Your religious belief influences children’s response to severity


According to research conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a child’s response to a harsh environment in the home may depend on the parent’s religious beliefs.

The study was published in the ‘Child Development Journal’.

Studies by Professor Maayan Davidov at HU’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Welfare have shown that a child’s response to such severe discipline may depend on the parent’s religious commitment. His research, in collaboration with Maya Oren-Gabai and Dr Islam Abu-Asaad, assessed the social behavior of children aged 6 to 12 in 300 Jewish and Muslim secular and religious Israeli families.

The results showed that in secular Jewish families, the use of psychological control by mothers appeared to have a negative effect on their children, making them less likely to help others. However, in religious Jewish families there was no such “cost” for this parenting style. Moreover, in religious Muslim families, this style of parenting actually seemed to have a positive effect: it was associated with more useful behavior on the part of the child, while in secular Muslims there was no noticeable effect in both cases.

For the purposes of this study, more than 315 parents completed a detailed questionnaire to assess their level of religiosity, parenting style, and use of psychological control in everyday situations. Their children were then subjected to tests to assess their social behavior, particularly their willingness to help a stranger with the simple task of picking up paper clips that had been “accidentally dropped” by a lab assistant.

“This is important to keep in mind when providing parenting programs and counseling to parents – parenting behavior does not work the same in different cultural and religious contexts. For example, what is harmful in one context may not be harmful in another, “Davidov shared.

According to Davidov, these results are consistent with the theory that in religious families the psychological control of parents over their children is guided by a value system. These values ​​are understood by parent and child, it is accepted that parents know what is best for the development of their child and that children are obliged to respect their parents and the religious values ​​they grant. In contrast, when parents exercise psychological control in a secular context, they act in a way that is incompatible with the broader secular cultural values ​​of autonomy and self-reliance. In such cases, shame and guilt on the part of the parents are likely viewed by the child in a negative light and as expressions of hostility or rejection that can interfere with the positive social development of the children.

Davidov plans follow-up research to investigate parental behavior that promotes empathetic behavior in their children.

“I want to connect the dots so that we can better understand why parenting behavior can have different consequences in different families,” Davidov said.

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