Where Can Children of Atheist Parents Socialize? January 9, 2008

Where Can Children of Atheist Parents Socialize?

Blog reader Tamy makes these comments (via email):

We need more places that kids can got to socialize and NOT in churches.

I feel compelled, because of my two children, to start a group that lets kids form relationships and discussion groups with their peers without the pressure of god.

Does anything like this exist already or shall I blaze a path?

Church youth groups would be perfect without the religious attachments.

Any suggestions for her?

[tags]atheist, atheism, children[/tags]

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  • Stephen

    Back when I was a kid, I loathed church youth groups for reasons entirely unrelated to God, so I can’t really get behind her last statement.

  • Gadren

    Speaking as an atheist, I think the best way is to not even think about the religious angle at all. Find school groups, or help organize something based on the kids’ interests or hobbies.

    If you try too hard to create an atmosphere for nontheist kids, it comes dangerously close to the mathematician sending his or her kids to math camp, ostracizing the child and creating an uncomfortable situation. Remember, as Dawkins says, there’s no such thing as a Christian child (or, for that matter, an atheist child). Those kinds of thoughts aren’t the sort of things which kids think about, and it becomes an awkward sort of thing.

  • sign them up for sports, art classes, museum trips, science get aways, etc…

  • UU “church school” and/or youth groups. There is religion involved, but it’s a mix of beliefs and faiths, teaches tolerance, and also focuses strongly on “good works” – humanitarian efforts and such.

  • I was going to suggest UU too.

  • Tamy

    I definitely have a skewed view of church groups having been around them and even been a teacher of some. My kids aren’t atheists or christians, that is a decision that they will make on their own someday. Aside from school sponsored activities or county sports, there seems to be no real catch all for everyone. Church groups offer a variety of activities from community service to white water rafting trips. They also allow for open ended discussions and relationship building. I suppose that venues do exist for everyone, but I guess I was just thinking more structured, if that makes any sense. I know that having grown up a military brat and been in places where you are mostly forced to stay on a closed base (language AND safety reasons), the military did a fair job in providing recreation groups and gathering places. I suppose all I can do is take my experience from both and start out small, in my home or a local community hall. Honestly, though, I would think things like this would be in place somewhere. It seems that most options are tagged to something else as referenced above, schools, churches or counties. I suppose no matter what you do, you have to attach something familiar and common to whatever you do.
    I’m no self proclaimed atheist or fallen christian, I’m just a mom trying to offer my kids a safe place to explore the world and have a little fun and maybe make some lifelong friends. In this transient world of ours, it would be nice to have a few friends, no?

    I guess I could build them a fort? Now, to find a tree……..

  • Mriana

    My older son belongs to the Nerd Club at his high school. They do a lot of things with comps and other brainy things like that. Then there are role playing games outside of school, like D & D games he plays too. Beyond that, I don’t know. 😕

  • Tamy

    Garden, very valid point about exclusivity.
    I’m not sure what UU is, but I will do some research.
    All great ideas.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Kat

    Park and rec. They usually have a building you can use in cold months, and during warm ones, it’s perfect because the kids can just run around and play.

    School activities, sports, get them doing more school activities and they won’t be bored, they will get to socialize with their peers and kids who like to do the same things as them.

    Renting a room or hall, can get pricey, but if you had enough parents behind you, everyone could pay “dues” to rent the hall and provide snacks and stuff.

    Gadren is right, you will probably run into issues if you try to only let non-theist kids hang. Organize things based on the activities you want them to do, not based on what they are or aren’t in this case.

  • Eliza

    UU, if you’re looking for a place where a kid can talk/think openly about a-theism, be encouraged in critical thinking and also in tolerance & social justice activism, and have fun. Other groups (sports, chess, math, science, etc) if you just want the focus to be something other than beliefs, knowing that some kids may bring up their theism & expect your kid to have the same beliefs.

    My 9 yr old son and I have been going to a UU “church” for more than a year. He decided a few years ago that he’s an atheist, though I try to have him keep an open mind, not just follow his parents’ beliefs. Problem is, he doesn’t understand yet that you have to be careful where & when you declare your atheism, and he sometimes comments on how silly theistic beliefs are. He loves UU, has alot of fun with the other kids & in his Sunday school class, and I breathe easier knowing that he can say just about anything about atheism or even anti-theism & no-one will blink.

