Can your child be too religious?

Can your child be too religious?

We talk about 5 essential red flags to look out for if you think your child might be becoming too religious.

Religion is great for a child's development, but look out for the warning signs when it becomes harmful.

Religion is great for a child’s development, but look out for the warning signs when it becomes harmful.

Numerous studies show that religion – any religion – is good for your child. Children who go to religious institutions regularly were shown to be psychologically healthier and better developed socially.

Bill Hathaway, a clinical psychologist of religion and Dean of the School of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University says that “Religion is related to the child having a higher sense of self esteem, better academic adjustment and lower rates of substance abuse and delinquent or criminal behavior.”

So, if your child is religious, that’s great news for parents.

But as some recent cases have shown (young radical muslim extremists in Singapore and City Harvest Church), parents need to offer a certain amount of guidance and be on the look out for signs that your child’s religion could be more harmful than beneficial to him.

1. Your child isolates himself from social groups other than the friends in his religious group

This isolation could include social isolation from his other friends in school or even from family members at home. If your child seems to be consistently pushing everyone else away and only making time for his religious group, this could be a warning sign.

Some religious sects have been known to encourage their followers to distance themselves from the larger society, for various reasons. Children and teenagers are learning social skills and this is a stage where they will develop interpersonal relationships that might even carry on throughout his life. It is important that your child is allowed the exposure to different groups that will give him a broader perspective and teach him to handle different social situations.

Social isolation is also a dangerous thing because then no one will be aware of any potentially harmful actions your child might be committing.

2. Your child is constantly trying to obtain more money, but he doesn’t seem to buy anything

This is a real sign that your child is being coerced or persuaded by his religious leader to donate excessively large amounts of money for an apparently altruistic project.

However justified the objective may seem to be, it is important to take note that religion should be primarily interested in the spiritual and moral development of its followers. A sect that dabbles in secular matters and appears to use its moral authority to coerce its followers, especially impressionable young ones, into giving more than he can afford to is quite probably more profit-oriented than enlightenment-oriented.

Of course, this could also be a red flag for any number of other troubling activities, including gang activities or a gaming addiction. The important thing to do here is to pinpoint the cause of this and work from there.

3. The (extreme) means justifies the end

If your child suddenly espouses opinions that certain radical steps can be justified if it achieves an end, usually spiritual in nature, then the alarm bells should start ringing.

The different religions of the world might disagree on many things, but a few things they agree on are the importance of traits like compassion, mutual respect and kindness.  Whether it is about “the Kingdom of God” or “Nirvana”, religious scriptures are clear that these are achieved through personal sacrifice and a broader spiritual understanding.

4. You notice sites with extreme religious content appearing in the browsing history

Increasing numbers of youths are being radicalized through the internet

In the age of the internet, youths the world over are being radicalized through the use of extremist websites. 

Identify whether your child had accidentally stumbled upon these website or whether he had been actually looking for them. His patterns of browsing are also important. If the frequency and regularity appear to be more than just a one-off click, it is probably not an innocent pattern of behaviour.

5. Your child appears anxious about sinning and punishments

While all religions also consist of a particularly censorious tone when wrongdoings are committed, it becomes worrying when your child seems obsessed that anything he does could be sinful.

Scrupulosity which is a type of obsessive compulsive disorder that involves a feeling of guilt and shame causes sufferers to obsessively worry that they have been “impure”. They tend to focus on certain rules or rituals rather than imbibing the more positive aspects of their faith.

Such behaviour can be the starting point of a slippery slope towards clinical depression and other mental illnesses.

While religion can be an important aspect of your child’s life, as with everything else, its influence on your child needs to be guided and moderated by parents.

Look out for these red flags and speak to your child if you identify them. Enlist the help of the school community or even a professional counselor, if necessary.


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Written by

Leigh Fan

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