Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Teach your children hell

Whether it's God, Santa or the tooth fairy, the method is the same

Check out this lovely article from MSN: "How to Raise a Spiritual Child!"

Usually, MSN articles (even the ones with which I disagree) are pretty upbeat and positive in doling out tips for life. This one barely differs from that mold, except that most of the tips outlined below could just as easily be used for robot programming as for teaching children about the outside world:

Though preschoolers are too young to grasp many of the abstract concepts that go hand-in-hand with spiritual life, they have other skills that will serve them well on the road to spirituality: They have no problem believing in things they can't see, and they live almost entirely in the moment.

So start them young, while they're stupid and have no grasp of reality!

This is the perfect age to begin nurturing your child's spiritual side -- as sustenance for her soul, as a way of answering her cosmic questions, and as a means of strengthening her interpersonal skills. Every religion has some kind of belief embedded in it about loving your neighbor.

So why not just teach your kid to love their neighbor?

And giving your child a foundation in faith will also give her something to fall back on in trying times later in life. "As recent events have shown us," says Neifert, "in times of crisis, people turn to their faith. It's a way to ground ourselves, and a way to interpret events that we don't understand."

So we're really admitting here that religion is a comforting mythology? Why would we want to teach that to our children? Aren't there better coping mechanisms?

Clarify your own beliefs. Whether or not you practice an organized religion, you'll need to decide what you believe in order to foster spirituality in your child.

In other words, bone up on your own indoctrination so that you know what to indoctrinate into your children.

If you and your partner have different religions it's wise to decide how you'll approach spirituality with your child now, before she's old enough to get confused by your differing opinions.

In other words, fix that rift now before your child notices that rifts exist and makes a decision on their own!

Introduce spirituality early on.

It's like crack; you gotta get them young.

"Young children don't understand who God is, but they don't really understand who a grandparent is either," says Neifert. "Still, you want them to know Grandma, so you start talking about her from day one. It's the same thing with the idea of God." Just as your child takes your word for it that Grandma is an important person in her life (even if she rarely sees her), so she'll take your word for it that God is, too.

And play down the fact that the child will actually see and interact with Grandma once in a while.

And by introducing spiritual practices early on -- such as lighting candles or singing hymns together -- your child will view them as a natural part of life, and you'll have a spiritual influence on her before other people do.

Which thus shows how unnatural all of this really is.

Even if you don't believe in God or see God as a single all-powerful being, it's worth talking to your child about it. "Kids are going to hear about God all over," says Neifert. "If you don't put your own spin on it, with your own values, they'll absorb someone else's."

This seems to be the thrust of the whole article: ensnare your kids now, before someone else does. It's capitalism, really.

Don't pretend to have all the answers.

This is a good one. More parents should cop to this.

Use daily events to teach spirituality....Instill an appreciation of nature. Nature is a great place to find a tangible manifestation of the divine. "Kids learn with all their senses -- they love to pick up a rock or jump in a puddle or chase a butterfly," says Neifert. Help your child see nature as something sacred by demonstrating your own love and respect for it... Introduce her to the idea that the Earth is a gift, and that our survival depends upon the survival of the planet.

Well, sure. Nature itself is the best religion.

Tell stories. The world's spiritual traditions are full of stories designed to explain everything from how the world was created to why people sometimes do bad things. Introduce your child to the notion that different people have different ideas about God by drawing on this wealth of literature... Reading such stories will give your child the opportunity to ask questions.

Just make sure that they are clear that every other religion is a cute manifestation of mythology while only yours is the light and the way.

Build on family traditions.

Family love and activities are wonderful things. But combined with religion, they are great ways to instill guilt in those who choose later in life to make dissenting decisions.

Make it fun. Religion and spirituality should be more joyful than somber and serious.

I'll bet the Lutherans are already pissed at this one.

Encourage your preschooler to paint a picture of God, make up her own story about how the world came to be, or simply imagine what heaven looks like. Together, act out plays or put on a puppet show based on creation stories or your own spiritual themes.

I honestly cannot believe that this made it into this feature. What a fantastic idea! It's a fun, intellectual activity that can take a child (or an adult) anywhere they want to go. It also shows how easy such a thing is, and just might cause a young and impressionable child to realize how many creation myths exist all over the world. I highly recommend this.

Above all, do what spiritual people have done for centuries -- sing and dance! If you don't know any traditional tunes, a wealth of CDs and cassettes of religious music is available. Don't forget to explore songs and chants from other cultures or traditions as well.

Unless you're Baptist, of course!

