FINALLY, some good news for Catholic spin doctors: hopeful children with warm but firm parents are more likely to develop religious values, according to a study by Wollongong University psychologists.The study examines the nexus between parenting styles, child development and religiosity and shows that the better the parenting, the more positive religious values the child holds.Researchers questioned 784 year 7 students in Catholic schools about their perceptions of parents’ behaviour, then divided the ”parenting styles” into three groups – authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.Three years later, they revisited the teenagers in year 10 and gave them questionnaires assessing their religious beliefs. The teens were asked to rate the extent to which they adhered to the guiding principles: ”Being saved from your sins and at peace with God”; ”Being at one with God or the universe”; and ”Following your religious faith conscientiously”.Teenagers whose parents fell into the ”authoritative” category – where parents set firm boundaries but enforce them lovingly – were most likely to adhere strongly to the religious values.Psychologists have long quibbled over the effect religion has on child development. Freud saw God as the ultimate father-figure and believed religious people were immature because they had failed to emotionally detach from Him. Religion was a fantasy to be destroyed before a person could mature psychologically.Jung thought religious experience was an offshoot of the collective unconscious (a concept about as mystical as religion itself). Turn-of-the-century Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler believed our ideas about God spoke volumes about how we saw the world. According to his theories, God helped us compensate for our own imperfections and insecurities.Professor Patrick Heaven, co-author of the The Wollongong Youth Study with Joseph Ciarrochi and Dr Peter Leeson, does not go so far as to say that God is good for children.But the research also showed a correlation between a characteristic psychologists call ”trait hope” – which combines hopefulness and optimism with resilience following setbacks – and religiosity.”These three things appear to be related – authoritative parents, hope in children and their adherence to religious values,” Professor Heaven says.Sociologist of religion Alec Pemberton says that ”in a way authoritative parenting is modelling what we like to think of as God”.Churches may be quick to exploit the research but it is unclear whether religion makes a harder-working, better-adjusted child, or whether such children are attracted to religion.”It doesn’t get to the nub of causality,” Professor Heaven says. ”We’re now looking at what comes first.”