If you want to give your children a gift that will provide them a solid foundation, protect their mental well-being, provide them with the building blocks for strong and healthy relationships, and set them on a path toward happiness, science says, “Give them faith in God.”
Many young children, adolescents, and adults suffer from depression and anxiety. Parents want to know, ‘Why?” One recurring explanation, and often a neglected explanation, is a declining interest in God and religion. I see the consequences of this at Shield Bearer almost every day.
A 2018 Harvard study involving 5,000 people examines how being raised in a family with religious beliefs affects children’s mental health. The study found that kids who attended a religious service at least once per week scored higher in psychological well-being and lower mental illness risks. Weekly attendance was also associated with higher rates of volunteerism, lower probability of both drug use and early sexual initiation, and a sense of purpose.
Despite all the evidence that religious involvement leads to positive behaviors, Gallup reports that the US has seen a 20% decrease in attendance at formal religious services in the past 20 years. In 2018 the American Family survey revealed that nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religion from a purely psychological point of view.
Nihilism, the belief in nothing, is a rich fertilizer for anxiety and depression. Contrasted with the belief in God as a guardian figure who loves us, it is an invaluable source of support and comfort.
Parents might ask, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or Heaven?” The best answer is, “Fake it.” There are many things you don’t tell your children the whole truth about. For instance, if your children hear about a tragedy in your community, you tell them that “It will never happen to you. You are safe. You’re protected”. We don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know those bad things will not happen to our children, yet we reassure them with a hopeful narrative. The same applies to believing in God and Heaven.
Even if you believe that your bones turn to dust when you die and are gone for eternity, such beliefs don’t help children; they only scare them and create anxiety over death and dying. Faith in a benevolent God and heaven do help children with their fear.
In our current age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence, and nightmarish global warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s coping ability. It is far better for kids to use their imagination to construct something positive, such as a God who cares about us, than the dark alternative that there’s no Creator and protector and no purpose to our existence.
Many parents want to instill gratitude and empathy in their children. Again, the best answer is to get them involved in organized religion. All traditional faiths encourage gratitude and compassion as antidotes to entitlement and selfishness. These are the building blocks of solid character. They also protect against depression and anxiety.
Additionally, religion provides children a chance for community. Being with people who share their faith can act as a buffer against the emptiness and isolation of modern culture. It is more necessary than ever in a world where teens can have hundreds of virtual friends and few real ones. Religion helps teach children mindfulness, a sense of self-control, and discipline. Your young children might not be aware they are entering a house of worship, but they know they’re supposed to act appropriately when they are there. They relax their bodies and calm their minds. It is true that if you feel ambivalent about God and religion, your children will likely follow your example. However, if you practice religion or send your children to religious school knowing it is good for them, you might surprise yourself and get out of it something meaningful. Your children may bring you back to faith. It’s certainly worth an extended experiment for their sake and yours.
Consider one more argument. If you consider that your children should be free to choose or reject God and religion, they need to be exposed to God and religion. How else will they be able to make a free and informed choice? We live in a competitive, stressful society that idealizes materialism, selfishness, and virtual than real human connection. Having a religious community and a belief in God is the best antidote to all of that. Whether children choose to continue to practice as adults is something you cannot control but at least give them a chance to believe in God and find comfort in religion. Faith is a gift parents can provide their children with enormous and long-lasting benefits.