Question: When Do You Get to Choose Your Faith?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 5, 2012 — 73 Comments

When should a child be able to make their own religious decisions? At what age does individual conscience outweigh parental guidance? A UK judge has decided that a 10-year-old should be able to make that choice, despite objections from one parent.

“The schoolgirl’s divorced parents were “at war” over her desire to be baptised at the church her father, himself a convert, now attends. But at the end of an unusual case a judge has ruled that she is mature enough to choose her religion, and alongside his judgment wrote a personal letter to the girl explaining his decision.”

Since the judge cannot order someone to convert, or not convert, he simply refused to place any legal impediment from it happening. You can read more about the case, here.

One of many Pagan-oriented parenting books.

One of many Pagan-oriented parenting books.

So, what do you think? How old should a child be before it gets to make his or her own decisions about religion? Would you let your Pagan child convert to a non-Pagan faith? When are they old enough to make their own decisions? Let me know in the comments.

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  • Hecate100

    My children have shown no interest in any religion.  They know where my assortment of the world’s sacred texts are, but don’t have any desire to read them.

    • PhaedraHPS

      That’s because sacred texts are an artifact and an intellectualization of religion, not religion itself. Do they have the opportunity to have religious experiences or to experience religious community? Kids who are not exposed to religion at the experiential level have no idea what it could be all about.

      • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

        I agree with Phaedra – give them the tools and opportunity, they’ll do the rest.

        I was raised in this fashion, and my children will be raised the same – they’ve been to a Methodist church, synagogue, mosque, and with me doing ritual – I think that they are too young still to really understand (the elder is 6), but they’ve at least been exposed to it.

  • kadiera

    I’m not sure there’s one set age – I know 6 and 7 year olds who are very mature…and much older children who are less so.

    There are already legal precedents in many areas about at what age a child’s opinion applies in a custody situation – I’d think that’s a good starting point. It looks like here in Michigan, children might be consulted at as young as 8, but I’ve heard it’s more common around age 12 and is somewhat up to the judge’s discretion.

    • Ashaleen

      Something else to consider in this regard is that when a judge asks for a child’s testimony in a situation like this, it’s likely that the child’s going to feel like s/he’s making a choice of one parent over the other; it’s likely the parents will feel that way, too. That’s a terrible position to put a kid in, and the outcome will affect more than the practice of religion.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    10 seems a bit young. Hell, I believed things at 15 that make me blush with shame now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kismitj Kismit Jax

    it depends entirely on the child in question as to age, they all develop at different rates and all have different levels of interest in religion. mine have heard teaching stories all of their lives and show no interest at this point, which i am fine with. if they are called, they are called. if not-that’s ok too. if they choose a different path, providing it isn’t going to harm them-i’m also fine with that. 

  • Brian Rush

    How would anyone STOP a person (of any age whatsoever) from making his or her own decisions about what to believe? If there is an enforcement mechanism that can penetrate the brain and control thought, it’s one I’m not aware of.

    It’s not like her ten-year-old choices are irrevocable unless they lead to physical mutilation or something else ghastly like that. I myself was an atheist at 11, a Christian at 12, a non-defined spiritual seeker at 17, a Cabbalist at 21 and a Pagan at 25, with side-trips into Hinduism and Buddhism along the way. I still call myself a Pagan now, but that’s mainly because I find it sufficiently loose in definition that I can be accommodated, and because some of the core moral values of most Pagans (religious freedom, feminism, environmentalism) are ones that are important to me. Since she can’t be stopped from thinking her own thoughts, and since she can always change her mind later as she learns more, what’s the problem?

    • kenneth

      I think we need to consider a distinction between belief and even practice and taking a step that involves binding oneself to a tradition or god by an oath. Obviously even young kids can choose what to believe or not. The role of parents and other elders in their life I think ought to focus on helping them develop the tools to understand what those various belief systems really entail, and the tools to help them know themselves as spiritual beings.

       Kids ought to have the opportunity to participate in various religious ceremonies, at least as visitors. Pagans of any age would do very well for themselves to spend some time at a synagogue, a mosque, a few different representative Christian services. Many of us have in the course of life or our explorations, and I think most of us would agree we gained something from it. I don’t think it’s ok to let kids take baptism, for example, on the theory that well, they can just drop it later and I’ll support them in that. That teaches them a disrespect for the gravity of oaths and their own word. Oaths get broken in real life for sometimes solid and unavoidable reasons, but we ought not to train young people to treat them casually.

