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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