Kids do best in intact families that go to church

OK, this is one of those social science research projects that proves the perfectly obvious, but it’s still good to find evidence that children raised by both parents in a family that goes to church have fewer problems. From Kids from Religion, Intact Families Fare Better, Study Says
:

Children living with both biological parents or adoptive parents who attend religious services regularly are less likely to exhibit problems at school or at home, a new analysis of national data shows.

The study by psychologist Nicholas Zill, the founder of Child Trends, and statistician Philip Fletcher found that children in such a situation — when compared to children not living with both parents and not attending religious services regularly — are 5.5 times less likely to have repeated a grade and 2.5 less likely to have had their parents contacted by the school because of a conduct or achievement problem.

Additionally, intact families who have regular religious participation (defined as at least weekly or monthly) are less likely to report parental stress and more likely to report a “better parent-child relationship,” the analysis, which focused on families with children ages 6-17, says.

The study, co-released by the Family Research Council and more than 30 state family councils as part of FRC’s Mapping America project, was based on interviews in 2003 with parents of more than 100,000 children and teens by the National Center for Health Statistics for the National Survey of Children’s Health.

The data “hold[s] up after controlling for family income and poverty, low parent education levels, and race and ethnicity.”

“An intact two-parent family and regular church attendance are each associated with fewer problem behaviors, more positive social development, and fewer parental concerns about the child’s learning and achievement,” Zill and Fletcher wrote. “Taken together, the two home-environment factors have an additive relationship with child well-being. That is, children who live in an intact family and attend religious services regularly generally come out best on child development measures, while children who do neither come out worst. Children with one factor in their favor, but not the other, fall in between ….”

The authors said that children in an intact religious family “are more likely to exhibit positive social behavior, including showing respect for teachers and neighbors, getting along with other children, understanding other people’s feelings, and trying to resolve conflicts with classmates, family, or friends.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “Children living with both biological parents or adoptive parents who attend religious services regularly are less likely to exhibit problems at school or at home, a new analysis of national data shows.”
    Of course that probably holds true for all except PKs, (and no Bryan I don’t mean Plumber’s Kid). I gave my parents trouble every chance I got. Which I find is often true of many PKs. Oh well look where it got me.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    As you say, it should be perfectly obvious — yet how often don’t TV shows and movies portray such homes as something stultifying and oppressive, that holds children back, and from which they need to escape or be rescued!

  • Paul E.

    Bror,

    I second your comment on PKs. I gave my parents the run of their lives through my teen years as well. Here, here to PKs!

  • Booklover

    My husband and I raised four sons and we dragged them to church and Sunday School every Sunday. Still we had our share of problems. Almost every day I asked myself how single mothers could possibly do it alone. And there were other times when our only hope was Jesus, or times when our Pastor interceded for our son and I wondered how those without church families coped. And to be honest, there were also times when I sort of blamed God. For instance, we wouldn’t let our children join travelling ball teams when it meant they would miss out on most Sunday services, then watched other Christian kids travel for sports all weekend and succeed in sports probably because of that, while ours didn’t and felt very bad about it. I guess this is to say we all make our choices. Some “work out,” some don’t.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “As you say, it should be perfectly obvious — yet how often don’t TV shows and movies portray such homes as something stultifying and oppressive, that holds children back, and from which they need to escape or be rescued!’
    And yet how often isn’t that the case? Lets not get to sanctimonious here. I’ve seen it. Have you not seen it? I’ve seen kids brought up in “pious homes” that have all but broken them. I know adults who have been on their own for 40 years or more who are still broken by their parents who thought they were just doing the right thing by keeping their daughter from the prom. (My grandma felt guilty for sneaking out to a dance when the Pietist pastor that adopted her forbade her to go.)
    And I know a fair amount of unbelievers who have grown up in such homes. And I don’t blame them for being put off by religion, and the church. I go drinking with jack Mormons, for instance. They wake up realize they have been brought up in a lie, and it takes a pastor 6 months to even get their name, they are so jaded. I visit these same people in jail. “Religion” quite simply drove them to drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention fornication. Paul was on to something when he said the law incites sin.
    I would like to say that is just Mormonism. But it is not. I see it in many different Christian churches. I have even seen it in the Lutheran Church. Especially among PK’s. Keep an eye on it brothers. I think we in the church need to recognize this danger, if not own up to it. We need to learn that the Christian life is not living a perfect life, but a forgiven life. We need to pass that on to our children. Christ died so that we could live. So enjoy life, live a little, its a gift play with it. Christ didn’t die so we could all become teetotalers scared to dance or play cards, or for that matter go to a concert or movie.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Booklover,
    “For instance, we wouldn’t let our children join travelling ball teams when it meant they would miss out on most Sunday services, then watched other Christian kids travel for sports all weekend and succeed in sports probably because of that, while ours didn’t and felt very bad about it.”
    Christian parents take notice. My parents did the same thing. Which is part of the reason I put them through the ringer. They didn’t do it to my younger brother. He is a little more balanced then the rest of us.
    It’s alright to miss church once in awhile. Don’t make a habit of it. But realize Christ forgives that too. I wish sports weren’t done on Sunday. But they are. Don’t hold your kid back from soccer because he will miss a couple Sundays. He also has a commitment to a team. Perhaps go to church later in the week if there is church later in the week.
    In high school my Dad finally wizened up. He would let me go pheasant hunting in the morning. If I would go to California City in the evening for Divine Service at the Mission congregation he had there.

