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Psychology and Religion

Parents are often disappointed and dismayed by their children not following in their footsteps when it comes to religious practice. Parents wonder, "What did we do wrong? Why is my child rebelling against everything s/he learned at home and in school?"

There are no easy answers to these questions. Feelings of guilt, attendant to parenting, lead to a dead end and much suffering. Instead, we need to look at what actions we can take now and in the future.

A new book, Families and Faith, addresses this issue as it pertains to all faiths. The authors are professors reporting on their research, which shows that the religious practice of children depends on their relationship with their parents.

It is not what we teach but how we teach it that makes the difference between the transmission of our faith from one generation to the next.

The overall relationship with our children - independent of any teaching or practice - impacts on their specific view of religion. As quoted in the book review (WSJ, 1/27/14), "a 'warm' relationship with parents will make a child more likely to identify with the religion of their childhood when they reach maturity."

Of further interest - and one which I've stressed often - is that fathers often make more of a difference than mothers in transmitting the mores of their faith and worldview to their children. A general correlation for all religious groups, according to the research, is a "25-point greater likelikhood that a child will claim the same religion as his parents if he is emotionally close to his father. There is only a one-point difference for those who report being emotionally close to their mothers." [My caveat: this may apply to sons and not daughters. I wonder whether closeness with the mother affects a daughter's view and practice of religion.]

Lastly, this book points out that in this day and age when people are living longer, grandparents can be instrumental in transmitting religious beliefs. At a time when parents may be too stressed and the household chaotic, grandparents - in a loving relationship with their grandchildren - can provide the modeling and memories for them.

Children learn what they live; and, as the saying goes, "practice what you preach."

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