Is Religion Too Restrictive For Kids?

by Britni Danielle

Recently, the New York Times ‘Room For Debate’ section tackled the issue of religion and child rearing. As apart of the debate, they enlisted seven writers from various backgrounds from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, to Scientology and Mormonism to discuss the topic, “With Children, When Does Religion Go Too Far?” 

Here’s how the Times framed the debate:

Parents often turn to their church, mosque or synagogue to teach their children about morals and values, and to build self-esteem. And yet religions can be paternalistic and insular — indeed, some religious groups have even been accused of child labor and possible human rights abuses.

When does a religious upbringing cross the line from nurturing to oppressive?

Most of the essays seemed to caution against enforcing strict religions tenants to parent children, arguing that most devout believers who use their religions to enforce and punish children are missing the point of God.

Mark Galli of the publication Christian Today, argues that many conservative Christians are driven by legalism and authoritarianism, instead of the principles of unconditional love.

He writes:

It would be easy to say this is a distortion of “real religion.” But the fact that children are often oppressed in religious households suggests that there is indeed something in religion which tempts parents in this way. That temptation is the inherent human fascination with law and control. People become religious for many reasons, good and bad. One for many is that their lives are completely out of control morally and socially, and they see in religion a way to bring order to the chaos. Religion as inner police. Such adherents are attracted to religions, or denominations within religions, that accent discipline and obedience. This happens — surprisingly — even in Christianity.

This is surprising because the New Testament message is about freedom from law, and being grounded in grace. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” proclaimed Paul in his most profound exposition of grace. The fact that even some Christians fail to grasp the radical nature of God’s unconditional love suggests just how deeply we humans are embedded in a world ruled by law, expectations, duty, control and obedience. We naturally imagine that Christianity is just a nicer form of this basic reality. The message of grace is so radical that it is simply hard to hear it for what it is.

Asma T. Uddin, founder of the online magazine Altmuslimah, echoes Galli’s sentiments.

She writes:

Unfortunately, when rituals are prioritized over spirituality at this tender young age, religion can become restrictive rather than liberating. Many young girls want to wear the headscarf because they find it beautiful or comfortable or because they want to mimic their mothers. But in some cases, parents are convinced that Islamic modesty has to be ingrained in their child as early as 3 or 4 years old — and the best way to do it is to make them wear a headscarf even while they are still hanging from monkey bars. 

Instead of helping them cultivate healthy relationships with the opposite sex, such strict standards of modesty, and gender segregation among young people, leave them confused about sexuality and, at worst, lead them to rebel and break boundaries.

I believe strongly that religion is a tremendous tool for raising morally upright and civically responsible children. That said, for children to reap the true benefits of faith, the focus must be on substance rather than formalism.

The discussion of how religion affects child rearing is definitely an interesting one. According to a study by the Pew Center, a growing number of Americans are unaffiliated with religion, many describing themselves as “spiritual” instead of “religious.”

Could this be because they felt overly repressed as children, or is our country (and world) simply moving away from organized religions?

Speak on it!

  • EST. 1986

    Religion is restrictive (not to mention, illogical) for kids and adults.

  • nataya1280

    There is a reason why most children brought up in very restrictive religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses leave once they are older. I think religion is your personal walk and should not be forced on a child. Teach them about all things and let them choose. But then again most people never actually studied why they are insert religion here they are what their parents were.

  • Val

    I agree.

  • Kelly Hawkins

    I attended Christian school up until 6th grade. It gave me a solid foundation so that I wasn’t like all the badass kids I started encountering once I got exposed to public school. My family isn’t that big on religion anyway and the more i learn, the less i believe in Christianity, but it was a good way to start and learn morals. I’d probably take a similar approach with my kid(s).

  • Chika

    “Teach them about all things and let them choose”

    I completely agree. I was raised Catholic in a very liberal city. Ironically, it was when I moved to the Bible Belt in middle school when I came dillusioned with organized religion in general. However, I don’t want to push my semi-agnostic, semi-atheistic beliefs on my future children. I want to introduce them to all the major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) as well as agnoticism and atheism. Then, when they’re adults they can truly make an informed decision about their faith instead of simply believing something without question because they were born into a certain family.

  • DownSouth Transplant

    My heart has become capable of every form:
    It is pasture for Gazelles And a monestry for christian monks,
    and a temple for idols,and the pilgrims Ka’ba
    and the tablets of the Torah,and the book of the Koran.
    I follow the religion of love: whatever way love’s camel takes,
    That is my religion, my faith.

    Ibn Arabi

  • blknnblv


  • victoria

    I have no desire to teach my child all things because I dont agree and/ or believe in what other religions teach. In my household, my religion will be taught.

  • Kacey

    I don’t know whether religion is too restrictive or not, considering that I’m not a religious person. But I do know that there are many parents who aren’t restrictive enough! I swear there is this little boy in the building that is such a brat I want to whip both his parents!

  • B.Payne

    As a former Jehovah’s Witness…YES.IT.IS!

    I feel that’s a choice that should be made when you’re an adult and not shoved down your throat as a child.

    It may have gave me a good foundation as well as a solid family base but you don’t realize the bubble you’re in until you’re out…I was bitter for awhile after I left

  • mEE

    I didn’t realize how restrictive it was when I was growing up. you just kinda go along with what your parents tell you. but there was definitely a good chunk of my life when I spent the majority of my day in church and/or school. as a lot of people have already said, it gave me an amazing moral foundation so that I never got TOO wild and crazy in my rebellious teenage years but it was really just a lot to handle ALL THE TIME. I haven’t gone to church regularly in about 3 years and I still feel a lot of guilt about it, but honestly just the thought of going is so exhausting.