  • Peter Leavitt

    This study is not suggesting that families that are whole and religious are anything close to perfect; rather that compared to broken and irreligious families their children have fewer. problems. Given the corrosive influence of the general secular culture, it is far from surprising that not a few kids from religious families get into trouble.

    A few weeks we had some breathless media accounts that religious young people who had taken a sexual absence pledge before marriage pledge had the same rate of pre-marital sex than those who hadn’t taken such a pledge. What the media accounts didn’t say is that the control group that hadn’t made an abstinence pledge was conservative Christian. It turns out that conservative Christian young people, whether or not they had taken a pledge, are far more sexually restrained than those in the general society.

  • Booklover

    Bror said, “Don’t hold your kid back from soccer because he will miss a couple Sundays.”

    Of course you are right, but travelling sports teams usually miss at least a third of the Sundays in a year. But in my next lifetime, maybe we’ll reconsider. :-/ Most Christian parents have. . .

  • LAJ

    If there is an alternative service to attend, fine, let your kids be in traveling sports. If not, I believe, it is far better to be in worship services than to be playing on traveling teams. What kind of message does that send if sports take priority over worship. Or another alternative. Allow the child to be on only one traveling team so he can be in church most of the year. If a kid rebels over that, is that the fault of the parents or the child?

  • Theresa K.

    I think that our great-grandparents, Gus and Selma, would be pretty surprised that today’s world needed a study to confirm what everyone in their generation already knew.

    Booklover, thanks for your honesty. We all make decisions as parents that sometimes seem to be mistakes in hindsight. God is still capable of working faith in our children, thankfully. We are one of those Christian families whose kids sometimes miss Sunday services because of sport (but also sometimes for family events, traveling, etc). Early on, I realized that God gave my kids athletic interests and abilities, not surprising since they were born to athletes and into sports-oriented families. It has not been too hard to also be fully committed to attending church as a family every week (if not on Sunday, then on Monday nights). One thing that has stuck with me since my kids first got into sports was a comment from a very devout Jewish family regarding how it was frustrating to them that all games are played on Saturday mornings, even though there are many Jewish families in our city. What was a family of faith to do? Not play sports? That’s what they eventually chose. What an eye-opener for me. The conversation came up because I was trying to plan the year-end banquet – yep, for a Saturday morning.

  • Don S

    We have been a sports family since 1993. Our oldest son is a senior in college and still plays baseball for that school. We have missed occasional Sunday morning services for tournaments (going to Saturday night service typically), but I hate it. I have seen the progression in our community toward a disregard for Sunday church obligations. When we started in 1993, nothing in our local Little League was scheduled on Sunday, not even practices (this applies to other sports as well — AYSL, NJB, flag football, etc.). Gradually, year-end tournaments and occasional practices moved into Sunday. Now, games are sometimes scheduled on Sundays, and practices are routinely scheduled. A few years ago, the league scheduled Picture Day for PALM SUNDAY MORNING! The league mom was on our team, and my wife asked her if they realized what they had done. She said no, and that no one on the entire board had even mentioned that it was Palm Sunday. They just thought Sunday morning was a great time because “no one is doing anything, so there aren’t as many conflicts”. They did not change the time, and we, of course, missed Picture Day. They have scheduled Picture Day for Sunday morning (though not Palm Sunday) every year since.

