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Religion is a response to the imponderable and
unanswerable. Whether you believe or not, your children still have spiritual
questions and need help with them. As you help your children learn about
religion, you necessarily deal with religious beliefs, religious customs, and
religious rituals. Let’s look at these issues separately.

Children learn about religious beliefs through
identification and association with you and with other people. These religious
beliefs and values become part of your child’s thinking as well as part of his
moral sense. They are incorporated into his conscience.

You want your children to learn about the
customs of your religion, such as praying, church attendance, relating to
members of the clergy or other specific individuals within the church, when and
how to express religious ideas and beliefs, and appropriate dress and behavior
in religiously significant situations. Each religious group has its own customs.
Children learn these customs by being taught about them. Most importantly, they
should spend time with people who believe in the customs and observe them.

Children also need to learn about religious
rituals – church services, funerals, marriage ceremonies, membership rituals,
ceremonies of coming of age, and so on. All religions have such prescribed
rituals about which children need to learn. They need to learn appropriate
dress, appropriate behavior, the sequence in which things happen, the
significance of specific actions or events.

The earlier your child is exposed to the
influence of religious beliefs, customs, and rituals, the more likely he
develops a continuing religious orientation. For your infant or toddler, such involvement
and participation are spontaneous and relatively unquestioned. Your very young
children do not recognize even the possibility of alternative beliefs, customs,
and rituals. To the extent you hold a religious orientation and are involved
and participate in rituals, your child’s involvement and participation is
spontaneous and complete.

If your religion is important to you and if you
believe a similar orientation is necessary for your children, insist they be
exposed to religious education, conform with religious custom, and participate
in religious rituals. Should children (including adolescents) be made to go to
church? Yes, if you think church attendance is a mandatory part of life. Should
children be forbidden to participate in activities thought to be immoral? Yes,
if you think they are immoral or indecent. Encourage your children to do what
is right and not to do what is wrong. Demand their cooperation consistent with
your own beliefs and values. What is right and what is wrong? Within very broad
limits, you decide for your children.

Children can be abused or neglected under the
guise of religion. For example, a father literally beat his eleven-year-old son
on a daily basis (so the father said) to let his child experience the wrath of
God and so his child would honor his father. A three-year-old was made to
“sit in prayer” for all waking hours during a five-day period so he
would learn stealing is sinful and brings great punishment. Such abuse and
neglect of children under the umbrella of religion is quite intolerable and inexcusable.

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