In a recent study, the sociologist Jesse Smith found that parents who identify as “religiously conservative” are more likely to pass on their religious beliefs to their children than those who identify as “moderate” or “liberal.” While these categories don’t have exact equivalents among Jews, some of the findings are relevant, and go beyond the self-evident conclusion that those who take religion more seriously are more likely to raise children who do so as well:
[W]hat do religious conservative parents do differently? My study reveals a straightforward answer: they are more active in their children’s religious socialization. . . . To pass on religion, parents need to make it a part of daily family interactions.
This may sound obvious, but it runs counter to many parents’ instincts regarding the religious upbringing of their children. Christian Smith and his colleagues have shown the ways that parents worry about coming on too strong when teaching their children about religion. Parents want to make sure they give their kids room to explore religious questions for themselves, and don’t want to do anything to alienate their kids or provoke teenage rebellion. These are legitimate concerns, and if children feel like religion has been “rammed down their throats,” this may serve to push them away.
But my study suggests that, on average, the barrier to passing on the faith is not too much religious socialization, but too little. Taking too light a touch with religious parenting comes at a cost. If kids do not receive a clear and consistent message from their parents that religion is important, they are likely to simply conclude that it is not important. . . .
While the challenges of passing on the faith remain considerable, religious conservative parents are managing that challenge somewhat better than others, and their secret is simple: when it comes to religious parenting, be hands on.