Q) Please either allay or confirm my fears concerning my grandchildren.
I feel they are being denied a normal childhood, because of their parents' religious beliefs.
They are not allowed to participate in any of the normal things that most children take for granted, either at home or at their local public school. Their parents don't allow the younger ones to take part in any of the holiday celebrations at school -- Halloween, Christmas or Valentine's Day -- nor can they join in the Easter egg hunts, or make Mother's Day presents and be in school plays.
The older children aren't allowed to play on any of the teams, join a club, become a class officer or take a girl to a prom.
They are completely left out of anything that goes on in the school system except for their regular studies.
Usually the child is the only one in his class who has these religious beliefs, as they are of the minority in this area. They can't relate to anyone.
It's easy to understand why they say they dislike school but their grades are high so far.
When the children are not in school they spend from 10 to 12 hours a week in some form of Bible study or other religious activity with their parents.
They can bike and swim and ice skate, which is good, but their only friends are other children from their place of worship. They are not allowed to bring any friends from a different faith into their home.
I have nothing against religion itself, in small doses, but these children's parents are overdoing it, don't you think?
I do feel their parents love them, but the children have signs of depression, tics, asthma attacks and the like when special occasions come up.
Their parents want no advice from me; they ignore my concern. Is there any chance for these children to grow up to be normal, well-adjusted adults under the present circumstances?
A) Yes, there is, if they get enough support from you and others outside the family, but their childhood experiences won't be easy to overcome.
Parents make a big mistake when they try to make their children live out their extreme points of view, whether religious or political, left or right. The freedom to conform is enormously important to children between 7 and 16 and so is the chance to take part in school activities, for school is the microcosm that teaches them to cope with the adult world.
The children who become odd ones out will pay a price, and their parents may pay one too. These are the children who throw Mama -- and Papa -- from their emotional trains one day.
They may rebel in adolescence, turning to drugs or promiscuity, or in a whopping midlife crisis, or they may suppress it all and have real mental or physical problems instead.
All of us are born with both genetic strengths and genetic weaknesses and we may succumb eventually to these weaknesses if our bodies or minds are heavily stressed at a critical time in our development.
This stress can change the metabolic processes, send the brain chemicals awry or trip an allergic response, which in turn can cause tics, asthma or depression. Unhappiness will out, one way or another.
You have the experience and wisdom to realize that your grandchildren are at risk, but you should know that they also have important assets: Their parents love them. And so do you.
You should invite them to visit you often, so you can establish an even closer, more caring relationship with them, and know that they can always count on you.
Have some second-hand bikes and skates around, so they can play outside. The parents might even let you give each grandchild a slumber party at your house, inviting two to three children from the child's church. Even if they have to sleep on the living room floor, they'll have a good time.
You also may want to set up a confidential after-school visit with the principal and one of the teachers who knows your grandchildren well. They're undoubtedly aware of their many restrictions and would feel relieved to know that there is someone in the family who's watching out for their mental health.
This may encourage them to ask a school psychologist to assess the children, particularly during a time of holiday stress. This professional may be able to help the parents find ways to lighten up on the children, within the tenets of their religion.
You shouldn't have any part of this intercession, of course, and the principal should keep a low profile, so the parents won't limit your access to them or pull the children out of school. It's most important that you, and the school, remain part of their lives.
It may seem bleak now, but remember: Children are amazingly resilient. They can survive and bloom under severe restraints -- and even be better for it later -- but they need all the help they can get in these critical years. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.