident. To prevent the bad things from happening, someone with OCD performs certain rituals over and over again in a compulsive way. This can be in the form of religious behaviors.
If your teen seems to be obsessed with religious practices, like praying compulsively, insisting on attending church every day, or reading the Bible in every possible spare moment, she could be using religion as a compulsive way to ward off bad and obsessive thoughts. Teens with OCD who use religion often focus on the ritual aspects of their faith, such as prayer. They may think that God will punish them if they do not perform these rituals regularly. This is not a healthy way to express religious beliefs.
Other possible links between unhealthy religious practices and mental health are delusions and hallucinations. If your teen hears voices or sees images of a religious nature, he could be experiencing the onset of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These are two similar and very serious mental illnesses that may begin during the teenage years.
Coping With Abnormal Religious Practices
Modeling normal and healthy religious practices is the best way to demonstrate to your teen the way to balance religious beliefs with the rest of life. Encourage your teen to get involved with religion, but show him how you enjoy attending services and praying while also enjoying other aspects of your life. It is also important that you are aware of how your teen practices religion and any changes. If he suddenly becomes obsessed with praying or wants to be at church every day, there could be a problem. A change in the type of religion that your child wants to practice is not necessarily cause for concern. Keep an open mind and watch him for signs of obsessive practices.
If you suspect that your child has become too attached to the rituals of religion or has become obsessed with practicing a faith, consider getting professional help. Look for a therapist that understands the importance of religion and who is open to discussing religious matters. The last thing you want is to send your very religious teen to a therapist or counselor who completely discounts the importance of religion. A therapist should be able to help your teen figure out a balance between practicing religion and enjoying other aspects of a normal teenage lifestyle.