    I think we as Christians need to stand up for Sundays. We are not legalists, and will occasionally let our children enter tournaments that will be playing on a particular Sunday, but it is rare. We never miss church for a practice. Explaining to the coach why we will be missing gives us an opportunity, oftentimes, to share our faith, and it has been a blessing to us on more than one occasion.

    As an aside, and speaking from experience, I think travel ball is out of control in our society. Especially in baseball, it is abusive to family time and a sense of balance, is extremely disruptive to family weekends, and injures far more kids than it helps. Uniformly, the young men who have pitched for our son’s high school and college teams are those who did not play travel ball or pitch when they were younger, because those boys are all permanently injured due to overuse injuries. Our son is one of them, and our younger three sons, as a result, have not been permitted to play travel ball, and have been encouraged to diversify their sports interests.

  • http://www.saintcynic.blogspot.com Christopher

    Kids do better in intact families, period, let alone in church.

  • Joe

    This sports topic is interesting. When I was in school (I graduated high school in 1995), not only were Sundays off limits, there were no practices or games on Wednesday nights because that was designated as a night reserved for church i.e. confirmation, CCD (do Catholics still call it that?), mid-week services, etc.

  • FW

    Kids do best in intact families that go to church

    so ok. just what do we DO with information like this in a society where only about 28% of the nations kids live in a family that looks like this…??? Are there action items to follow on to this?

    do we outlaw divorce as a threat to family values and as a “redefinition” of marriage? (“one man and one woman in LIFELONG union”). Just why is it that I do not see giant rallies over this issue like we got to see on the gay “marriage” thingy?

    do we christians push very very hard to include a prohibition on divorce in all those laws we are passing to prevent gay marriages? Should we be expressing the same outrage over people who choose to live a sinful divorce “lifestyle”?

    I am confused. can somebody help me out here?

  • Joe

    “Should we be expressing the same outrage over people who choose to live a sinful divorce “lifestyle”?”

    All I can say to this is of course. And I do. If I honestly thought there was a snowball’s chance in hell that we could bring back fault based divorce in this country I would join the movement today (provided it was a state level movement, with no designs on federal legislation or amendments to the federal constitution).

    As for what you do with that information, I think you publicize it and you make it okay to tell it to your friends when they are considering a divorce. I think we need to get over our self-imposed prohibition on telling our brothers and sisters just how wrong divorce (usually) is.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I don’t know that I am for making divorce illegal as I foresee a spike in murders there. But definately getting rid of this so called no fault bit, where the man gets hit in the groin because it is presumed to be his fault.
    No fault just seemed like such a good thing.

  • Joe

    While I welcome this news, does anyone else see a correlative/causative issue here? Are the kids less troubled because their parents are married and they go to Church or is it that they are less troubled, their parents are married and they go to Church are all indications of something else; that they are in a loving family that provides them with support and an environment conducive to a healthy emotional wellbeing. One of my main problems with the Social Sciences (I have a Poli Sci degree myself) is the over interpretation of data that is merely correlative. How do we prove that this is a causative factor and not the effect of some other factor that actually is causative.

    In this case, I go with causative because the Holy Spirit is at work.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Joe, the correlative/causative part of this has to do with the truth of moral law, which Christians understand to mean that ideally children are best provided for spiritually and materially by growing up with a married mother and father in a religious family.

    We’re not talking here about the illusion that autonomous human beings choose their own sexual and marital “lifestyle.” When humans cavalierly depart from the moral law bad things happen, especially to the children involved

  • Don S

    FW @ 14: Why do you think we need to do something political with this information? This is a spiritual issue, and one that is personal to each one of our families, our friends, and our Christian brethren. Joe is right — if our friends or family members are facing hard times in their marriages, this information (which really shouldn’t be new or startling to us — come on!) can be helpful in our personal counseling of them concerning their alternatives. If we ourselves are struggling with marital issues, and we have children, we know we need to redouble our efforts, in Christ’s strength, to make the marriage work for the sake of our kids.

