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Parents, worship attendance help teens avoid drugs, survey shows

WASHINGTON (BP)–Close relationships with both parents, regular attendance at religious services and drug-free schools are factors that result in teenagers being far less likely to use drugs, according to a new survey.
The fifth annual report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) showed the teens who are safest from the risk of using drugs “are those living in two-parent homes who have an excellent or very good relationship with both parents, eat dinner and attend religious services regularly as a family, go to ‘both parents equally’ when they have important decisions to make, have discussed illegal drugs with both parents and report their mom and dad are ‘equally’ demanding of the teen in terms of grades, homework and personal behavior.”
The survey of young people ages 12 to 17 also found those who attend schools where drugs are kept, used or sold are twice as likely to abuse drugs, including alcohol, as students in drug-free schools. They are three times as likely to smoke cigarettes and three times as likely to have tried marijuana. According to the results, 75 percent of young people in religious schools say their schools are drug-free, contrasted with 40 percent of those in public schools.
In its research on attendance at religious services, the report showed 53 percent of young people say they attend such services at least four times a month. The contrast with those who attend less than once a month included:
— Only 10 percent of youth who attend religious services at least four times a month have smoked marijuana, while 25 percent of those who attend less than once a month have smoked marijuana.
— 7 percent of those who attend at least four times a month have smoked cigarettes, contrasted with 16 percent who attend less than once a month.
— 9 percent of regular attenders drink alcohol in a typical week, while 21 percent of irregular attenders drink in a typical week.
— More than half, 56 percent, of youth who attend at least four times a month say they will never use an illegal drug in the future, while only 15 percent of those who attend less than once a month say they will abstain.
The survey “demonstrates the importance of the communication and reinforcement of a single set of values through numerous sources,” said Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “When parents, religious institutions and schools all communicate the same message to children, those children will be better equipped to resist the temptations to engage in harmful behaviors. As any of these components are removed from a child’s life, his or her risk for engaging in harmful behavior increases.”
Duke, who addresses substance abuse issues for the ERLC, said, “Let there be no mistake about it: Everyone and everything matters when it comes to equipping children with the moral compass they need to help them make the right decisions. I pray that God will help each of us make a positive contribution to the future by investing ourselves in the lives of children.”
CASA President Joseph Califano said in a written release, “This survey clearly indicates that an active religious life can make an enormous difference in the likelihood that the teen will be drug-free.”
The survey especially showed the importance of a child’s relationship with his father in a two-parent home.
Children living in two-parent families and who have only a fair or poor relationship with their fathers are 68 percent more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs in contrast with all young people living in two-parent homes, according to the survey. In addition, children in a single-parent home who have an excellent relationship with the mother heading that family are at a 62 percent lower risk of abusing drugs than children in a two-parent home who have only a fair or poor relationship with their father. The average young person living in a home headed by a single mother, however, is at a 30 percent higher risk than all teens in a two-parent household, the survey found.
The report showed teens have closer relationships with their mothers than fathers. Specifically:
— While 71 percent of young people said they have an excellent or very good relationship with their mother, only 58 percent said they have such a relationship with their father.
— More than twice as many youth, 57 to 26 percent, said it is easier to talk to mom than dad about drugs.
“This is a wake-up call for every dad in America,” said Califano, a former secretary of the then-named Department of Health, Education and Welfare. “It’s time for every father in America to look in the mirror and ask: How often do I eat meals with my children? Take them to religious services? Help with their homework? Attend their games and extracurricular activities? Join mom in monitoring my teen’s conduct, praising and disciplining them?
“Parents have enormous power over a child’s well-being, but too many fail to appreciate and use this power.”
The survey also found 42 percent of young people who do not use marijuana credit their parents with their decision. That was higher than any other influence in a child’s life.
The finding on the role fathers play in their children remaining drug-free contrasts with a recent article in an American Psychological Association publication that sought to discredit the view fathers are essential to the development of children. The article drew strong criticism from pro-family leaders.
The CASA survey, which was released Aug. 30, followed by less than two weeks a survey announced by the Department of Health and Human Services showing drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds had declined. The results of the 1998 survey showed about 9.9 percent of young people used drugs in the previous month, as compared to 11.4 percent in 1997.
The CASA research was based on interviews with 2,000 young people.
CASA is located at Columbia University in New York.