In New York Magazine, Lisa Miller admits that, even for the most complacent unbeliever (when “anything that smells like religion makes you squirm”), having kids changes things:

This spiritual apathy nags at you… And a tiny voice inside you insists on wondering whether you shouldn’t be teaching your kids something about the importance of holiness.

Enter Columbia University psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller (no relation to the article’s author) with her new bestseller, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. NY Mag’s Miller describes it thus:

[It’s] an exhaustive and compelling compendium of recent psychological and neurological research, all of which points in the same direction: Children who are raised with a robust and well-developed spiritual life are happier, more optimistic, more thriving, more flexible, and better equipped to deal with life’s ordinary (and even extraordinary) traumas than those who are not. Teenagers, in particular, are exponentially better off if they’re in touch with their spiritual sides – less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, to engage in risky sex, to cope with depression. ‘In the entire realm of human experience,” Miller writes, “there is no single factor that will protect your adolescent like a personal sense of spirituality.’

Strong words from an agnostic, who finds the research compelling even from a thoroughly secular perspective. It’s worth noting that she’s not just talking about some vague deism, but a “personal relationship with a higher power.” Dr. Miller’s findings show that children with this sort of spirituality are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances, 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers, 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex, and have an increased sense of meaning and purpose, high levels of academic success, and more.

Conversely, the fallout from neglecting a child’s spiritual development is massive, which could cause lasting damage and create “a brittle sense of self and a lack of resiliency.” There’s loads more where that came from, so be sure to read the full article to get the whole picture.

Dr. Miller’s thesis echoes and builds upon other studies that suggest infants have an inborn sense of morality, adding that denying the development of that sense is detrimental. Of course, it’s precisely the claim of Romans 2:15 that a hard-wired, basic moral sense is all part of being made in the “image of God.” Though skeptical parents might cringe at the phrase, there’s a wealth of research now to give them serious pause.

Image Credit: Difei Li