Do Children Need Religion?
For healthy psychological development, kids need to know there is something greater than themselves.
BY: Dr. Erika J. Chopich
"Setting the alarm on Sunday mornings is inhuman...God should
know that!" Those were my adolescent thoughts every weekend when my parents forced me to church. "I can get more out of my
headphones and the Beatles." It was this way as far back as I can remember. Early Sunday school, then later Bible studies,
liturgies in another language, all culminating in a weekly teen rebellion against God and my parents. I would brood the entire
hour's drive to church just to make my parents as miserable as I felt. It never changed in all those years.
I look back thirty-five years later and bless
my parents for the gift they gave me. I no longer practice their religion, but I live with every pore in my body believing
in something greater than myself. My faith is as easy as breathing, and during times of great challenge, I don't have to search
for God or strength. Everything I need is already there and will always be.
I have seen my peers dedicate themselves to
never raising a child that way. "I will never force my child into religion the way my parents did" became a mantra. "I will
wait until they are old enough and let them choose for themselves." Those choices, along with the "feel good" experiments
of the seventies, have been a dismal failure. The result is an ever-increasing growth of what I call "entitlement fixated"
people. It is so pervasive that, had I the power, I would make it a new personality-disorder designation.
When children are raised to never know failure,
they can't savor success nor appreciate the motivation that second place instills. If they don't learn that we must, at times,
do things we dislike for a greater good, they don't learn self-discipline. If we don't instill empathy early on, they may
never know the complete joy in giving. And if we neglect their spiritual natures, they may never truly trust God.
I see behind me a generation largely of lost
souls looking for God under every rock and crystal, believing they are so special that all of life's challenges are someone
else's fault and someone else's duty to resolve. They are spoiled, arrogant, and have no sense of healthy boundaries or respectfulness.
How can they, when they themselves have replaced God as the center of all worlds? This is the legacy we have given them. We
have absolved them of failure and endowed them with unlimited specialness-therefore, tragically, they cannot arrive at the
simple truth that there is something greater than themselves.
My early spiritual training was a little rough
around the edges. Yet at least there was something there-a foundation on which to build my spiritual life. I was given a sense
of divinity and an eye for all things sacred. I am not the center, but rather, a necessary part of a great whole. My participation
in goodness and love and acting on what is right furthers my sense of self and God more than all the awards, accolades, and
accomplishments I could ever accumulate in a lifetime.
By contrast, those who are fixated on entitlement are trapped in a lonely, fearful, winning-is-everything
world. Their sense of self is so grandiose that true intimacy and love are replaced by control and manipulation. I can't even
imagine the aloneness of a "self-only" existence. Arrogance replaces confidence, and expectations replace caring. All sense
of community is buried in an extreme need for gratification that can never be satisfied for more than a few fleeting moments.
The goal is to fulfill the needs of the self, first and always. A person with entitlement fixation doesn't ever experience
empathy and connection.
I have given great thought to the antidote for this affliction, and I believe that the answer lies partly
in one simple concept: humility.
Humility is a forgotten lesson. We have confused humility with humiliation and have fought hard to protect
our young from its pain. Humility is the concept Mother Teresa tried to convey when she said, "I am just God's little pencil."
It is surrender and openness, all in one glorious, spiritual moment. I am humbled when enveloped in a magenta sunset. I am
humbled by the amount of overwhelming talent in my small town and in the awesome devotion of all the volunteers to service
I meet. I am humbled by the vastness of all things greater than I, yet I am confident and competent in meeting the challenges
of my life.
Children need to know that the knowledge gained in failure can outweigh the feelings of "me first." There
can be true rejoicing in another's success. Being a part of something greater is better than being noticed. Giving brings
its own peace. God is not an abstract concept, but a sense that needs to be nurtured and developed before it can be experienced.
It is our humility that allows us to be happy for others and foster their highest good. My parents, though clumsy at times
in their lessons, didn't dote on me. Instead, they gave me something I can cherish.
Don't neglect your child's spiritual development. Any foundation is better than none. The lessons of self-discipline,
humility, community, and God are all worth any resistance you may encounter. This is our job as parents and role models. This
legacy is our best.
How Christian E-books Can Reach Your Teenager When Nothing Else Will
Do you remember your own tumultuous teenage years? As parents
it's easy for us to slip on the mantle of responsibility and forget that once upon a time we were just as scared, confused
and rebellious as our own teens were. That's why Christian e-books have the ability to reach out to our teens when we feel
like we ourselves have failed as parents.
The first thing you have to understand before you begin your journey to reconnect
with your teen is that you are not a bad parent. Today's teens live in troubled times, with loose morals and a tremendous
amount of pressure to be adults far too young. We have babies having babies, and teens are expected to make life altering
decisions and plot their course for the rest of their lives at the age of fourteen and fifteen.
