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Parental Influence on Morals and Religion

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr, studioD

Your child observes and develops a moral compass based on your actions, according to Professor Stephen F. Duncan at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. You also have the right to teach your child about your religious faith, in the hope that your child will one day embrace it for herself, unless the practices of your religion will harm your child, according to Nolo.com, a legal information site.

Infants and Toddlers

Your influence begins from your child’s earliest moments and continues for a lifetime. If your example demonstrates to your child that moral traits such as honesty, responsibility, respect and love are important to you, your child will be more inclined to follow your example. If your words and actions conflict, your child will follow your actions, according to Harvard profession Robert Coles, author of “The Moral Intelligence of Children.” Religious education could include reading sacred passages during a family worship time, attendance at a house of worship and living out your faith by example.

Preschool Through Elementary Years

As your child matures, your moral and religious instruction can take on a greater depth, discussing principles through stories, actual situations your child encounters and involvement in a place of worship. The limits you set will also strongly influence your child. Professor Cole advocates using stories to teach your child, as they are more memorable and closer to real world experience. As your child becomes more verbal, he might point out discrepancies between what you do and what you say and ask, “Why do I have to do that if you don’t?” The school curriculum may reinforce your efforts to teach morality and faith, but your example and efforts will bear the greatest fruit.


Between the ages of 10 and 12, your child could begin to question your moral ideas and religion. Your child will be exposed to greater temptations regarding drugs, alcohol, sex, delinquent behavior and peer pressure. She will try the standards you have taught since the cradle and have to make choices about whether she will follow those teachings or not. If your relationship is strong, her desire to please you and stay out of trouble might help her weather the storms easier. She might even tell her friends if she violates the limits you set, she knows that she will have more trouble than she can handle.


Your teen will have many opportunities to put your moral and religious instruction to the test. If your teen understands why those standards are important, he is more likely to follow them, says Cole. Give him more responsibility and freedom to make choices, maintaining firm and consistent limits. Allow your teen to suffer the consequences for violations so he relates stepping over the line with real-life costs, such as fines, jail and failure. He has the foundation -- it’s his responsibility to live with his good and bad choices.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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