       I also don’t think it’s unreasonable for parents to expect their kids to participate and behave in the family’s main tradition. If you’re a pagan family, you don’t have to “force” the religion on a kid. If they’re leaning more toward atheism or Christianity or whatever, that’s ok, but they can certainly also respect their parents by attending the big holiday community functions, not mocking, etc. The same goes for pagan kids of Christian families. I don’t think they ought to be dragged to church every Sunday against their will, but if, say, Christmas Mass is a big family event, it won’t kill them to suck it up and put on a suit and sit still for an hour. That’s sort of my position as a formal Catholic apostate. I’ll go at Christmas or Easter if a visiting elder in my wife’s family wants to go. I go as an outsider and as part of my respect to them. 

       I also see no problem in supporting kids in their exploration with the one caveat that some Abrahamic religions or sects don’t respect parental boundaries. Some will try to “save” a kid from pagan parents, baptize them without consent etc. 

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

         My stepfather is a priest. I am (for ease of categorisation) a Heathen with a very low YHWH tolerance.

        The most respectful thing I can do for him, and the rest of my family, is to avoid them whilst they celebrate their religious festivals.

        Suggesting people ‘suck it up and put on a suit for an hour’ is really not positive, unless you are also suggesting that their differently faithed family also celebrate the ‘black sheep’s’ religious festivals. (Which also seems disrespectful.)

      • jemand2

         No.  That might be ok for you, but when you decide that it is the only respectful thing, and all should do it, no.

        Yhwh and I broke up and the mental experience was almost indistinguishable personally from my self-extrication from an emotionally abusive relationship with a physical man.

        The fact that I don’t really believe in a separate *reality* of gods beyond the reality we give them in our minds and collectively through group thought and worship doesn’t really matter… the fact is, my abandonment of my first faith, left scars.

        There honestly isn’t any age limit for developing scars, either.  Requiring children to go, as a “respectful” /”ethical” thing is wrong.  Now granted, the types of communities which are most likely to encourage the abusive traits of yhwh aren’t likely to respect the rights of children REGARDLESS, but you don’t need to be an outsider piling on.  You just don’t.

  • Rory

    One of the things which impressed me most about most NeoPagan groups was their refusal to admit minors without parental approval. In the 1980′s this was as much self-defense as ethics, but it struck me as fundamentally decent. In US culture the official age of consent for most things is 18 and honoring that seems fundamentally decent and more ethical than the standard religious protocols. How evangelizing minors is morally different from “grooming” them for sex is not clear to me.

    • Guest

      I think the clear difference is that they’re not the same thing

    • Bookhousegal

       That’s my problem with the phrasing, here:  I wouldn’t ‘let them convert’  to anything trying to ‘convert’ them…   I’m a big believer in letting, even helping them *explore,*  but I’m not someone who’d be being non-authoritarian just so some missionary can come along and have my ten-year old submit to *their* authority, am I?    That’s not being for the kid’s freedom, that’d be surrendering partental responsibility.  

  • Lailahart83

    I struggle with this question constantly. I have an 8 year old daughter, and I try to be honest with her about what I am, why I do what I do, and also about our very Christian extended family. I grew up with intense indoctrination from birth, and I feel that was incredibly wrong. It took away my choice for a long time. I didn’t know choices existed. With my daughter, I don’t mind if she joins in practices, but I do my best to make it clear that she does have a choice, and will be accepted whatever it is. My main goal is to instill in her good, humanist values. If she turns out to be a free thinking, compassionate person I’ve done my job. 

  • http://multifacetedexperience.blogspot.com/ Kourtney

    I think it depends on the child and their maturity level. Does this child know what they are signing up for? Gone through all the studies and put an honest effort into understanding this religion? Or are they seeing Dad participating and think it would be neat to join in? I think there are several factors that need to be weighed here. I was in my twenties before really knowing what path I wanted follow. But I can remember being a kid and wanting to go to church just because my friends did. My own children attend church with their grandparents but experience something much different at home. My goal is to give them a wide and diverse idea of what spirituality/religion can be. And when they are old enough to make a decision they can use their experiences and knowledge to make one for themselves, but not because someone else said that is the way it should be. I don’t expect this to happen until they are much older though… At the VERY Least high school aged.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    This is why I love the UK. Judge says, hey this little girl that I met can make her own decisions, but it’s not my place to command anything about that. It’s illegal to command conversion & because it’s against the law I’m going to enforce that.