Somewhere in all this
pressure we expect our teenagers to be easy going, well adjusted individuals. Some teenagers are. Most of them aren't. Regardless
of how rebellious your teen may be, or how frustrated you may be with them, just remember-you're not the first parent to be
in this situation, and you certainly aren't going to be the last. If you're going to reconnect with your teen, both personally
and by studying the many Christian e-books designed for teens on the market today, you're going to have to set aside the guilt
and the blame for both of you first.
If you've tried reaching out to your teen and they're not responding, take a look
online at the many Christian e-books available on the market. While not as conveniently portable as the traditional paperback,
books published in digital form allow your teen to make more productive use of their time on their good friend Mr. Computer
(who has begun to replace Ms. Telephone and Miss Text Messaging as most teen's late night communication method of choice)
than they would surfing the web or chatting with their friends. And they're more likely to read it too!
e-books deal with the topics that are important to your teen in a manner they can relate to with a third party impartiality
that allows them to absorb and make their own decisions without feeling as though they're being judged. If you were to walk
up to them and tell them they're headed down a bad course…well, chances are you already know how that's going to end!
A good Christian e-book can gently but firmly introduce them to what the Bible has to say about love, sex, dating, drugs,
school, family, extracurricular activities and growing up without making them feel pressured, and without that pressure they'll
be free to make the good decisions that you've wanted for them all along.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to your
teen. Studies show that nothing replaces the influence of a parent in a child's life, even if they don't always show it during
their teenage years. But offering them the opportunity to study and learn from the vast pool of knowledge offered by today's
Christian e-books can go a long way toward helping pave the way through the teenage angst to a brighter, better tomorrow.
Teaching Children Religion: Can Children Truly Grasp Ideas
About God and the Universe?
by Taylor Morgan
When examining the religious education of children and young
adults, it is clearly necessary to consider the possibility that young students may not be able to understand what they are
being taught. In fact, the possibility exists that even the most ardently professed young believers do not have the individuality
and experience to truly understand and accept their faith. As various studies have demonstrated (Harms, Goldman, Burt), the
ability of children to understand religious concepts is highly dependent on age and mental development. However, this does
not necessarily imply that religious education should be reserved until after childhood. On the contrary, this paper will
attempt to show that the teaching of religion to children, far from being unsuccessful and fruitless, contributes greatly
to the mental and religious development of children.
As the study of religious education has developed in recent years,
there has been a marked trend towards the belief that children relate to God and religion on many different levels. This belief
has resulted largely from a number of social experiments conducted throughout the last hundred years. In the early 1940's,
for example, Ernest Harms examined a group of students, representing a variety of ages and religions, and concluded that children
pass through three major phases of religious understanding: a "fairy-tale" stage in the youngest children, followed by a more
rational and "realistic" stage, which in turn was followed by a more fully developed "individualistic" stage (Harms 115-118).
Following this study, similar experiments were conducted which made use of different examination techniques. Whereas
Harms based his results on pictorial representations of God, for instance, Goldman based his test on comparisons between Biblical
stories and Biblical pictures. Interestingly, "in spite of the differences of approach and sampling, studies have shown much
consistency" (Pnevmatikos 95). Indeed, most studies tend to agree that children fall into roughly three categories of religious
understanding (Nye 138).
It is in the interpretation of these findings that disagreements begin to arise. Some, such
as Goldman, offer the findings as proof that children are incapable of holding religious beliefs of their own accord. As a
result of this, he sees no benefit to teaching religion to pre-adolescents. As he explains it, his findings "lend support
to the view that 'the Bible is not a children's book' and that the concepts demanded...are beyond the limitations of experience
and thinking powers of all Infant and most Junior children" (Goldman 227). This, in fact, is still a fairly common perspective
today. Many parents choose not to pass on any religious beliefs in favor of waiting until the child has reached a certain
level of intellectual maturity.
However, this interpretation of the experiments is guilty of oversimplifying the results.
The fact that the respondents can be classified into different levels of religious understanding, after all, does not necessarily
discredit what understanding they do have. While the children may not fully understand that which they claim to believe, they
are still accepting and retaining the knowledge to at least some degree. The fact that a child's religious education is not
completely lost on him or her proves the practice to be worthwhile for two important reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates a strong
correlation with the general education of children; a connection which strongly supports the practice of teaching religion
to children. Secondly, it shows that the various stages of religious development are not disjointed but continuous; a fact
that demonstrates an early religious education provides a valid foundation upon which future knowledge can be built.
results of several studies of religious education over the last century have demonstrated a striking resemblance to those
of general education.
