The child’s evident character traits—compassion, acceptance, fearlessness—at so young an age prompted Miller’s eureka moment. What struck her was the nod and all it implied: “It was clear as day that the grandchild fully understood how one lives out spiritual values in her family.” Twenty minutes later, Miller was in her lab, running equations on the data that were, in effect, a search for “the statistical nod.” She was looking for mother-teen pairs who had reported a shared religion or non-religious spirituality. She calls the results “the most amazing science I had ever seen.” In the pairs Miller found in the data, shared spirituality (religious or otherwise)—if it reached back to the child’s formative years—was 80 per cent protective in families that were otherwise at very high risk for depression.
It was the start of a long and sometimes rocky road for both Miller and the place of spirituality—however defined—in mainstream psychological thinking. She remembers doors literally slammed in her face and “people walking out of talks I was giving.” But Miller and other researchers, including so-called “spiritual” neuroscientists like Montreal’s Mario Beauregard and the much-cited American psychologist Kenneth Kendler continued to explore the intersection of religiosity and mental health in studies published in major, peer-reviewed science journals. By the end of it, as Miller sets out in a provocative new book, The Spiritual Child, out later this spring, she was convinced not only of spirituality’s health benefits for people in general, but of its particular importance for young people during a stage of human development when we are most vulnerable to impulsive, risky or damaging behaviours.
In fact, Miller declares, spirituality, if properly fostered in children’s formative years, will pay off in spades in adolescence. An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature or whatever the individual identifies as his or her “higher power,” she found, is more protective than any other factor against the big three adolescent dangers. Spiritually connected teens are, remarkably, 60 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than adolescents who are not spiritually oriented.They’re 40 per cent less likely to abuse alcohol or other substances, and 80 per cent less likely to engage in unprotected sex. Spiritually oriented children, raised to not shy from hard questions or difficult situations, Miller points out, also tend to excel academically.
Patheos Explore the world's faith through different perspectives on religion and spirituality! Patheos has the views of the prevalent religions and spiritualities of the world.