018: The Spiritual Child: Possibly exaggerated, conclusions uncertain

  Someone in a parenting group on Facebook suggested I do an episode on The Spiritual Child, by Dr. Lisa Miller.  My first thought was that it didn't really sound like my cup of tea but I was willing to read it and at least see what it had to say. I was surprised by the book's thesis that spirituality can play a critical role in a child's and adolescent's development.  But I was astounded that her thesis was actually backed up by scientific research. I invited Dr. Miller to be on the show and she initially agreed - but during my preparation I found that the science supporting spirituality doesn't seem to be quite as clear-cut as the book says it is.  I invited Dr. Miller again for a respectful discussion of the issues but I didn't hear back from her. In this episode I describe the book's major claims, and assess where the science seems to support these and where it doesn't.  I conclude with some practices you can use to deepen your child's spiritual connection, if you decide that this is the right approach for your family. Note: I mainly focused on the research related to child development in this article, but as I was about to publish this episode I found an article claiming that the science behind some of Dr. Miller's other assertions might not be so solid either.   I didn't read all of those studies (because they're not directly related to child development, and it took me a lot of hours to find and read just the ones that were), but the author's conclusions very much mirror my own. References Benson, P.L., Roehlkepartain, E.C., & Scales, P.C. (2012). Spiritual development during childhood and adolescence. In L. Miller (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of psychology and spirituality. New York: Oxford. Berry, D. (2005). Methodological pitfalls in the study of religiosity and spirituality. Western Journal of Nursing Research 27(5), 628-647. DOI: 10.1177/0193945905275519 Boytas, C.J. (2012). Spiritual development during childhood and adolescence. In L. Miller (Ed.). The Oxford handbook of psychology and spirituality. New York: Oxford. Button, T.M.M., Stallings, M.C., Rhee, S.H., Corley, R.P., & Hewitt, J.K. (2011). The etiology of stability and change in religious values and religious attendance. Behavioral Genetics 41(2), 201-210. DOI: 10.1007/s10519-010-9388-3 Cloninger, C.R., Svrakic, D.M., & Przybeck, T.R. (1993). A psychobiological model of temperament and character. Archives of General Psychiatry 50(12), 975-990. DOI: 10.1001/archpsyc.1993.01820240059008 Gallup. (2016). Religion. Survey retrieved from (and updated annually at): http://www.gallup.com/poll/1690/religion.aspx Kendler, K.S., Gardner, C.O., & Prescott, C.A. (1997). Religion, psychopathology, and substance use and abuse: a multimeasure, genetic-epidemiologic study. American Journal of Psychiatry 154, 322-329. Full article available at: http://medicina.fm.usp.br/cedem/simposio/Religion,%20Psychopathology,%20and%20Substance%20Use%20and%20Abuse.pdf Kendler, K.S., Gardner, C.O., & Prescott, C.A. (1999). Clarifying the relationship between religiosity and psychiatric illness: The impact of covariates and the specificity of buffering effects. Twin Research 2, 137-144. DOI: 10.1375/twin.2.2.137 Kidwell, J.S., Dunham, R.M., Bacho, R.A., Pastorino, E., & Portes, P.R. (1995). Adolescent identity exploration: A test of Erikson’s theory of transitional crisis. Adolescence 30(120), 785-793. Koenig, L.B., McGue, M., & Iacono, W.G. (2008). Stability and change in religiousness during emerging adulthood. Developmental Psychology 44(2), 532-543. DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.44.2.532 Mahoney, A. & Tarakeshwar, N. (2005). Religion’s role in marriage and parenting in daily life and during family crises. In R.F. Paloutzain & C.L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (p.177-198). New York: The Guilford Press. Chapter available online at: http://psychologyofreligion99.blogspot.

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