  • Morningstar Geek

    My son (5) is what he is at any given point, Christian, pagan, uninterested are beliefs he has professed in his young life. My house is and will always be one where anyone may be any faith they chose at any point in their journey, because that’s what it is a journey. Not a destination. If at some point he asked me to attend his baptism into a faith, i will attend, if he later recants, I will be at his side. If i fear for him, i will let himknow, but just as a parent must let a child explore with all the risks that includes, a parent must let a child seek, with all the risks that might include. Children are inherently inquisitive and faithful, it is up to the parent to both encourage the child’s journey but also teach boundaries. Just as is our responsibility in any other part of life. But a child will simply be what they are, you cannot change, force or inhibit that with out damaging the child.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    If they can be tried as an adult, then they can decide something like whether or not they want to get splashed with water.

  • Katharine C.

    I don’t have children, but this has always been a questioned that I’ve pondered when thinking if I might someday be a mother. My opinion right now is that I would initially start raising a child in my faith. My Pagan church is extremely family and child-friendly. Seeing so many children there has always inspired me to raise my children in the Pagan lifestyle in which I take part myself.

    That being said, I think that at no matter what age, if my child was curious about other religions, I would do whatever they wanted in order to explore. Whether it would be simply answering questions to the best of my ability, showing them books, or even taking them to alternative services.

    I have always been of the opinion that children, no matter what age, are their own persons. Parents do not own children. Obviously, the good parent makes decisions with the best interest of the child in mind, but the good parent also recognizes when they begin making decisions based on their own bias, not on their child’s wellbeing. In most cases, religion does not seem to fall under the types of decisions that parents need to be making FOR their children.

    How many Pagans do we all know who were forced to grow up in stifling Christian households, who didn’t find spiritual happiness until much later in their lives? Why would any Pagan parent, whether they had that type of upbringing or not, want to cause the same hardships to their child? So I must say, at this point in my life, that if I had a child, and that child was curious about religion outside of my own Pagan beliefs, I would do everything I could to encourage that discovery in a safe and supportive construct. 

    • Ashaleen

      Paganism – Wicca, at least – seems difficult to ram down anyone’s throat (as the saying goes). You look at the wonders in the world and you call them sacred. You look at the sorrows with compassion and call the fellow-feeling sacred. You look at the ways of Nature and realize your energy, too, will be recycled. We tend to value hospitality and to think that everyone’s a magical being in disguise; we call ‘magic’ that which amazes and inspires. Except that we use religious language about all this, we could very well be secular humanists (at least so says my atheist son, who is as good a man as any I’ve ever met and better than most). If we don’t include our children in our practice of our faith, we do our faith and our children a disservice.

      Then again, having written Family Wicca and Raising Witches, I might have a bias ;-)

  • Maggie

    I was baptised as an infant (thanks to the wishes of one set of grandparents). I was confirmed as a teenager, more or less of my own volition (and with a fair amount of parental expectation by then).

    As an adult I was an atheist until past 40. Today I have an important relationship with some few of what the Hindus call ‘the 33 million Gods’ — and consider myself to be an eclectic Wiccan.

    From my perspective, the experience of choosing a religious step at 10 can only be empowering. Especially given that the church in question seems to be outside the category of ‘cult’ or ‘brainwashing group’, I think the judge in this case was very sensitive to the issues, and to the child in question. I think denying a 10-year-old the opportunity to take an otherwise age-appropriate religious or spiritual step when said child has maintained that desire for a period of months would be … well, at least unnecessarily harsh, if not cruel.

    This child will never Not Be a Jew. Christian baptism is an important piece of magic, but it is not life-determining. I think the judge did right. I will be very interested to hear if at some point this child should speak out, as an adult, to say how this decision played out for her.

    And, yes, I could wish for the same sensitivity and flexibility on the part of some monotheistic parents when their teenagers make relationship with other Gods.

  • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com/ ladyimbrium

    I’m not convinced it matters- take a huge percentage of the NeoPagan community as an example. How many of us were raised in another faith? We knew when it was time to look elsewhere and were fortunate enough to have access to information and communication with people outside whatever structure we were raised in. It is my personal belief that a child should be raised to understand at least the basic tenets of the dominant religion in their society (in this case, Christianity) but also be aware that the dominant choice is not the only choice. This understanding should not require belief. It is the right of any parent to raise their offspring in their faith. It is the responsibility of a parent to allow that child the freedom to educate themselves outside the parent’s religion. I don’t think a set number can be put in place- each child is different. 

