Author Wendy Thomas Russell discusses the best ages to talk to your children about religion, whether you’re religious or not, and why children should be introduced to religion in the first place.
In a controversial episode of The 700 Club, a viewer asks for advice concerning her grandson being taught by his parents that God and Jesus were not real. Pat Robertson responded that grandparents in the same situation should use all means and opportunities to keep children away from atheist parents and try to send them to Christian schools. Robertson believes that religious education and positive influences are important to every child.
Robertson’s extreme advice does bring up a more rational question — how young is too young to start introducing religion to kids? Author Wendy Thomas Russell cites the ideal age range in her book, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids about Religion When You’re Not Religious. Additionally, she cites the reasons why religious education is important to kids and also shares practical tips as to how parents can start.
According to Russell, the ideal age range starts from four and ends at about twelve or thirteen. It’s important to note that parents’ influence to their children starts to dwindle at twelve or thirteen because when children eventually enter the teenage years, they start having minds of their own.
Ages four to six are the perfect time to introduce religion because children at these ages start becoming more involved and are also introduced to formal education. At these ages children become more aware and sensible with their actions. They already start to differentiate what is good from the bad. They are eager to learn and explore spirituality, and these are also the times when they have lots of questions on almost everything.
At ages seven and eight, children have already acknowledged that religion is a subject that needs to be discussed or something that influences everybody’s lives. Russell suggests that children of these ages are already capable of understanding the similarities and differences of two or more religions. Additionally, kids may already have their own thoughts about faith and beliefs.
From ages nine to eleven, religion will eventually become a common topic for children in and out of their homes. It can be the right time to introduce religious literacy, certain points like sins and hell, God’s will and free will, the meaning of religious rituals and symbolisms, etc.
By the time children become twelve or thirteen, educating them about religion essentially becomes a challenge for parents. At these ages and continuing to teenage years and adulthood, religious education will not solely depend on you as their parents. It will be a mix of information and influences at home, at school, at church and by other groups, and most especially by friends and the people they meet.
Russell’s primary tip for parents when introducing religion to young kids is through play. She suggests the “Fact, Fiction or Belief” game. Let your children identify things or statements as fact or ultimately true; fiction which is false or something made up; and belief or those that people consider as true while others don’t.
There are several reasons why parents should educate their children about religion even at a very young age. Perhaps the most important ones include: your children becoming more tolerant, sensitive, or understanding of other people and their religion; protecting your kids from bullying and other emotional harm; and the opportunity to tap that eagerness of young children to simply learn.