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UNC/Lilly survey: Delinquent behavior less likely among religious teens

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Seniors in high school who consider themselves religious are less likely than their non-religious peers to smoke cigarettes and less likely to drink alcohol, according to a new study.

The National Study of Youth and Religion, released Sept. 18, describes religious 12th-graders as less likely to have ever tried any kind of drug than non-religious students. The study was conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and funded by the Lily Endowment, Inc.

The study’s chief conclusion: Regular religious service attendance, high subjective importance of faith and many years spent participating in religious youth groups are clearly associated with safer, healthier, more constructive lifestyles for U.S. teenagers.

Data for the survey, which predated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was drawn from a Monitoring the Future nationally representative survey of high school students which has been conducted since 1975.

Among other findings by researchers:

— Religious high school seniors receive fewer traffic tickets, are more likely to wear their seatbelts than less religious seniors and less likely to get in trouble with police.

— At school, religious adolescents tend to be better behaved and are less likely than others to be sent to detention, skip school or be suspended or expelled.

— Religious seniors are more likely to volunteer in their community and participate in student government, and they tend to play more sports or exercise significantly more than their less religious peers.

Also, according to the study, the parents of religious students are, as a whole, stricter than those of non-religious students, and in turn the religious children are less likely to argue with their parents.

When observing parent/child interaction, researchers took into account race, age, sex, rural versus urban residence, region, education of parents, number of siblings, whether the mother works and the presence of a father or male guardian in the household.

The study pointed out, however, that the cause and effect between religion and risk behaviors and social activities is hard to determine because it may be that religion itself influences youth to reduce risk behaviors or youth and families who are already predisposed to avoid risky behaviors choose to become more religiously involved.

Another factor could be that some religious youth who become involved in risk behaviors subsequently reduce their religious involvements and, thus, on surveys are counted as less religious.

Even so, the report concludes that, for whatever reasons, religiously involved U.S. teenagers engage in fewer risk behaviors, get into less trouble and participate in more socially constructive activities than do less religious youth.

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry