Raising the Spiritual Child


An active spirituality has health benefits for all, and for children in particular, according to a new book, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. The links are clear, explains author Lisa Miller, director of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University: young people with a flourishing sense of spirituality are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances and 60% less likely to be depressed. They can also face difficult questions and tough situations by possessing a significantly more powerful sense of meaning and purpose. This also leads to higher levels of academic success. “The most important thing we can do for our children is to support their natural spirituality,” Miller explains in an article connected with her recent appearance on The Today Show to discuss her work.

The book presents the hard science, as well as anecdotal evidence, to show that character traits such as compassion, acceptance, and fearlessness—the manifestation of spiritual values—have a substantial impact upon individuals growing up. Doing the research has been hard work, but despite some skepticism, many studies on religiosity and mental health are now published in major, peer-reviewed science journals.

The results, Miller says in an article for Maclean’s Magazine, show that spirituality, if properly fostered and expressed as individual devotion as opposed to a dry adherence to beliefs or creeds, pays off in spades in adolescence. An intensely felt, transcendental sense of a relationship with God, the universe, nature, or a higher power is more protective than any other factor against adolescent dangers. “A teen looks out at what’s been handed to him or her, from family or community,” Miller says, “and asks, ‘What about these values, what about this way of life?’ And this ‘me/not-me’ work is the most important work a teen does.” She adds, “[Parents] just need to show up and take an interest, and let them know the work is real, that this is the set-up, the foundation on which they’ll build their house in life.”