Many influential leaders have made strong, negative statements about the harmful effects that religion has on children. These condemnations are often illustrated by moving testimonials of people who had harmful experiences in religious communities. Compassion leads us to grieve with those who have been abused and suffered loss from an upbringing in toxic spiritual environments.
But what does science say? Anecdotes and opinions are interesting, but we want to look at the evidence. The latest research, published from work done at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, shows a very positive effect on growing up in a religious household. The study had a large sample and duration:
Our study used a large sample of over 5,000 adolescents, followed them up for more than eight years, and controlled for many other variables to try to isolate the effect of religious upbringing. We found that children who were raised in a religious or spiritual environment were subsequently better protected from the “big three” dangers of adolescence.
The researchers provide a helpful infographic that summarizes their research:
As Dr. Tyler J. VanderWeele summarizes, " The research indicates that, on average, the effects of a religious community are profoundly positive."
Questions for discussion:
- If you grew up in a religious family and environment, did this have a positive effect on your life?
- How have you seen a church provide better life outcomes for children?
- How could this scientific research lead to opportunities to discuss spiritual issues?