The Spiritual Child

This afternoon I caught the last part of a really fascinating interview on NPR with Lisa Miller, director of Columbia University’s Clinical Psychology Program and author of the newly released book, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving.  Among other things, her in-depth research indicates that children who have a healthy spiritual life…

  • “are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances
  • “are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers
  • “are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex”

She makes the distinction between a spiritual life, and some kind of strict, dogmatic religious upbringing, which can actually increase the statistical likelihood of these and many other problems.  When children are allowed and encouraged to have a healthy spiritual life, it has a wide range of health and psychological benefits.  She defines spirituality as having a personal experience of their own spirituality, of their own connection to something larger than themselves–whereas a religion, strictly speaking, is simply a set of beliefs about a Higher Power.

The spiritual life can grow and be nourished within or outside of a formal religious framework, so long as the religion does not strictly limit or too narrowly define the experience of spirituality itself.

Her work sounds really fascinating, with truly far-reaching implications, and I’m looking forward to having a chance to track down her book.