    • Maggie

       I agree with ladyimbrium about needing to know the basic tenets of the dominant religion … but I would prefer that a child know the basic tenets of more than that. In the corner of the English-speaking world where I live, a child’s cultural education would not be complete without having at least a rough idea about the holy books of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hindu traditions, and at least a rough idea about the practices of a few different Native American, Native African and Reconstructed Celtic traditions. At least ‘what’s their book, what are their core beliefs, what are their most important practices, what are their morality statements’.

      • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com/ ladyimbrium

        Sounds like a pretty diverse and interesting place to live. You’re right, the foundation of education should match the culture.

      • Ashaleen

        Yup.

  • Soulfire

    I decided that I wanted to be Wiccan when I was 9 or 10 (early ’70s) after reading “Witchcraft USA” by Florence Hershman. And no adult could tell me what I could or could not believe in. But I’ve also noticed that kids generally seem uninterested in spirituality of any sort. I was different.

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    That has been one of the controversies in Paganism, about how much we should teach our children about our religion and how much should we instead wait and let the child find their own way. 

    I think sometimes  that we should teach the basics of our religion and include them when possible in ceremony. I think our basic values will stand them in good stead regardless of where they end up in religions, or not in religion. We Pagans often faced forced religion and I think this scares us into the opposite, which may be just as bad.

    At some point the child is going to make their feelings on religion known. If they want to investigate some other religion, I think it better if we give them permission and  help them discover what religions that they are interested in. If they are resistant religion, that too must be an option.

    Now it may be important to let the child know that religious freedom works both ways and that the child  should not try to push their religion on their parents or siblings.

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    This is a really interesting question.  My best guess is that it varies wildly from child to child, which is never the kind of answer that The Law wants.  Family court judges, more than most, however, are trained to make individual judgements.  

    We ought to treasure our young people who take religion seriously.  

  • Kdegler

    I think by age 12 to 14 a child should be able to choose their own faith. That’s a pretty traditional age in Jewish and Christian denominations and is when developmentally young people are often thinking about these areas.

  • http://twitter.com/LadyMiraselena Miraselena

    We can’t make children believe or not believe.  We can suggest, teach, guide and demonstrate.  But we can’t make them (or anyone) truly believe.  

    So, in terms of secular rules and regulations, until my children are 18 and legal adults, they will abide by my rules – religious or not.  I’m the parent in charge with custody.   C’est la vie!  Don’t mess with Mamma! Now, because of who I am and my beliefs, I will allow my children a bubble of opportunity to to grow, stretch, challenge and learn comfortably and even question their own beliefs over and over again.   While I am teaching them to hold a Pagan world-view but they may not keep it.  It may not work for them in the end.  And that’s okay.

    So, at what age is a person’s communication with spirit (deity) clear and knowable? It could be at any point, any age.   Age 10 … Age 50.   No telling.   I know some young children who are very “old” with wisdom “beyond their age” and some old people who are terribly immature and can’t seem to get pass the “she said, he said” phase of life.   Spiritual maturity has no connection to physical age.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JediCass Daniel Castaneda

    At ten, I was a lot more concerned about bugging my parents to get us one of those brand new Sega Saturn’s the kids were talking about, I had no interest in faith or spirituality. That being said, I am a father and I have given some thought about this and I will give him his own choice. I will teach him what I believe sure, but if it isn’t for him, it isn’t for him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501770742 Jenn Ostrander

    If my son became a Christian I would feel a little confused and hurt; but that comes more from my own painful struggles with my personal faith than any sense of wrongdoing  on his part. My journey from Christianity into Paganism was a long and painful experience and I no longer  can feel the connection with the Christian ways. However I do try an answer his questions truthfully when he asks them and if he asked to be baptized or convert I would not stop him from following his heart in this matter.

  • sunflwrmoonbeam

    I think around 13, that seems to be about the age when kids start showing interest in exploring religion and forging an identity for themselves separate from their parents. My concern with a kid younger than that is that they’d convert to be with friends or to please a parent. I won’t allow my children to choose a religion, including my own, until around 13, as I want it to be a free decision. 

