If you know anything about Scientology, you’re probably aware that it is a pretty out-there religion, founded by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. But Scientology for kids is even crazier than it is for adults. Scientology’s parenting rules are, well, different. Ex-Scientologists have horror stories about Scientology child rearing, involving stuff like an isolated Scientology children’s camp where they are put to hard labor and almost never see their parents.
Some kids are born into Scientology while others are brought in as young children, but their lives end up the same. If parents are deeply involved in Scientology, their kids will have a very different upbringing than that of other children. Everything from the people they are allowed to see to the subjects they learn in school is restricted or suppressed. They will be interrogated by adults to make sure they aren’t doing anything bad and if they get sick it is their fault for letting someone evil into their life.
It sounds like science fiction, but for a lot of kids with Scientologist parents, this is their childhood reality.
When you are born into Scientology, even your birth has to be different than the modern norm. Called a “quiet birth” or “silent birth,” the idea is that a child comes into the world with no trauma that might be caused by hearing its mother screaming in pain.
But it isn’t just mom who can’t make noise while she is laboring away. Other people present, even the hospital staff, are supposed to zip it. This could be a problem if they need to pass information to a nurse or doctor, but what L. Ron Hubbard says goes.
Hubbard had some other ideas about birth as well. In Preventive Dianetics, he writes that babies should "be wrapped somewhat tightly in a warm blanket, very soft, and then left alone for a day or so." While that could be viewed as anything from cruel to downright dangerous, being ignored is something to which children of Scientology need to get accustomed.
Katie Holmes divorced Tom Cruise when their daughter Suri was six years old. Former Scientologists said this was probably because six is the age when children can start going through a system of interrogation known as “sec checking.” This stands for security checking and it is a way of making sure children growing up in Scientology live according to the creeds of the organization. Usually, sec checking is only used when a person (or child) is suspected of breaking a Scientology policy.
Hubbard started the process in 1961 and it still goes on today. It involves an “ethics officer” asking a child lots of questions to make sure they aren’t doing anything wrong. It can also be a way to spy on the kid’s parents, by getting them to say if they have heard or seen anything happen that goes against Scientology. Hubbard wrote up a list of 100 questions for children from ages six to 12 to be asked. The list includes inquires like, "Have you ever pestered older children, or grown people, who were trying to work?" and, "Do you have a secret?" or, "Have you ever failed to finish your schoolwork on time?"
With questions like that, it is impossible for a child to come out of an ethics interrogation totally blameless no matter how good they have been. One ex-member says you just get conditioned to tell them what they want to hear.
When you are a part of Scientology, you are not supposed to get sick. Of course, this is hard for even the healthiest people to control, particularly children. They are walking germ factories. But Hubbard said that if you are a good Scientologist then you should be healthy all the time. It’s one of the many superpowers that following his doctrines is supposed to give you.
When a child gets sick it is because they have become a Potential Trouble Source, or PTS. This means they have interacted in some way with a Suppressive Person or SP. SPs are basically any people who don’t believe in Scientology. After the illness has abated, Scientologists are required to attend a “PTS Handling” session so they can be questioned until they figure out who in their life is the SP. Of course, especially for the most isolated children, this means naming friends or family in Scientology, which can then get that person in trouble.
And, according to former members, even if you get really sick, you might not be allowed to get medicine for it. Former members recall children with higher than 103-degree Fahrenheit fevers being denied help. And if you do get to see a doctor, it will probably be one who practices Scientology.
If you go to a Scientology school, lessons are quite different from average public or even private schools. In addition to basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, young Scientology students also have to study the works of Hubbard. But even when learning the regular things, there is a Scientology structure. Scientologists believe there are three things that can make learning impossible: the misunderstood word, lack of mass and the skipped gradient.
The first involves a lot of dictionary reading and memorization, because the philosophy is that you truly have to understand every word you read, or you won't be able to understand the concept. “Lack of mass” is a visceral learning tool that requires literally sculpting things, even really complicated concepts, in clay in order to understand them. "Skipped gradient" means that you are learning things too quickly and thus, the material is confusing you: the better path is to slowly and methodically comb over every element of learning.
And you better hope that you can do all this by yourself. From a very young age, students are just supposed to work alone until they understand a subject. This means that some work fast and graduate well before they are 18, while others might need longer. Have a learning disability? No you don’t, because Scientology schools don’t believe in them. They also don't believe in a strong science program, meaning many students within Scientology are greatly lacking in that area.
Somewhat alarmingly, Scientology teachings have been able to penetrate some otherwise normal public schools. Some have invited Scientology-backed groups to talk about staying off drugs, while others have used study tech in the classroom.