Religious Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From Family Tree

Religiosity is at the center of many family structures. Parents who have strong religious affiliations, faith, and religious beliefs are more likely to demonstrate these beliefs and behaviors in front of their children than parents who are less fervent about their religions. This display of religiosity can shape a child’s belief system and can strongly influence the way in which children embody their religion in later life. As children enter into adulthood, their religious foundation can be put to the test. Faith often takes a backseat to conformity and acceptance at this critical juncture from childhood to adulthood. But does the support, faith, and religiosity of the parents protect children from religious uncertainty as they transition into adulthood?

Kathleen C. Leonard of the University of Massachusetts sought to determine how parental religion affected young adults’ religious affiliations, beliefs, and faith in a recent study. She recruited 481 college students from two Christian universities and surveyed them about their religiosity. She examined the effects of parental faith support, attachment, parental religiosity, and influence of parental gender. She found that overall, the students felt that their religiosity was similar to that of their parents. They also felt that their parents supported them in their faith beliefs.

Leonard also discovered that the religiosity of the parents was not indicative of the students’ religiosity when considered as an independent factor. However, when coupled with faith support and the similarity of religiosity, parental religiosity was predictive of the level of religiosity in the students. Additionally, Leonard found that parental attachment did not play a significant role. This could be due to college being a time when young adults begin developing attachments to others, including romantic partners and close friends. The study also revealed that females were more influenced than males by their fathers’ religiosity. “These findings support the notion that parent gender matters in religious socialization,” Leonard said. “Fathers may play a more prominent role than expected, particularly for females in conservative Christian families.” Although the students were recruited from Christian colleges, limiting the findings, the results provide insight into the effect parents have on their children’s religious belief structures.

Leonard, K. C., Cook, K. V., Boyatzis, C. J., Kimball, C. N., Flanagan, K. S. (2012). Parent-child dynamics and emerging adult religiosity: attachment, parental beliefs, and faith support. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029404

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • russell


    September 6th, 2012 at 1:05 AM

    I would have thought the relationship with parents would be a big factor because a lot depends on how we like the person we pick up things from.Well,I guess that is not the case with everyone,but it certainly would be with me!

  • steven


    September 6th, 2012 at 3:54 AM

    I was raised in a Southern bapstist home where if the church doors were open, we were there, no excuses. When I git old enough to move away from home I did and chose not to make church a part of my life because I always felt like I had it crammed down my throat when I was young.

    After I got married and had a child that is when I finally decided that I wanted church as a central part of my life again but not in the same kind of setting I was raised in. So we found a church home that feels more inclusive and not so damning, and that has worked for us. But I want my children to have more of a say so about when and how they get their religious education and not have it something that feels more like a chore like it always did for me growing up.

  • Arnold.K


    September 6th, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    I thought it was a fad that family would have that much an influence on a person’s religiosity! Always thought people now choose more individually than just following what’s in the family.

  • jf


    September 6th, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    It’s hard you know, those of us who grow up in these kind of families… People just don’t can’t relate. We weren’t given an opportunity to try to figure it out for ourselves… we were served the koolaid from our bottles shortly after birth

  • rae


    September 6th, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    It is difficult to break all of those old habits, so this could be more about staying in a situation that is comfortable versus making those changes that could set you up for a lot of questioning and challenging that you have never been accustomed to in the past.

  • A.Nel


    September 6th, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    Well I think the level of religiosity in parents is not all that matters.How they exhibit it to their children and whether they follow what they preach are more important factors in this. For example, I cannot tell my children that my religion teaches us not to lie and then lie constantly in presence of the child. That is not going to get the child to believe in what I say. It may in fact cause problems when it comes to his religious beliefs.

  • jf


    September 6th, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    I’m so glad others can relate to this experience.

  • Gene Ross

    Gene Ross

    September 6th, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    I have definitely noticed as people get older they often revisit the religion they grew up with and become much more attached to it.

  • Rhetta


    September 7th, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    We learn so much about who we are and the beliefs that we find important from our parents and families. There could be a time when you will grow beyond that, but for the most part I think that once those core beliefs have been instilled in you it is hard to break away from those unless something significantly changes in your life. Mostly though, I think that the attitudes that you are raised with are the ones that you will continue to carry with you for the rest of your life. Many people grow beyond that when they go out on their own and go to college; but not the majority. As long as those beliefs are not forcing you to have prejudice against others then I guess that leads to more harmony in the home. There are probably real problems that develop when you begin to veer sharply away from the beliefs that your family holds.

  • samantha


    September 7th, 2012 at 5:18 AM

    while this may be true in early years of a young person, things do change when the young adult matures.they are outgoing and want to learn things on their the parents’ religious views may be an influence early on but it doesn’t stick for too long.who agrees with this?

  • Ramona W

    Ramona W

    September 7th, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    You may still believe what you have been taught but the good thing about growing up is that hey! you can start thinking about yourself now and for yourself now and learn that that’s okay.
    One of my biggest challenges was that I always wanted to please my mom and dad and it was hard for me to go against what they believed. But as I grew up I learned that I had to make myself happy and I couldn’t do that by denying what I really felt and believed.
    My parents are simply happy that I can think for myself and that I have chosen to think beyond simply following the mindless masses. There are things we agree on and things we don’t but we survive, and so will you.

  • scot


    September 8th, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    I feel that for the most part parents try to give their children the morals that they feel are important along with a religious background that will help to get them through good times and bad. I don’t think that any parent intentionally teaches their child to be bigoted, they are just giving them the tools that they feel they will need to get through life intact and fulfilled.

  • Danny


    September 9th, 2012 at 6:00 AM

    I believe that the theory of John Locke describes it best in this case. Tabula Rasa which is Blank Slate, and that is our mind is blank. Over the years what we gain on the way is what we contribute to society. There is allot of variables envolved, but with the correct foundation the house will remain strong.

  • Evie G

    Evie G

    September 10th, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Our parents play a HUGE role in who we are. Are we then surpised that their beliefs often become our own? Surely not.

  • Alan Bec

    Alan Bec

    September 20th, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    This is a bit like ‘blame the parents’. Recent research revealed a ‘spiritual gene’, leading to interest in metaphysics and the numinous. Neurology has temporal lobe epilepsy as a cause of religious experience.

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