  • NT

    I think when people think about the ethics of raising our children with Pagan religion, they think about a set of Pagan beliefs. As a generation of people where there were many who grew up with a set of religious beliefs forced down our throats and later followed our hearts and converted to the religions/paths we felt right for ourselves, we don’t want to repeat this pattern on our children in the Pagan faiths. However, what we need to remember is that raising our children Pagan means giving them some sort of foundation to start from to explore other faiths and measure them by. Raising kids Pagan doesn’t have to mean instilling specific Pagan beliefs and cosmologies but can be as simple as teaching them to respect the Earth and the environment, teaching them about the circles and cycles of life and death and that death isn’t to be feared. Also, building family traditions that will give them warm memories growing up… decorating the Yule tree, coloring eggs at Ostara and baking bread at Lammas and lighting candles on Samhain. Instilling Pagan values in the next generation and giving them experiences to remember fondly when they grow up isn’t pushing dogma down their throats, it’s giving them something meaningful to grow their roots into. Children are experiential and learn about the world and values from interacting, not being taught or told. I don’t think that rituals are valuable to kids not in their teens or that the deep mysteries and myths need to be taught at an early age. These things can come later. It’s more important to pass on values and traditions that can become fond memories when they’re at an early age.  

  • Malaz

    As an Elementary teacher (and Pagan) of 20+ years, I’ve run into this topic many times.
    If the kids ask, I tell them in a straightforward way that we may believe different things, but that’s o.k. The results are varied. Older kids are apt to change their minds suddenly, with a solid effect on their behavior. Younger kids are much more fluid and much less coherent on their own ideas about deity…usually a “oh, you believe in many gods…cool…whatever…” response.

    My point is kids have to be able to choose at any age. If they show interest in something, it’s a parents/caretakers/teachers responsibility to give them as much information as they can, with as open a mind as they can muster and as much support as they can offer.

    That does not include simply allowing a child to jump into a practice without sharing your own opinion on the matter. “Ah. You want to be _________? Hmm…Well, as a human being, I respect your right to move in this direction, but as your parent, let me tell you why I disagree…”

  • jemand2

    At what age does a god consider such a vow unbreakable?  That would give a child trouble if he/she tried to leave, later?

    • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

      If a god couldn’t tell the difference between the vow of a child and an adult, they aren’t worthy of worship.  Hel, even our court system can do that (and that is hardly worthy of respect, let alone worship).

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

         Where is the line drawn between childhood and adulthood?

        Also, I’d say most (if not all) gods are not worthy of worship.

        • Dusken

           I have to agree with Eran. To me, God status does not always equal morally good or holy. It’s like a class or species of thing to me, and I’ve had my fair share of ones severely overstepping my boundaries.

          But yeah, I should hope they could tell the difference. Otherwise things could get messy.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

             I never said I disagreed. I merely asked where the line was drawn.

          • Malaz

            Hmm. What are the Celt/Norse forms of divination? You should ask them…I’m sure they’ll give you an answer. :)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Malaz, the Celts had various forms of divination, and the Norse are well known for the runes.

            I wasn’t asking what the gods thought, but what people think regarding ‘coming of age’.

        • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

          Leoht writes:
          Where is the line drawn between childhood and adulthood? 

          When the child proves themselves to be an adult, obviously ;-)

          And yes, there are a fair number of ‘adults’ whom I wouldn’t leave alone with a can opener, who I consider children, regardless of their age.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Good answer. Same one as I would give.

            Of course, it begs the question of how one proves themself an adult – what are the criteria for adulthood? (Being cynical, I would probably deny most of the population of Britain official adulthood.)

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I have to ask… Do we ever get to choose our faith, or does our faith choose us?

    I know I don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘what shall I believe today?’

    I believe what I believe, not because I choose to believe, but because I cannot disbelieve.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NBOYQXPMRGEEOMJQMLL34DDOZY angel

    My youngest showed an interest in paganism early, and yesterday, she ran our grove’s Lughnasadh ritual. She’s 12. She’s been a member since we started (shortly after her 11th birthday)  My boys aren’t interested and my oldest is non-practicing pagan.

    If she decided to convert to Christianity because of her grandparents, I would be unhappy, but let her go. If you are on the right path, nothing can move you. If you’re not, nothing can keep you there.