    More info: http://www.uua.org/

  • Tamy

    I definitely do not feel the need to be inclusive as to belief or non belief. I would just like to see something with no attachment. just to the kids of course.
    I’m not exactly in the safest of areas and my small apartment will only hold a few.
    If new church plants can use public access areas such as schools, then I know anyone can. So, I think I will approach the school for use. Heck, we can start with an after school homework club. If they don’t have the means, we have a clubhouse in the rental office. Funny how it takes hearing it from others to realize you were already on the right track.
    Thanks for all the words of wisdom and the encouragement.
    It is most appreciated.

  • Jen

    When I was young, I loved Girl Scouts. The organization is non-theistic, though we usually sang some sort of prayer before eating, sometimes to the tune of “The Adams Family”. Other than that, I don’t recall a single bit of theism. That can depend on the leader, of course, so you could lead the troop! I also joined Campfire, but I think there was a much larger God-related influence, though that might have been my very religious leaders.

  • I have seen good programs offered at community centers, during the school year and during the summer. Those are more about kids being kids. Camp Quest can be a great option, if there is one in your area. Sure, it’s only one week, but the kids stay friends over the year, and often get together outside of camp.

  • Amy

    We have started a group in the Raleigh, NC area named after the book by Dale McGowan “Parenting Beyond Belief”. We get together at least monthly with our kids for one big playdate. We even attended one child’s birthday party last month. We’ve started organizing smaller meet-ups for the stay-at-home moms and for those people who live closer to one another and just want to hang out together. The group originally formed out of the Raleigh-Durham Atheists group on meetup.com.

    We love our group – it’s a wonderful way for us to get together as non-believing parents and share our ideas and frustrations, and also a great way for our kids to hang out with other kids with similar backgrounds. We hope that over time, when faced with a largely religious population in their schools, they will feel comforted knowing that they are not alone.

  • My kids (when they were little) when to groups at churches. Story time is story time no matter what building you’re in. The fact is that churches have space and a willingness to allow people to use that space at a lower cost than a typical business.

    My kids also went to the park, went swimming, learnt to ride their bikes, played football, went to the library and a whole stack of other stuff that had nothing to do with churches.

  • Tamy — “UU” is an abbreviation for “Unitarian Universalist.” You can find more information about it here:


    Modern-day Unitarian Universalism is non-creedal and there is no requirement to believe in god or gods to join a UU church.

    It’s also “covenantal” in that we find common purpose in a shared set of ethical principles instead of a shared statement of belief.

    Both halves of the denomination (Unitarianism and Universalism) do have historical roots in Protestant Christianity. However, the modern-day Unitarian Universalism has a wide range of religious diversity within it — nearly 1/2 of our membership identify as “Humanist” and nearly 20% identify as non-theist (atheist and agnostic).

    It’s probably more accurate to say that Unitarian Universalism is a “post Christian” religion where Christianity is present but not dominant.

  • I went to my first Center For Inquiry meeting last night (a secular group focussed on freethought). As part of the upcoming announcements I was surprised that they hosted youth group events, and actually called it a “youth group”. This week’s event was hosted at one of the guys who ran the whole thing and they were gonna play Guitar Hero, DDR. They’ve got pictures of previous events, too, and they say they usually have a good turnout.


  • UUs are the best thing going at the moment for nonreligious families. In the latest UUA self-study, 91 percent of UUs chose “humanist” as one of their self-identities. Not all of those are necessarily secular humanists, but even religious UUs are the most welcoming denomination for nonbelievers by far.

    And I second Amy’s comment about the terrific Parenting Beyond Belief Meetup group in Raleigh, which has grown quickly to 55 members. You could contact them for ideas about starting a secular parents’ Meetup in your area.

  • Maria

    as someone who has joined a UU organization, I gotta say, it really is great……..

  • Norm

    I may be a little biased, but sending your kids to one of the Camp Quest locations is a great way to have them meet other non-religious youngsters. And to follow up on Bjorn’s comment, for the past couple of years in Minnesota we’ve been organizing periodic social events (bowling, skating, pizza, etc.) to help our campers stay in touch.

  • Kids, when they are young, normally socialize with kids of the people their parents socialize with. Kids learn social skills from watching their parents. Kids also learn tolerance by watching their parents. I don’t think it’s as simple as finding a group where you can just drop them off.