  • MimiLuvs

    I was raised by two atheist parents and both of my parents were raised in households where there wasn’t religion wasn’t displayed. Both sets of grandparents were agnostic. I think that I was fortunate.

  • binks

    I think religion is only restrictive when it is forced and is only a situation of “you believe in what I believe and that’s it…” to me that type of teaching is not only restrictive but damaging and created a lot of narrow minded people in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I have NO problem with parents wanting to give their kids the basic foundations/teachings of their religion/faith or give them a spiritual base in general in life but I don’t think you should force your kid to accept your faith until they fully understand the weigh, teachings and commitment to it. THEY should ultimately make the choice themselves and parents need to know that just because they don’t choose your path or faith doesn’t make you a failure or bad parent, personally I think that is why so some people now is so “down with religion”, anti-this or that, or have a shaky faith base because it never felt like a choice but a requirement. As the old saying goes…”you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink….”

  • E.M.S.

    I was forced to go to church when I was younger, and I grew to dislike it because I wasn’t allowed to explore religion for myself in my own way, to decide if I wanted it in my life or not. I think each person should get to choose for themselves what they believe, but children are often not given that chance.

    Now I have nothing against religion itself, but I think it’s wrong to force religion on others, including children. As a child you don’t think of it that way because you don’t know any better than doing what you are told, but that’s essentially what it is.

    I’m certain someone will dislike what I’ve said but that’s how I look at it based on my own personal experience. I’d at least appreciate that no one jump down my throat for not being religious even if you disagree with what I have to say.

  • J. Nicole

    By the time I was around 6 years old, my mother converted to Islam. My older siblings grew up going to church, but religion was never a major theme in my house; before or after the conversion. I remember going to the mosque once with my mother, only because school was stuck with her for the day. I remember some of my classmates who felt that going to church or wherever they worshiped seemed to be punishment & they rebelled. Not all, but some. I think religion is some heavy stuff & if we see adults can’t even get it right, how can you expect a child to interpret it as well. I’m not saying to forgo it, but when parents use it as discipline then they’re going about it the wrong way.

  • GeekMommaRants

    I tried to do the religion thing but could never really accept what I was being taught as rational. My parents and siblings would tell me that hell awaits me. This did not seem like logic but a threat. Religion to me is all about threats and control. This is what I learned.

  • bk chick

    I think it def is restrictive..I don’t practice organized religion anymore myself….that being said I think religion can be a great thing in the context of creating and supporting a cultural identity…but as a black person, I don’t feel like Roman Catholicism, which I was raised to practice, had any cultural relevance. I mean, yea, most Haitians practice Catholicism, but there’s nothing in the teachings that I feel contribute to a strong sense of identity, because it’s not really imbedded into your lifestyle, as are other religions such as Islam and Judaism. I mean not long ago, Christianity was being used to stigmatize and kill black folk, so it’s like, how am I supposed to reconcile that?

  • Melinda

    We are most definetly living in the last days why is religion being discussed as restrictive and as if parents bringing their children up in the way of God is so “bad”? The bible says to train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it I was raised in the church and I am almost 20 years old Christianity is he only way I would ever bring my child up in this evil and perverse world.

  • kaybee

    I don’t know about the whole term ‘religion’ but a relationship with God is very important. Kids need guidance or else they’ll grow up to be lost. This country is constantly trying to take religion out of the equation but I think the opposite needs to happen. if more ‘religion’ was in our school systems then maybe we wouldn’t have all these school shootings. God is the answer.

  • Gail

    I think it all comes down to interpretation and application of the tenets of each religious faith, otherwise we would not have so many variations on a theme, especially in Christianity with its many denominations. It is also predicated upon individual interpretation of the teachings of their religion. Many interpret and practice their religion to suit their perception of how they fit into the greater scheme of things and how they want to be viewed by others who see them. For some they adopt phrases of speech that identify them as Christians, for others it may be the head scarf that proclaim them a Muslim, or whatever artifact that lends itself to their religious identity. For some people being restrictive with their children is one of those artifacts.

    Like anything that involve humans, we have extremes but I think that most people tend to fall somewhere in the middle, they want their kids to develop strong moral foundations and strive for a healthy balance. Many are taking a wider world view because society is no longer insular. If we want to learn about a different religion we do not have to attend their places of worship we can look them up on the Internet: hence, perhaps many people are seeing the spirituality of each faith as opposed to the rituals endemic to religions.

  • nataya1280

    Im sure you dont believe in slavery and other various topics either but you are not going to protest your children from learning about it. Now are you?


    Yes, religion is too restrictive for kids. I was fortunate enough not to be force-fed religion. I will forever be grateful to my parents for that. Most of my friends were coerced to follow religion and never got to choose for themselves. As a result, some rebelled against it later in life, while others grew up to be narrow-minded adults. Many Christians or Muslims (especially African/Black folks) are actually non-religious, Atheists, Agnostics, etc. They’re afraid to “come out”. Family may disown them if they did. And that’s sad.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that every single thing about religion is hideous. Learning about good morals is certainly great but religion is not the only way to learn about them. With religion some people have found A way, they therefore think it’s THEE way. The only way. The truth is, there are many other ways to teach good values to children. I may have been raised non-religious, and I’m doing fine as an adult. So religion is not the end-all be-all.


    I hear ya @bk chick.

  • EST. 1986

    Religion doesn’t belong in schools, Ms. Mike Huckabee.

  • Isis

    Definitely way too restrictive and I have completely rebelled lol

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