According to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, cognitive development can be roughly divided
into four stages. Children begin life with almost no concept of the physical world beyond their immediate surroundings, progress
to a fuller understanding of the tangible world around them, develop the ability to analyze some situations abstractly, and
finally develop the full conceptual reasoning abilities of adults ("Theory of Cognitive Development").
progression is remarkably similar to the conclusions of many studies of religious education. As Nye points out, "it seems
as though the developmental aspect of a child's concept of God is consistent with Piaget's general model of cognitive development"
(Nye 140). It does appear that religious development can be categorized into three or four levels, and perhaps more importantly,
the levels bear a striking resemblance to those of Piaget. For instance, children who are educated in religion may begin with
almost no understanding of God, progress to having an understanding of God founded on the physical world around them, move
on to having various abstract concepts of God, and eventually develop a mature and fully conceptualized idea of God. Such
strata are suggested by the findings of Harms and Goldman, and offer a strong case for the parallelism of religious and general
If the two types of educational development are as similar as they appear, then the legitimacy of one would
be closely related to the legitimacy of the other. In other words, while children may not fully understand a religious education,
they also may not fully understand a general education. One cannot claim that a religious education has no merits without
claiming that a general education has no merits.
However, most people do accept that a general education benefits
children even before they can fully comprehend it. If the issue is examined carefully, it is not difficult to understand why
this belief is so commonly held. It results, as was alluded to earlier, from the fact that education is a continuous process.
As Pnevmatikos explains, "concepts never stand alone" (93). Children constantly expand their base of knowledge, using what
they already know to understand new information. Every new fact, therefore, is built upon previous knowledge.
as primitive as a child's understanding of a topic may be, it plays a crucial role by laying the foundation for a fuller understanding
in the future. In fact, this is an idea that most people understand intuitively. Take, for instance, the concept of democracy.
When children are first explained what a democracy is, it is obvious that they may understand little beyond the ideas that
"everybody is equal" and "everybody is free." However, as they grow older, these simplicities are used as the basis for understanding
the complexities of things such as the modern legislative system. While the complex version of a democracy is perhaps more
important, it is more than obvious that children must first be taught the idea in simpler terms. Therefore, the early instruction
of children provides an important basis for future learning.
This concept can easily be applied in the field of religious
education. While a young child may have only vague notions about God, his or her imperfect knowledge can serve as a foundation
for future understanding. Religious education is a continuous process, and so the argument that children should not be taught
religion purely because they cannot fully comprehend it does not make sense in the end.
It is crucial to understand the importance of the foundations
lain in the early years of a child's education; however, it is not the only benefit of teaching religion to children. Many,
in fact, would argue that even if a child's religious life was aided by an early start, there would still be no true benefit.
A child may think different about something, but does that really prove that a religious education is worthwhile? However,
moral and religious education has been shown repeatedly to have other positive benefits on children and society.
Wagener, Furrow, King, Leffert, and Benson argue, religious development and interactions "play an important role in promoting
positive behaviors and are associated with fewer reports of risk behavior" (281). As children become more involved in religious
communities and teachings, they are simultaneously exposed to a "developmental infrastructure rich in social and value-oriented
resources" (Wagener et al. 272) In other words, the religious education of a child provides more than the actual teachings.
Indeed, they expose the child to an environment where positive values are encouraged and reinforced. The child is given a
plethora of resources that will enable him or her to grow, develop, and mature in a positive manner. Thus, the child's life
is benefited beyond the facts and concepts that he or she learns.
In addition, the presence of religion in one's life
has been shown to have benefits on the whole of society. In the area of community service, for example, Ozorak concluded that
while "it is possible for the nonreligious to be as altruistic as the religious...it is not as likely that they will be" (294).
This particular study examined college students in particular, but the results can be expanded to encompass people of all
ages. While children may not be active in community service at such a young age, it is likely that as they mature they will
be more inclined to contribute to the good of society.
Thus, it can be seen that the benefits of religious education
extend far beyond the material the child actually learns. While the social benefits of religion are not yet completely understood,
it is obvious that there is indeed a connection between a religious education and service to the community. It is possible
that in essence, the children are able to grasp some of the underlying meaning of religion without fully understanding it
on an intellectual level. In other words, they are inclined to do good and serve others without knowing the religious rationale
for those actions. Regardless of the cause, however, the fact remains that children who are taught religion are more likely
to serve the community in a positive and regular manner.
Clearly, children who are exposed to religion at a young age
are not done so in vain. Although the children may not fully understand the intricacies of what they are being taught, they
do in fact retain some knowledge. As they mature and reach a higher level of intellect, they can this make use of this knowledge
to better understand their religion. Even those who have no religious persuasion can recognize that the religious education
of children can have numerous positive benefits. The child who is educated in religion experiences the benefit of a stable,
positive, and supportive environment. In addition, it is likely that such a child will then take his positive experiences
and seek to share them with others, serving the community and society in general. Thus, religious education, while not perfect,
does in fact present numerous advantages and contributions to both the child and society, and it is in the end a very fruitful
and worthwhile endeavor.
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