    It’s up to the parents to show by example when they are young. When they get old enough to choose their own friends, they will automatically find their place in the social arena.

    If they don’t have a place to go to hang out, then create a place for them in your home. If there is not an organized meeting place, then create one and invite them. Parents have to learn to be proactive in their kids’ social health. I’ve always felt that was more important than academics. I believe it’s not really about religion.

  • Ei

    I’m a Unitarian Universalist (That’s UU Tamy, and you can find out more at http://www.uua.org) and I feel that my children get much from attending RE. BUT there are so many opportunities out there, particularly if you lve in a decent sized community. Art classes, tae kwon do, ballet, acting classes, boys & girls clubs of america, parks & recreation classes…just start doing some searches for your community.

    I’ve also found that most of my kids closest friends are the people that they see in school (or daycare) daily and also do some of these activities with. My youngests best friends are his classmates also playing basket ball with him, my eldest has his closest friends as peers who have been in his class at school and participated in special programs for TAG kids.

  • K

    Whatever happened to just being a kid without all these organized friendships?
    I find it hard to believe that her kids are so awful that no one in school likes them and that the neighbor kids shun them. Don’t they have any friends on their team? You know, whatever manditory sort of soccer or football or lacrosse that parents have their kids doing 24/7? When I was a kid, we didn’t have time for a church group or any of that nonsense. It interfered with having fun and school was hard enough. Why do her kids need 1 more thing to do?

  • Lisa

    I think it is laughable that someone wrote that church youth groups “teach tolerance” in any way! HA! I went to church youth group as a kid and a teenager, just to socialize, and it was mostly the same petty ‘who has a cute outfit on’ crap that school was. And as far as teaching tolerance, the only thing I’ve ever heard church people say is that their way is the right way and they need to convert everyone else – not very tolerant. There are a million better choices for children than church functions. Boy scouts (though there is a small element of religion within many troops), Girl scouts, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, ballet, Habitat for Humanity, Kindermusik, Little Gym (last two are for the little ones), art classes, I could go on and on. Activities like these teach commitment, teamwork, responsibility, socialization, and provide hours of fun!

  • Allison

    Dh and I are both academics so we mostly just hang out with our friends and their kids, lol! Some are religious but many are at the very least unchurched. Beyond that my oldest likes chess, wants to join a running club sponsored by the school, and participates in a TAG Saturday class. That’s plenty for him, and I know he’s talked about his lack of belief openly at the latter. One day during the TAG camp the class was sitting and eating lunch, discussing what happens to invertebrates when they die, basically debating whether or not they go to Heaven. My son and one of his classmates convinced the other kids to include Hades and the Greek underworld in the equation because they thought the Greek pantheon was a lot cooler than Christianity. My youngest…..well, he’s still a little guy.

  • Well, as a recovering Catholic, I can definitely tell you to avoid CCD or Catholic Youth Groups. It’s a wierd mix of Catholic piety and indoctrination during the day and secret hedonism at night. My first exposures to drugs, alcohol and naked girls were on Catholic Youth Group retreats in Jr. and Sr. high school. Of course, I had a pretty good time. So, if you want to teach your kids about the utter hypocrisy of most religions, this might be a good start…and a fun one too. For them, anyway.

  • Alycia

    Have you ever heard of Spiral Scouts? They can be religious, but some of the groups are secular. It all depends on the set-up.


  • Speaking as an atheist father of two bright adolescents, I would encourage you to let them form friendships guided by their own interests. Granted, this is sometimes harder work that the instant community that religions are effective at providing (for better or for worse), but my kids seem to do the best at creating community without parental interference. This may be a factor of their age, however. How old are your children?

    We had our son in Boy Scouts for a while, and we all hated the religious and militaristic influences in it (the national council is dominated by Catholics and Mormons, and discriminates against gays and atheists). My daughter had a much better time in Girl Scouts, which is much more tolerant and affirming.

  • Lisa said:

    I think it is laughable that someone wrote that church youth groups “teach tolerance” in any way! HA!…as far as teaching tolerance, the only thing I’ve ever heard church people say is that their way is the right way and they need to convert everyone else – not very tolerant.

    Lisa, I realize that you had a bad experience (which may even be typical and representative), but there are a lot of different churches in this world. Speaking as a current atheist and a former believer who studies religion and who has experienced dozens of different denominations, I can say that at least a handful (including the UUs) are generally affirming, tolerant and do not proselytize. Others are definitely high pressure, cliquish, petty, and intolerant. There is quite a spectrum out there.