  • http://misslynx.livejournal.com/ Miss Lynx

     I’d let my son explore and learn about any religion, as long as it wasn’t one that preached hatred toward anyone else – and even with those ones, I’d let him learn about it (preferably in the interests of coming to understand why preaching hate is bad), just not get actively involved.

    He’s only 5 now, so it’s not much of an issue yet, but when dealing with any sort of religious topic, I generally try to avoid presenting my own views as The Way It Is. I do take him to family rituals (i.e. rituals that are geared toward parents and kids), but only as long as he’s interested. If he doesn’t want to go on a particular day, then we don’t go. And while involving him in paganism to that extent, I wouldn’t label him a “pagan child” – he’ll decide for himself what he is, someday.

    In the meantime, if he has questions about something pertaining to other religions, I’ll answer it to the best of my ability, whether it’s what the nativity scenes in the windows of stores at Christmas represent, or menorahs in other stores around Hanukkah, or why the lady ahead of us on the bus is wearing a hijab, or whatever. I always try to explain differences respectfully, and where possible relate it to people he knows, i.e. “Christians – like Grandma and Grandpa – believe that…” or “Jewish people – like Mama’s friend S – do…”, etc., to keep it from being too abstract.

    The main thing I’m trying to do at this point is help him learn that there are a wide variety of different religions out there, with different beliefs and practices, and there’s no One True Way. I’m quite open with him about what MY way is, but I also try to make sure he knows that other people he respects and cares about believe different things, and that that’s OK.

  • http://misslynx.livejournal.com/ Miss Lynx

     Side note: actually, my first attempt to explain nativity scenes, and the story of Christ’s birth, to him went sort of hilariously wrong. I told him the whole story, though in a bit of a simplified form since he was only 3 1/2 at the time. And I ended it with “…And the baby grew up to be someone very wise, who did a lot of good things and helped a lot of people.”

    He looked up at me with wide eyes and said “You mean like BATMAN?”

    • Sunweaver

      I’d have gone a Marvel route, possibly X-men, with this. He did have his twelve friends along with him and though nobody shot lasers out of their eyes, they were outcasts of society disliked by their government.

  • Sunweaver

    My ten-year-old told me just this past year that she’d decided that she was a Hellenic Polytheist. She decided on her own. I’ve been taking her to rituals and telling her the stories of our faith because that’s what I have to share with her. If dear Husband wanted to take her to church, I wouldn’t object, but he’s not the church-going type. She’s gone to a Christian church a few times with friends and has been exposed to Islam and Judaism.
    I’ve always said to her that my beliefs are mine and that it is up to her to decide what her beliefs are. No one can tell her what she believes but her.

    So, for my kid, ten is when she decided. I don’t think there is AN age that’s right for all children or all people. These things need to happen in their own time. If there is a legal question like the one above, allowing the child to make that decision at ten is not entirely unreasonable. At that point, forcing them to choose a path they do not want would cause far more harm than allowing them to decide for themselves.

  • http://about.me/CosettePaneque Cosette Paneque

    I don’t think you can put a number on it, but I don’t think 10 is too young. I had taken my First Communion in the Roman Catholic Church and was about 10 when I told my parents I didn’t want to continue in the church, which my parents were fine with, thankfully. Despite their own religious beliefs, they gave me the space and support to explore and come to my own conclusions. I think that’s the most important thing.

  • Anon_Mahna

    Soft/short answer: There is no set age,  only when they hit a certain level of awareness of self vs. everything else. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    10 seems too young to me, unless the child is just exceptional. 

    Midteens, maybe?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      My seven year old is an atheist and my six year old is an agnostic who loves me reading stories from the Kinder Edda.

  • DawnZ

    Back in 1993, it was a huge issue w/ my in-laws that I wasn’t having our  first son christened. (“Don’t I want to make people happy?” How do you want your NO?) My argument at the time was that Christ wasn’t baptized/christened until he was 32 (saw it in a movie w/ Wilem Dafoe, I think) and I didn’t want to thrust any religion on my children ~ neither Pagan nor non-Pagan. Spirituality is a personal thing ~ even for children. Putting an age on that choice is difficult, but the Bible seems to be a good guide on that. 32 is a good age, don’t you think?

