Friday, April 27, 2007

Study: Religion is Good for Kids

Live science reports on an interesting study which concludes that religion is good for kids.

The article says this:
Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development.
The study was done by John Bartkowski, a Mississippi State University sociologist.
He and his colleagues asked the parents and teachers of more than 16,000 kids, most of them first-graders, to rate how much self control they believed the kids had, how often they exhibited poor or unhappy behavior and how well they respected and worked with their peers.

The researchers compared these scores to how frequently the children’s parents said they attended worship services, talked about religion with their child and argued abut religion in the home.

The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services—especially when both parents did so frequently—and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents.

But when parents argued frequently about religion, the children were more likely to have problems. “Religion can hurt if faith is a source of conflict or tension in the family,” Bartkowski noted.
There were also some interesting conclusions and observations that Bartkowski arrived at.
Based on his research, he seemed to think that religion can be good for kids for three reasons. First, religious networks provide social support to parents, he said, and this can improve their parenting skills. Children who are brought into such networks and hear parental messages reinforced by other adults may also “take more to heart the messages that they get in the home,” he said.

Secondly, the types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family, Bartkowski told LiveScience. These “could be very, very important in shaping how parents relate to their kids, and then how children develop in response,” he said.

Finally, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance, he said.

University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, who was not involved in the study, agrees. At least for the most religious parents, “getting their kids into heaven is more important than getting their kids into Harvard,” Wilcox said.
Well, I think that whenever the family is engaged in something together on a regular basis that it can only be a positive for kids. The social aspect of religious observance, the holidays, and so on are also certainly very beneficial for kids, and create common memories for the family. My mom always said that it didn't matter what religious beliefs kids are brought up with, but that it was important that they had something to believe in. This is certainly an interesting study, and no matter what your religious beliefs, there is nothing better than family unity, sense of community and teaching your kids key concepts like the importance of friends, peace, sharing and respect for others as well as a host of other virtues along with the knowledge that our life has meaning and purpose and that there are things in the universe much larger than us.


Colin Urban said...

I completely agree. I would argue that it is perhaps unhealthy to teach children to believe in anything without evidence. Without a healthy skeptisim children will never ask the questions they need to learn effectively. I do however understand how important family time is, esecially in conjunction with other familys. I would love to see more organizations devoted to creating secular communities. For both parents and their children.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Judy,

This is a very important study. I do have some concerns about the conclusions, however, although I did note that the researcher was honestly tentative in the quotes you provided.

One concern is the question about arguing religion. In our household, we have long discussions about religion and morality. As part of those discussions, we frequently talk about contradictions and disagreements that are internal to our religion--for example the arguments between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai. These arguments, preserved in the Talmud, are said to exist "for the sake of heaven." In practical terms, they represent human uncertainty and fallibility in the face of an ultimately unknowable Eternal One.

Certainly I think that the teaching of religion is important for children. At the same time, I believe that how it is taught matters. I wince at the terrible certainty of certain "missionary" individuals who are convinced that they have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and use that idea to beat the rest of us over the head with their "authority" from G-d. The hatred of their fellow human beings these people demonstrate is open and disgusting.

Personally, I do not see how "arguing about religion" can be more harmful than the hatred evoked by absolute certainty of one's own election and disregard for the humanity of those who are not among the elect.

christinemm said...

Judy thanks for blogging this. I have linked to it. Very interesting.

Jenny said...

Thanks for linking to this! I started going back to church after reading in a book on children with Asperger's that having belief in something bigger than themselves really helped children on the autistic spectrum. I have found this to be incredibly true.

rebecca said...

Thank you for this Judy. Will be forwarding to my pastor-husband, since I'm sure he'll be interested. Look like raising children in a religious home isn't child abuse after all, as some would have us believe.

Elisheva, I suspect the kind of "arguing about religion" the study is talking about is when parents are divided in a significant way about their beliefs, as in an interfaith marriage, and this is a source of tension or fighting between the parents. "Arguing about religion" as in having discussions and lively debates in order to gain a deeper understanding is, I'll wager, very healthy. I wish more people would spend time "arguing" about their faith in *that* way!