Interfaith Initiative: Teach children to accept all religions

A few months ago, I was listening to Pacifica Radio’s Against the Grain. The guest that day was Alfie Kohn, author of “The Myth of the Spoiled Child,” in which he explores several widely held assumptions around the idea of “permissive” parents and “overindulged” kids. While I did not agree with everything he said, it made me reflect on some of my own beliefs on child-rearing and the complicated relationship we have with young people, especially in this nation.

On one hand, as Americans, we see ourselves as future-oriented people. We see our young people as the continuation of the “American Dream.” Our advertisements have been directed towards young people since the 1950s, or at parents — to improve their relationship with young people. Supposedly, our public policy is created and shaped with youth in mind, to enhance their futures. However, reality can be different:

•  The United States leads all industrialized nations in incarcerating youth, with a 7 percent increase in Pennsylvania. (Annie E. Casey Foundation, February 2013)

•  Nineteen percent of school-age children live in poverty. (U.S. Census, 2013)

•  In school year 2012-2013, 1.3 million children were homeless. (Childtrends.org)

•  One in 10 children experience sexual abuse before their 18 birthday. (Darkness to Light website)

Whether we know it or not, these discrepancies also affect our faith groups.

While much has been discussed within faith communities about the May 2015 Pew Research Center report that showed 34 percent of older millennials (persons reaching young adulthood around the year 2000) and 36 percent of younger millennials in the U.S. are not religiously affiliated, the future of all faith groups start younger, with children. How can we make our temples, synagogues, mosques, churches welcoming to children? Even if there are no specific roles for children in our services, do we create positive associations for youth? Does our social justice focus on or our social service groups take up issues that specifically affect youth (such as those above)?

How do we speak to our children about conversation or relations with those of other faith groups? Do they know that it is important to build a welcoming and cohesive community? We cannot expect children to naturally “grow into” understanding or acceptance of those of other religions if we do not provide the foundation. Do we know that our young people are the future of our faiths, our communities and our nation? I do not pretend to have all the answers. Each family and faith community needs to look at its own situation to create the best solutions.

My thoughts today were partially inspired by the great talks that Interfaith Initiative Centre County sponsors monthly. I invite you to join us as we discuss issues common to our spiritual lives and support each other on the journey. Discussions I have had at IICC events and settings have made me wish to let in the voices and issues of children.