If you’ve ever tried taking sullen, grumpy kids who don’t want to go to church or synagogue, you’re not alone. Over the past few decades, it’s been argued whether kids should attend religious services or not. Some people believe that parents should just let kids do whatever they choose, go to church or not. Some even believe that parents shouldn’t teach their kids about religion.
The role of religion is diminishing across America. But most people believe that religion plays a part in teaching children ethics. So the question is—is religion good for kids? Children can be happy, get good grades and learn to cooperate with others without religion. But Harvard researchers wanted to examine “the associations of religious involvement in adolescence (including religious service attendance and prayer or meditation) with a wide array of psychological well-being, mental health, health behavior, physical health, and character strength outcomes in young adulthood.”
A report just came out in the American Journal of Epidemiology that provides insight into religious upbringing and its long-term affects on adolescents.
The research team looked at over 5,000 people who were part of the Growing Up Today Study. In 1999, teens were asked questions pertaining to the frequency they attended religious services and whether they prayed or meditated on their own. These teens were followed from 8 to 14 years and questioned about their mental health and well-being. Researchers crunched the data to determine if religious services and prayer had any effect on the teens when they got older.
Most research suggests that there is a connection between better health and religion. However, most of the studies have been conducted with adults, not youth. The findings of this current study with kids suggests that the long-term effects of religious upbringing may have even more profound health effects than first realized.
The Harvard research team found that kids who attended church services at least weekly (compared with no attendance) had:
- Greater life satisfaction
- Higher levels of volunteering and a greater sense of mission
- More forgiveness
- Lower risk of drug use
- Lower risk of early sexual initiation
In addition, the researchers found that church attendance could be correlated with lower cigarette smoking, lower history of STIs, fewer depressive symptoms and less risk of illicit drug use.
But the really interesting element researchers found was that these outcomes aren’t necessarily connected to church attendance. The same types of findings were present in teens who spent time meditating and praying on their own versus teens who did not pray or meditate. Those who prayed or meditated every day had much better outcomes than those who never prayed or meditated. The teens were better able to process emotions, less likely to have sex at an early age and had more life satisfaction. The findings weren’t limited to when the teens where young. It carried over into their 20s.
The researchers did consider how the study was limited.
“Our study is, however, subject to certain limitations. First, religious involvement was measured with 2 single items that were widely used in adults. These measures did not consider developmental characteristics of adolescents. For instance, adolescents’ decisions on religious participation are likely shaped by both parents and peers. It may, therefore, be important to assess influences from both (e.g., pressure by parents to attend religious services and participation in peer religious youth groups) to facilitate understanding in a developmentally relevant framework.”
In addition, it was noted that the study participants were mostly white. Their mothers mostly worked in the nursing field. The researchers pointed out that the results of the study may not be present in other populations.
There still is a lot to know about how faith affects people, especially children. This research supports raising your children with faith and self-care practices as a way of promoting good health and well-being.