Studies: Abstinence message, religion shape teen behavior
Posted on May 13, 2003 | by Michael Foust
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Two recent studies have bolstered conservatives' claims about abstinence and teenage substance abuse.
A study published in the latest edition of the journal Adolescent & Family Health found that 67 percent of the drop in the single teen pregnancy rate from 1991-95 was due to abstinence, not birth control. This counters a study released by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in 1999 saying that contraception was the major factor in the drop.
Meanwhile, another study has shown the positive impact religion can have on a teen's life. According to the study -- published in the March issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors -- teens who consider religion important in their lives are half as likely as other teens to drink heavily or smoke marijuana and cigarettes.
Three researchers at Yeshiva University in New York conducted the substance abuse study.
"These buffering effects could be occurring because religiosity may influence a person's attitudes and values, providing meaning and purpose in life," researcher Thomas Ashby Wills said in a statement. "It could also help persons to view problems in a different way.
"Besides offering coping techniques, being involved with a religion can also create more healthy social networks than adolescents would have if they got involved with drugs to find social outlets."
The pregnancy study looked at various data, including the drop in the teen birth rate from 1991-95 (the latest data available) and the increase in abstinent teens during that time. "Teens" were defined as girls age 15-19.
The study utilized data from the National Vital Statistics Records, National Survey of Family Growth and the Alan Guttmacher Institute. The number of pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls decreased from 115.8 in 1991 to 101.1 in 1995, according to the study. At the same time, the number of unmarried teen girls who were abstinent -- defined as never having had sex or not having had sex in the past year -- increased from 53 percent to 56 percent, the study said.
The study was conducted by New Jersey physician Joanna Mohn, University of North Carolina-Greensboro professor Lynne Tingle and Colorado physician Reginald Finger.
"These findings support the significance of the growing movement of teens choosing to abstain from sex," they wrote. "... [T]his study demonstrates the important role of increased sexual abstinence in reducing the single teen and overall teen pregnancy rates."
The study of religion's effects on teens followed 1,182 teens in New York City from seventh to 10th grade, utilizing surveys each school year. The importance of religion was determined by asking the teens to rate various statements from "not at all important" to "very important": "To believe in God"; "To be able to rely on religious teachings when you have a problem"; "To be able to turn to prayer when you're facing a personal problem"; and "To rely on your religious beliefs as a guide for day-to-day living."
The study did not break the samples down into sub-categories, such as effects of evangelical Christianity.
The research found that teens who consider religion an important part of their lives were half as likely to be involved in "heavy drinking, cigarette smoking and marijuana use." There was little difference in overall alcohol use, the study said.