Church is good for children.

That's the message of a new study that says young children of churchgoing parents fare better behaviorally, emotionally and cognitively than do children of parents who never attend church. In fact, the more often the parents attend, the better off the kids are.

The study by sociologist John P. Bartkowski and a team of researchers at Mississippi State University examined data from the nationwide Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which evaluated first-graders by interviewing parents and teachers. In the data Bartkowski used, some 9,500 parents and 8,800 teachers were interviewed. The ECLS study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

Examining the ECLS data, Bartkowski and his team concluded it is "quite clear" that religious attendance impacts children positively. His research -- which claims to be a "first of its kind" study on the subject using "nationally representative data" -- will be published in the journal Social Science Research.

"[R]eligion does seem to be good for young children," the study says. "The religious attendance of parents and a cohesive religious environment in the home yields significant benefits for children's behavioral, emotional, and cognitive development, and such outcomes are most pronounced when both partners attend services frequently."

"Religion" in the study includes all religions -- the ECLS survey did not ask specific faith questions -- so there is no way of knowing if there are differences among, say, Baptist, Catholic or Jewish families.

But Bartkowski's study did determine that while church attendance is good for children, parental debate over religion is not. In fact, the study found that when parents argue about religion, it can "significantly undermine" a young child's development. However, when they are in agreement, it can be very beneficial. The study also said parent-child discussions about religion "often yield positive affects on child development."

Regularity in attendance can make a difference, too.

"In many of the developmental domains featured here, the children who are doing the best are in households where both parents attend worship services frequently," the authors wrote.

The frequency of attendance may make a difference, the study says, because it gives other adults -- for example, in Sunday School settings -- the opportunity to "reinforce parental values" taught at home.

(c) 2007 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.