  • Elsa

    I second the Girl Scouts. I actually had leaders and other girls try to push religion on me when I was younger, but as a result I learned to stand up for my beliefs, and as it went on and got more serious, I learned so much about organization and hard work, as well as made good friends. I could live with the silly before-meal grace songs; it’s all a part of the discipline.

    The Boy Scouts, however, are not so tolerant towards secularism, I hear, so be careful.

  • Tamy

    These have been very enlightening comments and some really great information. I almost feel like I want to defend my kids and their seemingly lack of friends or my need for them to belong to something.
    Basically, I really wish there was FOR ALL KIDS a safe place [no bullets to dodge,no oncoming traffic] to hang out and socialize, with old and new friends.
    I guess I really don’t care where or who it is, as long as they have the same firm belief that I do, that kids are kids and that they should have fun.
    My kids have plenty of friends at school, ride bikes at the local park [we have no open safe space at our apt. complex] and go to the library. We participate in fun activities that are free to the public. We take the train to the museum when money allows. We play games at home as a family, board games and guitar hero.
    We rent movies, draw pictures. The list is endless. So, I suppose they have enough to do, they don’t complain. We’ve had a rough time of it and had to move 4 times in the last 5 years. It gets hard to keep up with old friends and makes it hard to make new friends when you know you have to leave shortly.
    So, at any rate, it was more just a general question to see what kind of stuff is out there, since all I’ve ever know is church related stuff.
    Thanks for your input,

  • Justanotheratheist said,
    Well, as a recovering Catholic, I can definitely tell you to avoid CCD or Catholic Youth Groups. It’s a wierd mix of Catholic piety and indoctrination during the day and secret hedonism at night. My first exposures to drugs, alcohol and naked girls were on Catholic Youth Group retreats in Jr. and Sr. high school.

    My 4th grader is going to have sex education in school coming up. I was going to get my old copy of Gray’s Anatomy or Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy out to help explain things. But maybe I should simply have him go on a Catholic retreat to learn the essentials first hand! Since he is only 10, I wouldn’t have to worry about him getting anyone pregnant! 😉

  • Elsa said,
    The Boy Scouts, however, are not so tolerant towards secularism, I hear, so be careful.

    My boy is in the cub scouts and there is quite a bit of religious stuff they have to do. Of course they recite the pledge at every meeting (“…under God”) and they have a bunch of mandatory religion-related requirements for badge advancement. There are also these extra “God and country” programs that are encouraged. My son and I sat through one such program (along with all the others in our den) to get a religion pen. One of the other kids (I’m sure from a religious family) asked where God came from in the seminar… Classic.

    Anyway, if you do join scouting, be prepared to either deal with lots of religion or kind of fake your way through it. It is almost like being in the military “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.

  • Eliza

    Regarding UU-ism: Most of the people in my UU congregation seem to be atheist/agnostic, & the others are more likely to be Gaia-believers than God-of-the-Bible-believers.

    I think it is laughable that someone wrote that church youth groups “teach tolerance” in any way!

    It’s a hard thing to teach. My guess is that interacting with people who are different is the best way to “teach” it. In our UU congregation there are several kids and adults with various disabilities, and several familes with same-sex parents, and a few transgendered people, and two Japanese-American women who were incarcerated in camps in the US during WW2, and my son comes in contact with these people, while having a great time. Tolerance isn’t the reason I take him there, but it has turned out to be a nice side benefit.

  • Richard Wade

    Here is an article about atheist sunday schools. I don’t know much about them beyond this article and if they are modeled after traditional sunday schools they may be more education-oriented than social venues, but they’re just another resource and since they’re so new people may be inventing them as they go along.

    I agree with the people here who express a little caution about making it too big a deal to be specifically with a group of atheist kids. The age where religious issues become important and the peer pressure that goes with all that varies between individuals and between regions. For pre-teens and teens it might be a welcome sanctuary from their other social circles. They tend to invent their own groups and so parents should work with them on the design of a social forum for them.

    I expect that such resources are the rarest where they are the most needed, such as in the Bible belt. You may have to build your own. The first thing to do is to break through your isolation and somehow find like-minded parents in your area.

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