    • kenneth

      A number of traditional Wiccan groups I’ve talked with won’t accept people until their “first Saturn return” which is about late 20s early 30s. There’s a good deal of wisdom in that. Where children are concerned, I’d be inclined to let them explore different paths at pretty much any age, but I wouldn’t sign off on a baptism or confirmation or any other similar formal dedication to a religion until they are 18 (at which point they wouldn’t need my consent anyway). Religions that seek young conversions make a mockery of the whole idea of an oath and are just trying to “lock in” as many converts as possible. 

      • Shakti_Luna

        Well said I think it’s good to teach them, take them to fests, but no covens/dedications until they are at the age of knowing for sure yes yes yes.  

  • Ashaleen

    There’s no universal age at which we can call anyone surely mature – but when a person is able to understand the basic tenets of a faith, s/he should be allowed to follow it as best s/he can. As adult conversions demonstrate, nobody has to follow the same religion their whole life, and as understanding changes, so can faith. It’s also true that some religions teach inappropriate behavior, though this too is at least sometimes a matter of interpretation and context. When it comes to our own children, the best we can do — as parents and as representatives of our faith — is respect their autonomy as it develops, guiding it not to our own preferences but to their fulfillment.

    (My son was raised Wiccan, and still respects our principles and recognizes our differences from the taken-for-granted Wetern religions, but has been impressed enough by the influence of Abrahamic faiths to become an atheist.)

    – Ashleen O’Gaea

    • Shakti_Luna

      The book written by O’Gaea is an amazing source on Pagan parenting for sure.

      • Ashaleen

        Thanks! :-)
        A.

  • Fratercula

    Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, and as such we have had several court rulings stating that children are free to choose their own religion. I don’t know the details, i.e. what age or level of competency they need to be. My own children are not Pagan and view my interest as an amusing eccentricity. My kids have always been free to choose their own spirituality. That being said, most Canadians insist that their children follow their parent’s beliefs until they are at least in their late teens. There have been cases of parents charging people of other religions with “Interference with a Minor” for proselytizing their children, usually one christian sect against another.

    Personally, while I don’t feel that kids have the knowledge and maturity to choose a religion wisely, I think they should be free to make their own choices and mistakes.

  • JoeMax

    We included our daughter in Pagan seasonal celebrations while she was growing up, and she participated in Pagan group rituals at age 12. When she was sixteen, she tearfully admitted to us that she decided she was a Humanist, not a religious Pagan. She was afraid we would be hurt by her decision, but to her surprise we praised her for it. She had always been told she would have to find her own Path, and she put a lot of thought and study into it. (I certainly don’t mind having a Humanist in the house!)

  • Mia

    Heh, at 14 I thought I was old enough to choose Wicca, came out to my family and everything.

    A year later I tossed that aside and went a totally different route. Now I’m comfortably exploring the recon thing on my own.

    I think the problem is that people are expecting that choice to be the ONLY choice for the rest of their life. Who’s honestly able to do that at 10, 16, or even 25? Heck, people in their 50s can change their minds and adopt a totally different religion.

    Personally, I think it’s reasonable to expect a child to respect the family culture and values until they are adults. At the same time, a child should be allowed to explore and think about the differences in the world.  That’s a normal part of growing up and developing a sense of self.

  • Malaz

    Just a thought; judging by how many parents responded here Wild Hunt might benefit from doing  a regular piece on Pagan Parenting. ;)

    • Shakti_Luna

      I blog about it personally but would love to get together with others to do pieces on this.  I come from an academic Pagan background and think it would be a wonderful contribution to have pieces each week that also have scholarly sources to support our work.

  • Shakti_Luna

    There is a big rift in the Pagan community on whether one should raise children as Pagan or no.  My thing is this-most of us were raised as some sort of religion, whether it was Catholicism, Baptist, Judaism, etc.  We found as we grew those paths may not have met our growth and connection and found our way to Paganism.  Still, most of us (not all) learned basic good things such as right/wrong, etc.

    That being said, kids need to have some type of guidance and sense of purpose.  I think it is important to raise our kids Pagan but–also teach them there are other faiths and not one is more significant/better than the other.  When I hear Pagan parents say they think it is “immoral” or “wrong” to raise their kids Pagan, I can’t help but wonder how secure they are in their own faith and beliefs. If you are ashamed of your beliefs and feel it is harmful to children then maybe you need to take a step back and reexamine yourself and your spiritual path. I personally am very proud to be Pagan, and as such have taught my son the basis of the Gods, by using basic examples of Mother Earth/Father Sky. I teach him to respect and care for others, the earth, our animal friends, etc. I feel no shame in this, nor do I feel he is being somehow ‘damaged’ by this. From my personal experiences growing up, I am at least raising my son to have no shame in his body or beliefs, as I grew up in a staunch fundamentalist Baptist setting where I was made to feel inferior and immoral from a very young age because I was female.