Practice silence. Once a day or once a week, take a minute to sit quietly with your child, encouraging her to be silent and listen to her inner voice. Your moment of silence needn't be introduced as some lofty practice of meditation, but simply as a calming break in a noisy day. Whether your child uses this time to commune with the divine or simply to rest and recharge, it'll help put her in touch with the "big" picture.

More people need to do this. I think it would help all of us to have some kind of mental break every so often. And anything that shuts up holy rollers for a while is beautiful.

Introduce a simple form of prayer. Let your child know that prayer isn't something that's saved up just for Sunday morning, or for times when she needs help with something. It's a tool for communicating with a higher power anytime... A simple prayer of thanks before or after meals can be an easy and effective way to instill appreciation for the basics of life. If your child is too young to make up her own prayers, help her along with what Neifert calls "ping-pong" prayers: You suggest a simple phrase such as, "Thank you, God, for..." and she fills in the blanks. The idea is to let your child know that God, or the divine spirit, is always available. "If the being who created the whole universe can listen to you, that's pretty good," says Neifert.

Well, if it helps you, it helps you. I no longer pray myself, but I have no problem with people who do. I've never been a fan of forced prayer, though, like some people really really want.

Stress the spiritual side of holidays. Try to balance the commercialism of the holiday season with activities that underscore its deeper meaning. Volunteer at a local charity. Donate food, clothing, or toys to a shelter, and have your child do the same by choosing a few items she no longer plays with... On the fun side, share some holiday crafts with your child...

Good things all. Again, though, do we really need religion to stress these values?

Consider joining a faith community. By regularly attending services and social events at a place of worship, your child will come to see that spirituality plays a central role in the life of the community. She'll also grow up more comfortable with the liturgy and rituals of your faith and come to see a house of worship as a place where she can feel comfortable and secure. "Kids thrive on predictability," says Neifert. "Whether it's a Catholic child seeing the communion bread and wine, a Jewish child hearing the Hebrew prayers, or a Hindu child smelling the incense in the temple, by experiencing rituals kids come to appreciate the predictability of a religious service, if not the deeper meaning."

Whatever happened to the personal relationship with God? I am of two minds on the community issue: on one hand, I think it's awesome to be with people who make you comfortable. On the other hand, do we really need more groups of people who are united under a questionable idea?

Follow your child's lead. Let your child ask the questions, and give her plenty of opportunities to discuss her own notions of issues such as who God is, what heaven looks like, or what happens to people after they die. Try not to dictate the answers to big questions. If she asks you where God lives, begin your answer by asking her what she thinks. Or ask her to draw a picture and tell you about it. Spirituality is a two-way street: If you listen carefully to your preschooler, you might discover something you never thought of before.

This is a smart idea, because if your preschooler can cause you to challenge your faith, then it's best to get out, now!

Overall, this article seems to have been pieced together by two very different people, being that some of the points are pretty cool while the others resemble cult tricks. Many of the principles outlined here seem to concern themselves more with how to get your kid to conform than actually getting a kid to believe in or otherwise see the merits of their parents' chosen beliefs. In my mind, the latter should be the real goal.


Ragin Cajun said...

You seem to be pretty down on religion of any kind. Mind if I ask why? Are you an atheist, agnostic, other? Faith in any one religion is an enormous topic to be sure, but faith in God isn't so hard. I'd say it's tougher to believe there is no God. The known universe and everything in it is far to complex to be deemed a fortunate chain of random events. Life itself (plants, animals, whatever) is always somewhat miraculous, don't you think?

Ian McGibboney said...

RC, I'm on the very edge of atheism. I am all about people believing whatever they want, as long as they keep it to themselves and don't harm anyone. I believe that all religions are ultimately good and are perverted for bad only by radical followers. That said, I personally don't attach my morality to practices that arise out of centuries long past. I am good because I treat other people well in a spirit of cooperation. Most people can't tell the difference. And that's the beautiful thing. I've never once tried to change anyone's mind, because in most cases whatever people believe is all right by me. No harm, no foul.

The main reason I try to be neutral in my beliefs is because I don't pretend to have all of the answers. And I'm not really looking for them. I've never been satsified with any creation stories (though I have studied them and I find them quite compelling as a reflection of their respective cultures).

What really scares me is this current administration's efforts to destroy the wedge between church and state. That's just inviting corruption for both institutions, and doing in ways that are ghastly in their boldness.

This article caught my eye because of the methods it advocates in teaching kids about belief. Get them young, get them first, let them explore but hammer in their heads that the religion of their parents is the only right one. It's all so...cult-like.

ThomasMcCay said...

What is this, parental brain wash 101?

You could subtitle it, "How to Prepare Your Children to Believe Anything Mommy Tells Them"

Remember, an empty mind is an obedient mind.