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Study: Teens with Strong Religious Beliefs Have Fewer Substance Abuse Problems

( [email protected] ) Jan 05, 2015 04:37 PM EST
A recent study conducted at the University of Florida found that teenagers with strong religious beliefs had fewer substance abuse problems.
Religious teens are less likely to have substance abuse problems, according to new study. Photo: Brand X/Getty Images

A recent study conducted at the University of Florida found that teenagers with strong religious beliefs had fewer substance abuse problems.

The complete study, entitled "Does Religion Offer Worldviews That Dissuade Adolescent Substance Use?," took a look at the worldviews of 1,253 Florida ninth graders, asking questions like "Who am I?," "Why am I here?," and "How should I behave?" to determine these views of those polled in connection with the presence of religion in their lives. Worldviews, as defined by study co-author and professor of psychology at the University, James Shepperd, is "an explanatory way of seeing the world."

The professor discovered that, although not all worldviews are seeded in religion, those that are can offer more definitive guidelines for preventing the use of drugs or alcohol in young people.

Shepperd and his colleagues also found that even the awareness of worldviews was more prominent in teens with a religious upbringing. He says that with religion, "we know the rules and why they matter, and we have a commitment to these rules."

Timothy Kleiser, a doctoral student in anthropology and sociology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that a worldview is like a story that tells what we believe and why we believe it in conjunction with our own place in the world.

"Our beliefs do not exist in isolation. They are influenced by what comes before them and, in turn, they influence what comes next," he said. "In this way, worldviews are not just a vision of life - they are our vision for life."

The researchers say that adolescence is an especially important time when religious influence can matter most because of the fact that it offer behavioral guidance.

While the study wasn't concerned with the content of each individual's worldviews, or the specific denomination of religion, it was the depth of faith that was the focus. Four distinct areas were especially strong in these children: meaning in life, moral compass, integrity and the ethics of lying.

"Analysis revealed that nonreligious adolescents, compared with religious adolescents, were more likely in the prior six months, to have smoked cigarettes (14 percent versus 6 percent), drunk alcohol (34 percent versus 19 percent), and used marijuana (17 percent versus 7 percent)," the study reported.

As Shepperd and his team continue to study the results, he says that one thing that remains puzzling is how worldviews are formed. "We know that worldview matters, so we need to provide people with them," he said, pointing out that the presence of a strong worldview may mean similar substance abuse prevention than a specifically religious worldview.

And what should parents take away from the study? For those already raising their children in a household steeped in religion, the study serves as reinforcement and encouragement, but being good rolemodels is also important. 

"Our worldview is not ultimately what we think it is, but what we show it is. So if parents desire that their children develop a religious worldview, they must show it first," he said.