    You seem to making a veiled (OK, not so veiled) charge of hypocrisy, on the basis that Christians are willing to fight gay marriage laws, but not against divorce laws. Apples and oranges, my friend. On the one hand, we are taking political action to fight the perversion of an ages old God-given institution. On the other hand, divorce is acknowledged as sometimes necessary in the Bible, and our particular no-fault laws are, unfortunately, well established and pretty much impossible to substantially change at this point. Part of the reason we are fighting so hard on the issue of gay marriage is because we know, once those laws are similarly established, there will be no future repeal of those possible either.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@19), some responses.

    “On the one hand, we are taking political action to fight the perversion of an ages old God-given institution.” one the one hand? How do you not think that sentence applies to divorce?!

    “Divorce is acknowledged as sometimes necessary in the Bible.” Necessary, or merely permitted? Don’t you think there’s a difference? And doesn’t the fact that God himself legally permitted among his chosen people a sinful act which he “hates” instruct those who would want our laws to mirror perfectly what God wants?

    “Our particular no-fault laws are, unfortunately, well established and pretty much impossible to substantially change at this point.” Yes, well, you could easily argue the same for abortion. Do you still think abortion laws should be changed? Or are you just not terribly torn up about divorce?

    Apples, oranges, … and lemons?

  • Don S

    Wow, tODD, you are back :)

    Are you equating marriage with murder?

    Leaving that aside, I don’t think abortion is nearly as established as an acceptable policy in the population as no fault divorce is. Consistently, a considerable majority believes that abortion should be prohibited at least in some, if not most, circumstances. Part of the difference is that abortion as a so-called constitutional right was imposed by fiat rather than democratically, unlike no-fault divorce. Another major part is that it involves the taking of the innocent lives of little babies. Yet another part is that, as technology improves, the populace has become more aware of the humanity of the unborn fetus. We have to pick our political battles, and I don’t know very many people who believe it would be productive to take the course of action Frank is, I believe tongue in cheek, suggesting. Perhaps you disagree?

    “Permitted” might be a better term than “necessary”. However, I believe the context of Matt. 1:19 is that Joseph found it necessary to divorce Mary for her assumed adultery, until the angel of the Lord set him straight as to the actual circumstances. And in I Corinthians 7:12-16, Paul indicates that there are situations where a believing mate might find it necessary to let the unbelieving mate leave the marriage. There are many battered spouses who have found it necessary to divorce as well, and I cannot fault them for that decision, though the issue of physical safety in an abusive relationship is not specifically addressed biblically.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Don (@21), am I equating marriage with murder?! No, I think you picked up just fine that I was equating divorce with abortion/murder, and by equating, I mean “considering them equally sinful”, as God does.

    Don’t you consider divorce a “perversion of an ages old God-given institution”? It would seem God does. It’s difficult not to read a blase attitude towards divorce in your comments — is that how you feel? I mean, honestly making the point that, well, it would be, you know, hard to change the divorce laws now makes you seem less than upset by divorce, at least compared to, say, abortion or gay marriage. Am I reading you wrong?

    “I don’t think abortion is nearly as established as an acceptable policy in the population as no fault divorce is.” Do you think this might be a function of the part of our culture that you personally observe? I’ve seen quite a lot of young people who’ve grown up with legal abortion, and they think it’s rather a bedrock principle. Not that it matters what “the population” thinks — we’re talking about how Christians think and feel about a matter. That our neighbors have become to inured to some types of sin shouldn’t change our feelings or thoughts.

    “Another major part is that it involves the taking of the innocent lives of little babies.” Yes, well, divorce quite often involves the harming of innocent parties, as well. Besides, it’s not an either/or choice. You can still oppose abortion while also opposing divorce.

    Mind, I’m not actually advocating for making divorce illegal. At least, not as such. I’d be happy just to see Christians as a group act as sickened by divorce as they seem to be by abortion and gay marriage. It’s not like God fails to mention divorce in the Bible. And yet, so often, when it happens, hey, it’s only a divorce. No one’s going to go out and picket the divorce court.

    I actually think making divorce illegal would be largely unproductive, since it would fail to solve the problem. But then, I’m sympathetic to the same argument when it comes to gay marriage. Banning it isn’t removing the problem at all, is it? And if God permitted divorce because people’s hearts were hard, what other sins should our laws permit, given that people’s hearts are still hard?

