Wall Street Journal op-ed: Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children, by Erica Komisar (Psychoanalyst and Author, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters (2017)):
As a therapist, I’m often asked to explain why depression and anxiety are so common among children and adolescents. One of the most important explanations—and perhaps the most neglected—is declining interest in religion. This cultural shift already has proved disastrous for millions of vulnerable young people.
A 2018 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined how being raised in a family with religious or spiritual beliefs affects mental health. Harvard researchers had examined religious involvement within a longitudinal data set of approximately 5,000 people, with controls for socio-demographic characteristics and maternal health.
The result? Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation. Pity then that the U.S. has seen a 20% decrease in attendance at formal religious services in the past 20 years, according to a Gallup report earlier this year. In 2018 the American Family Survey showed that nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religion.
Nihilism is fertilizer for anxiety and depression, and being “realistic” is overrated. The belief in God—in a protective and guiding figure to rely on when times are tough—is one of the best kinds of support for kids in an increasingly pessimistic world. That’s only one reason, from a purely mental-health perspective, to pass down a faith tradition.
I am often asked by parents, “How do I talk to my child about death if I don’t believe in God or heaven?” My answer is always the same: “Lie.”
The idea that you simply die and turn to dust may work for some adults, but it doesn’t help children. Belief in heaven helps them grapple with this tremendous and incomprehensible loss. In an age of broken families, distracted parents, school violence and nightmarish global-warming predictions, imagination plays a big part in children’s ability to cope.
I also am frequently asked about how parents can instill gratitude and empathy in their children. These virtues are inherent in most religions. ...
In an individualistic, narcissistic and lonely society, religion provides children a rare opportunity for natural community. ...
Today the U.S. is a competitive, scary and stressful place that idealizes perfectionism, materialism, selfishness and virtual rather than real human connection. Religion is the best bulwark against that kind of society. Spiritual belief and practice reinforce collective kindness, empathy, gratitude and real connection. Whether children choose to continue to practice as adults is something parents cannot control. But that spiritual or religious center will benefit them their entire lives.