    I want my son to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. I don’t want him to find one gender superior over another, nor judge because someone is of a different sexual orientation, race, class, religion, etc.

    We must form a sense of respect and appreciation for various faiths and cultures within our young ones so that they may grow into a generation that is less likely to fall into behaviors of hatred, prejudice, sexism, hegemony, and the like.

    I say expose kids to different festivals and faith-based settings, and UU is even a great foundation for this.  Let them learn about spirituality vs. religion since that is honestly the basis for connection anyhow.  From there, keep an open mind, answer questions honestly, and encourage them to question and research.

  • Chasrowe72

    I’ve been wrestling with this very issue myself.  Our 9 year old granddaughter, (actually grand niece) who we have been raising pagan, went with her maternal grandmother, who has custody, but who is best described as non practicing anything, to Mobile where she attended a Baptist church with neighbors and relatives.   What we are doing is making sure we expose her to other creation myths and spiritualities.  We won’t tell her that what she was told was wrong, but we will make sure she has alternative viewpoints so she  can form her own opinion of which to follow.   That is why we are so anxious to get her to a UU church, (yes, the same one that told me to leave my knife at home), so she can get a wide range of spiritual theories to choose from.

  • Kilmrnock

    I would think somewhere at or after the age of eighteen , that is the age of consent . My views are conflicted about parental control . But we as pagans ,as  most already do have to be very careful when dealing with minors.Most if not all pagan groups will not accept anyone under the age of 18 . Now children of pagan parents i have no problem w/ raising them pagan , then allowing them to go as they wish at the age of consent .Just as most Christian parents do. In the case of the article i have a problem w/ what the mother did , w/o the fathers consent or knowledge.The case of parents of different faiths , divorced much less, jiont custody brings special considerations .At 14 or 15 many kids are old enough to make a semi intelligent decision about what faith they wish to follow and that should do , but rarely does. Most parents will still try to be controling of a child at that age , and i’m not saying this is correct.I came to paganism at a later age , in my thirties . at that age i still took alot of crap from my family over my choice . that would even tougher on a teen ager , not to even mention peer pressure from classmates at school. Many a young pagan struggles with that . i just think after 18 a person can legaly choose what path to follow , w/o interference from parents or others.  Kilm

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

       18 is not the AoC here.

      Which is kind of my point about where the line is drawn.

      Are we to set a (pretty arbitrary) age for the change from child to adult, or is it a far more individual thing? Religion does not require the rigidity that the legal system does, after all.

      • Kilmrnock

        I agree , Leoht…………..but whatever the AoC is in a given county state or Country usualy somewhere between 16 and 18 is when a person is legaly allowed to make chioces concerning there own wellbeing , religion etc . i just think ten is a little young for a child to be making such life changing decisions , and from what my wife said goes against the wifes religion , in this case Judism.As a  pagan i will answer questions , etc but to aviod unpleasant situations i will not encourage a minor towards our ways even if they are interested .The whole thing just seems too much like a sticky wicket.Now a consenting adult that is interested in pagan ways that asks for help will get it .

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          The AoC is 13 in Spain and Japan (amongst other places), whilst in some countries (such as Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia), there is no AoC, as sex outside of marriage is prohibited.

          Readiness for personal responsibility is often a matter of culture as much as it is a matter for the individual.

          Whilst I agree that ten may be too young for most to make such a decision, I would not put an age limitation in place, as that would only penalise those who are ready.

  • Wdaytonking

    I think that in ‘the real world’ values are much more important than religious tenets. My children were raised in a Pagan home early in life, but they were not expected to declare any affiliation. They live with their mother now who is non-religious, but my son (15) still self-identifies as Pagan. I am much more concerned with instilling a respect for nature and for other human beings than what he believes about gods and spirits. If he or his younger sister decide to convert to Christianity I might have some things to say about it, but I won’t make a big issue of it. I don’t think one is really any religion until they are on their own anyway, and that can change dramatically over time. I grew up fundamentalist Christian, and it took several years for me to find my path which is still evolving today. I know my story is pretty typical in that regard.