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. Lets 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.