Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
A recent study by Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, revealed that religious teenagers were less likely to get into trouble. This wasn't exactly a shock to anyone, but it really hadn't been studied before. What was interesting was that this was only true for the most religious teenagers. Level of religiousness was measured by how often they attended services, how important they rated religion in their lives and how long they'd participated in a church youth group. The most religious teens were more successful in school, had stricter parents, were less likely to drink, smoke or use drugs (and started later if they did), were more likely to wear seat belts and were less likely to engage in criminal behavior. The study did not include homeschoolers and school dropouts. 2.4 percent of the youth were LDS in this four year study.
The level of measurement is particularly interesting from an LDS viewpoint. We provide for our youth who choose to participate all of the factors that determine religious dedication. An LDS teenager who attends all his meetings will receive at least three hours of religion on Sundays, plus firesides or leadership meetings for some. There is a weeknight youth group meeting. Seminary(in-depth study of the scriptures) is held every school day. In addition, teens often participate in outings, parties, service projects, sports, theater, choir and other church activities. When I first joined the church I quickly realized I was too busy to get into trouble! In addition, their parents are given guidelines and training that seem to the world to be strict.
Following are the results for LDS youth concerning the Word of Wisdom:
Smoking: LDS youth who were considered very religious were less likely to smoke than were non-religious youth. 57.1 of the LDS youth studied had never smoked. (This was the highest percentage of all the religious groups, but still a concern for us. Too many LDS youth have smoked.) 1.9 percent of LDS youth smoked regularly.
Drunkenness: 67.1 percent of LDS youth had never been drunk. This was the highest percentage of all other religious groups. (Again, turn these statistics around to see how many have been drunk. We are proud to be the best, but our work is far from perfect.)
Going to bars: 74 percent of LDS youth had never been to a bar. This number was significantly higher than any other religious group.
Frequency of drinking to get drunk: The report specifically states that LDS youth were significantly less likely to get drunk than were non-religious youth. (It also said this was not surprising.) 62.3 percent of the LDS youth did not drink at all, and the next highest percentage was in the "other religion" catagory at 29.6 percent. Unfortunately, 18.8 percent of LDS teens who do drink to get drunk do so nearly every time they drink. This was the worst rate of any religion, pointing out the extreme importance of teaching teens to avoid alcohol.
Information on drug use among teens was particularly interesting. Only the most frequent church attenders were less likely to have used drugs in the past year than were other teens. Active LDS youth were specifically mentioned as one religion whose youth were less likely to use drugs. All statistics were for the past 12 months. 40 percent of LDS youth had been offered drugs in the past year, and this was the highest number, an alarming statistic. 13 percent of the LDS youth had sold drugs. (The Baptists had the lowest rate.) 34 percent had used illegal drugs. (This was the lowest rate for all religions.) 26.5 percent had smoked marijuana. (This was the lowest rate.) 24.1 percent had used hard drugs. (Two religious groups had lower rates: Baptists, and Jewish youth.)
First use of marijuana or hashish: All religious groups except "other" were at a reduced risk for marijuana use. 72.5 percent of LDS youth had never used it. (This was the best rate.) Interestingly, no LDS youth first used marijuana in or before sixth grade, suggesting the effectiveness of parenting, Primary and peer pressure. Only the Jewish youth also had a zero percentage. 1.8 percent used it for the first time in seventh grade, and no LDS youth started using
marijuana in eighth and ninth grades. Twelve percent began in tenth grade and 6.3 percent began in eleventh grade. 11.5 percent began in twelfth grade, suggesting that we must pay more attention to our seniors. Perhaps by this time parents have felt that they were now out of danger and had stopped teaching about drugs.
Overall, our youth made a good showing compared to other religious groups except in the area of overall drug involvement. However, the numbers were far too high. The report does not break down-at least not online-how active the LDS teens were, but we do know that overall, the more religious the teen, the less likely he is to get into trouble. This report, which presents Latter-day Saint youth in a positive light compared to other religions, still points out the great need for more work to be done. In the next few weeks, we will explore the Word of Wisdom as it applies to our youth.
For more information on the study, please visit National Study of Youth and Religion and click on the link in the first paragraph after reading about the study. The report is in PDF format.