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HICKS: Faith tutoring boon to young

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yesterday, Google's alert service let me know that a blogger had written a review of my parenting book "Bringing Up Geeks," released last summer by Penguin/Berkley. In case you haven't read it, the premise of the book is that we ought to raise geeky children for success in life, and not for popularity in the seventh grade. These goals generally are mutually exclusive.

The blogger liked my premise. She liked my acronym for "GEEKs" - Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kids. She liked my 10 foolproof rules for raising innocent, wholesome children, such as "Raise a Sheltered Kid" and "Raise a Kid Adults Like." She felt affirmed, encouraged and uplifted. All in all, a great review.

Yet I was troubled to find a paragraph in this blogger's review encouraging nonreligious readers to dismiss out of hand one aspect of my geeky parenting strategy, raising a faithful child. "Nonreligious readers should probably avoid Rule 10, because it talks about the importance of spirituality in a child's life ... and how that helps them cope with some of the stresses of being a 'geek.' "

First, it's just unsettling that a reviewer would essentially offer, "If you don't agree with something, don't read an opposing point of view." Gosh, this explains a lot about our current political environment, doesn't it?

Moreover, I'm saddened that the suggestion of raising faithful children can so easily be ignored without even considering the consequences to children.

To be clear, I don't evangelize any specific faith tradition in the book and I'm emphatic about that point. Here's what I said: "This book does not advocate a particular faith expression." Pretty straightforward, right?

Rather, my premise is that all the best research confirms that children are spiritual by nature - they crave answers about God and about the universe (How did God make mosquitoes? Why did God make my little brother?) - and they are naturally open to teaching about religion and spirituality.

In his seminal book "The Spiritual Life of Children," Dr. Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist and a Harvard professor, concluded that his life's work helped him to "see children as seekers, as young pilgrims well aware that life is a finite journey and as anxious to make sense of it as those of us who are farther along in the time allotted us." Dr. Coles concluded that soul-searching and a sense of spirituality exist from a young age in virtually everyone.

Equally important, research about children definitively states that those raised in households where a religious practice is present are more successful in several measurable ways, including school performance, self-discipline and avoiding high-risk behaviors such as drinking, drug use and premature sexuality.

Of course, that's not a reason to practice a religion. We engage in a religious practice because doing so reflects our beliefs and values about God and our relationship to a Supreme Being as we understand Him. To ignore the spiritual development of our children seems to say, "Sorry kid, I'm just not interested in promoting that aspect of your personhood."

All I said in my book is that parents - the vast majority of whom claim to believe in God - should know what they believe about Him, understand their beliefs well enough to teach them to their own children, and then do so. It's simply another aspect of child development that helps to nurture the whole person and offers deeper meaning to life in a world that often seems shallow and superficial.

I wish that reviewer had said this: Nonreligious readers will be challenged by a chapter that asks them to reconsider the spiritual needs of their children but, then again, something so important is worth revisiting from time to time.

Visit Marybeth Hicks at www. marybethhicks.com.