Science Daily is reporting on a paper published in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly.
The youths participating in the study had been referred by the courts or by medical professionals. 195 juvenile offenders agreed to spend two months in a “residential treatment program” where they were interviewed, screened for drug use and otherwise monitored and reported on – for science.
Study findings, which support a growing body of research, suggest that young people who connect to a “higher power” may feel a greater sense of purpose and are less likely to be bothered by feelings of not fitting in, said researcher Byron Johnson, Ph.D., co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.
How did they get to these findings?
Researchers used four measures: alcohol or drug use, craving for alcohol or drugs; prosocial behaviors (service to others); and self-centered or narcissistic behavior. Forty percent of youths who entered treatments as agnostic or atheist identified themselves as spiritual or religious at discharge, which correlated with a decreased likelihood of testing positive for alcohol and drugs.
“Daily spiritual experiences” such as prayer or worship also were associated with “a greater likelihood of sexual abstinence, increased prosocial behaviors and reduced narcissistic behaviors,” researchers wrote.
It’s a short article and, without having access to the original paper, there’s not much I can do here but parrot the reporters and then throw a few thoughts on the virtual table.
Statistics are some of the most bendable things in the universe. That 40% put in there: Is that 40% of 195? Or did they mean some mystery X % of the 195 identified as non-religious and of those, less than half of them changed their tune by the end of the study? If, for ease of calculation, there had been only 10 agnostics, that’s only 4 minds changed. Hardly staggering or worth reporting on if you ask me.
Also, if X % is agnostic, how big is Y %, the percentage of young offenders identifying as Christian? Were they Christian when they did whatever it is that sent them to court in the first place? If it wasn’t drug or alcohol related, what was it? Thievery? Assault? Graffiti? What?
“Connection to a higher power” apparently doesn’t correlate with “never breaks a law.” Religious kids can still be rebellious even if they never smoke crack or down a mickey of booze. This is evident by the fact that they found 195 kids to study and only X % were non-religious. I say “only X” because non-religious remains a minority position in the States and will be for a while still.
Johnson noted that fewer adolescents today are connected to a religious organization than were youths of previous generations. Twenty-five percent of the millennial generation — people born between 1980 and 2000 — were not attached to any particular faith, Johnson said, citing a 2010 Pew Research report.
Among possible reasons that adolescents may opt not to experiment with drugs are religious instruction, support from congregations, or a conviction that using alcohol and drugs violates their religious beliefs, Johnson said.
I’ll make the case that social support is the key issue here, not religion. To increase pro-social behaviour in youth, how about creating more affordable pro-social activity incentives for everyone overall? Encourage people to know and like and grow to trust their neighbours. Create an environment in the home, school, neighbourhood and overall community that promotes quality behaviour and ethical living. Make it easier to do the right thing, to be the good person. Try to do more earlier to catch the kids that are disconnected and not finding it easy to make friends — and the ones that turn to bullying behaviours to cope. More support for the family unit in general in terms of having a living wage and adequate food and housing. Take some of the stress out of home life and maybe kids wouldn’t have as big a compulsion for a chemical escape from it. Hell, even encouraging people to start gardening can have a positive impact on a community. To quote Ron Finley,
“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”
Fuck yeah! Strawberries!
Any more and I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop there.