Did anyone else see this story in the Daily Beast about how lots of kids who are raised in secular households end up converting to religion later in life? It quoted author and researcher Phil Zuckerman as saying that an inordinate number of these conversions are a byproduct of romantic love; people wind up adopting the faiths of their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives.
“We tend to think of religion as an inner phenomenon that has to do with people’s souls and hearts and minds. In fact, it often has to do with who you’re sleeping with.”
Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that all of these people are incapable of thinking for themselves. In many cases, our partners are simply opening doors for us, and we are stepping through them not because we are blinded by love but because we are genuinely interested in these “new” ideas. But, as Zuckerman suggests, that’s not always the case. There are young people out there who are changing their basic worldviews — about how the world came to be, how people should behave, and what happens to us when we die — just to match the expectations or lifestyle of the people they happen to be dating. And that’s just plain uncool.
As an open-minded nonreligious parent, it’s important to me that my daughter make up her own mind about what to believe — independent of me, independent of her grandparents, independent of her friends and neighbors. I want her to learn about various systems of belief, and about science and evidence, and then decide what seems right to her. If she changes her mind along the way, that’s fine! As long as it’s her own inquisitiveness and independent thought that prompts each change of heart.
You’re with me on this, right?
So how do we go about making that happen? How can we ensure we are raising kids capable of making up their own minds and asserting themselves in the company of their peers (and boyfriends!)
1. Tell kids they have a choice. Don’t just think it; say it out loud. “Lots of people have different religious beliefs. I want you to make up your own mind about yours.” These are powerful words with real consequences.
2. Be a role model. Include your kids in your decision-making processes. Show them how you weigh factors and reach your own conclusions. And don’t be afraid to disagree with your spouse in front of your child. How else will children learn that they can love someone without sharing their every opinion?
3. Let children experiment. Just as you let your kids pick out their own clothes and style their own hair — let them experiment with their faith, too. Let them attend services with their friends. Teach them everything you can about various religions. Speak of other people’s traditions — including nonreligious philosophies — with kindness.
4. Ask open-ended questions, and respect the answers that come. After reading a book or attending an event, ask your child: “What did you think about?” or “What did you like?” Then just listen and show interest in her answers. Whenever you see your child expressing opinions that differ from your own, applaud that — and then applaud yourself. It means you’re doing something right.
5. Don’t solve their problems. Let kids figure out their issues for themselves whenever possible — unless they specifically ask for your help. By the same token, include them as you work through your own problems. Ask them to help you find possible solutions. (Often, they really do have good ideas.)
6. Never say, “Because I said so.” This is pretty much the death knell of critical thinking. Kids need to know that things aren’t true because we say they’re true. If something we say doesn’t seem right to them, they should call us out on that. After all, if they don’t think critically at home, how can we expect them to think critically out in the world?
7. Let them say “No.” As annoying as it is to hear kids say “No” to us — AND IT IS CAN BE REALLY FREAKING ANNOYING — allowing kids to set reasonable boundaries for themselves is vitally important to raising self-confident kids. Children need to know that their voices matter, that their opinions are valid, and that refusing to “go along” with our wishes — again, within reason! — will not cost them our love, affection or respect.
Bottom line: If we want our kids to be independent thinkers, we must actively teach them that they are capable of thinking for themselves and that they are truly free to reach their own conclusions about the world, whatever those conclusions may be.
We need to tell them that we will love them no matter what they believe — and that anyone worth sleeping with will, too.