Religious Kids Better Off: Hormones or Holy Spirit?

( [email protected] ) Apr 15, 2004 10:50 AM EDT

A study by Dartmouth Medical School suggests religious kids are more likely to be better off than their secular peers, worrying less and less likely to engage in risky behavior, based on their results from a research on brain-imaging last year. However, Christians offer an alternative reason why their lives and perspective on life are different than other teenagers.

Dartmouth medical experts conducted the study last year on brain-imaging, focusing on kids as the subjects. They concluded that religion or spirituality may influence young people's brain circuits, reducing their levels of the stress hormone cortisol, explaining why they worry less than those without religion. Personal devotion, the study suggests, is twice as likely to protect them from risky behavior as it would adults.

“Religion has a unique net effect on adolescents above and beyond factors like race, parental education and family income," says Brad Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist and panel member.

Risky and non-favorable behavior, according to the study, included smoking, drinking alcohol, being depressed, not wearing seat belts, and committing crimes.

Christian kids can easily affirm the results of the study not through their hormone levels but through their relationship with God.

“God isn't just a part of my life, He's the whole thing,'' said Kimbrey Pierce, a Columbia, Md., high school senior. "I like knowing He is making the best decisions for me. That way I don't worry too much."

Another suggestion offered by the study, which may be a more accurate explanation of the behavior of Christian kids, attributes the difference in attitude and behavior in religious compared to secular peers to “their direct personal relationship with the Divine”.

Wilcox insisted that because kids’ “brains are changing, their relations with family, friends and the opposite sex are changing, and they're beginning to figure out what their purpose in the world will be,” they “turn to God in the midst of momentous changes.”

A Christian youth minister in Florida relies on his Christian faith instead of science to explain why a resurgence of youth at his church has been turning to God.

"The driving force is the Holy Spirit," said Matthew Wilson to The Sun News. Wilson is a youth minister at The Christian Church in Myrtle Beach, where youth attendance at Wednesday night worship services averages 120.

He said that youth turn to God because “the more you give them the word of God, the more they want it."