    And yes, “permitted” would be a much better term than “necessary”. Matt. 1 in no way backs up the idea of Joseph having to divorce Mary. It would have been allowed, certainly, and because he was a righteous man, he was going to do so quietly. And do reread 1 Cor. 7, paying attention to the words “must not divorce” and “let him do so”. Divorce isn’t necessary here, but it is permitted.

    I know what it’s like to live in a culture that doesn’t care much about marriage (or divorce, or, I would submit, abortion). But that’s no excuse for us Christians. We’re called to a higher standard.

  • Don S

    tODD, you have really taken this discussion off the rails. You are taking my comments completely out of context. My original post was a response to Frank’s apparent call to political action on the issue of divorce. I opined that it would be inappropriate and unproductive to try to utilize political capital to change the divorce laws in this country. I never once stated or implied that I think divorce is OK, or acceptable, or not that big of a deal, or whatever else you seem to thing I was implying. I simply said that fighting gay marriage was the right thing now, because it is not yet established in society, and fighting abortion will always be the right thing because innocent lives are directly at stake. In my view, those are the issues on which we should be expending political effort.

    When my wife and I got married in 1984, our most important vow to one another was “till death us do part”. We discussed numerous times the idea that we both had to buy into the biblical concept that divorce was not an option, no matter what happened. When we disagree, argue, fight, go through dry spells, etc., we both know and trust that our commitment that divorce is not an option will see us through. We will celebrate 25 years of marriage in October.

    To clarify — Christians are called to a higher standard, and are called to consecrated, committed, lifetime marriages. Efforts on the part of Christians to strengthen Christian marriages, and Christians’ commitment to the institution of marriage are very appropriate. However, it’s tilting at windmills, in my opinion, to attempt to impose this standard on the unsaved world, through political action. It’s a tough enough fight just to keep society from making the institution of marriage a complete abomination by extending it to entirely godless and sinful same sex relationships.

    Clear enough?

  • FW

    Don

    Can you explain to me exactly how gay marriage is, practically speaking, a bigger threat to the institution of marriage and the definition of marriage as the “LIFELONG union of one man and one woman”?

    Massachusetts has has gay marriage for some time now. How do you see there that gay marriage is threatening marriage and it´s definition among young men and women, older men and women past child bearing age, and heterosexual couples in general?

    are there any statistics you want to present to us to make your case?

    It does seem that divorce is still THE main threat to both the definition of marriage and to the direct destruction of established traditional marriages.

    so, don, I am not understanding your point of view really. sincerely.

  • FW

    It’s a tough enough fight just to keep society from making the institution of marriage a complete abomination by extending it to entirely godless and sinful same sex relationships.

    Clear enough?

    It´s a tough enough fight just to keep society from making the institution of marriage a complete abomination by CONDONING ENTIRELY GODLESS SERIAL POLYGAMY AND SINFUL CELEBRITY MOCKERIES OF FAST-FOOD STYLE CELEBRITY MARRIAGE/DIVORCE.

    Or let´s talk about common law marriage. people “shacking up”. what about the elderly who “shack up” to avoid unfavorable tax and social security benefits issues….

    As with divorce and “living in sin”, should we not just treat gay marriage in exactly the same way?

    My reason for suggesting this is that I have YET to hear ANYONE offer to me how the PRACTICAL negative consequences of gay marriage are in any way worse or more destructive or corrosive of society than divorce or a heterosexual couple shacking up and having kids without getting married.

  • Don S

    Frank:

    Divorce devalues and diminishes the institution of marriage. Extending marriage to couples other than men and women devalues and diminishes the institution of marriage. Unfortunately, the concept of no fault divorce became enshrined in our laws 40 or 50 years ago, at least, through democratic means (legislative action). There is no reasonable option or opportunity for the Christian community, through political means, to reverse these laws.

    On the other hand, now is the time for Christians to battle current efforts by gay activists to further destroy the institution of marriage by extending it to couples never intended by God for this institution. That was the whole point of my original response to your post about political action.

    You may disagree with my view concerning homosexuality and gay marriage. Based on our past discussions, I believe that is most certainly the case. But, you now should at least clearly understand my position.

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