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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Q At the World Congress on Psychology and Spirituality, you talked about an interracial couple challenged by the task of imparting religion and spirituality to their children. You explained that parents forcing religion upon their children usually backfires in America, given that adolescents tend to rebel and are more responsive to peers than parents. Whereas in India, you noted, most families practice the same religion together for many generations. What did you mean about encouraging parents to differentiate what they want to teach their children through religion?

A This is a good issue that is worth clarifying. Many South Asian parents have a tendency to expect their children to have the same fervor, devotion, and blind commitment to the beliefs and practices of their familial religion. Many parents have grown up with an immersion in their religious tradition—going to the temple, mosque, or church everyday in India or elsewhere. In the American culture, South Asians are a minority, and Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are not part of mainstream religious worship. Children raised in these traditions do not have the support of the culture to freely practice and, in fact, may feel secretive and ashamed about their religious orientation. Wanting to be liked by peers, they eschew with embarrassment what their parents practice with pride. Parents need to be clear about what they want to teach their children in this domain of life and will benefit by developing more skills in imparting those values, traditions and practices.

Religion carries many different functions: creating and continuing family and community cohesion; practice of rituals; teaching and imparting values, philosophy and education, morality and codes of conduct; practice of prayer and meditation; social customs; relationship, sex, sexuality, and marriage; food and drink choices, and more. Understanding the various functions of religion helps parents realize its power. As a world we are seeing how religion has been used to divide, conquer, and justify disapproving and oppressing others—actually destroying difference. Even today, ethnic cleansing and genocide take place in the name of religious freedom. So, religion has many sides: keeping people sane, teaching kindness and powerful healing practices, as well as indoctrinating and spreading hatred. As parents become clear about which aspect of religion they wish to teach their children, they can offer rationale for their expectations.

The best way to teach is by example. First, parents have to look at what they are practicing and where in their lives they need to become more aware and aligned with their values. Much of this will automatically transfer onto the children. They can best transmit these values and skills by learning to communicate them in a non-threatening, non-forceful manner. Sharing and then discussing with the children and being open to their experiences and feedback works better in the long-term. This also builds deeper, more genuine, and open relationships. It encourages children to come to their parents in times of struggle, rather than being secretive about their challenges or mistakes and then being inappropriately and solely influenced by their peers. In this way, adults can help children learn valuable aspects of religion and spirituality. They receive a deeper perspective and can utilize tools to ease and transform life’s challenges into growing and maturing experiences.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393.

Alzak A.

Alzak Amlani is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. (650) 325-8393.