The Association Between Parent, Family and Peer Religiosity and Teenagers’ Sexual Experience and Contraceptive Use
Child Trends/The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Available at www.teenpregnancy.org/works/pdf/Science_Says_20_Religion.pdf.
Two recent reports have drawn attention to the impact of family beliefs and institutional supports on the behaviors of youth.
The first, conducted by Child Trends for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, finds that the religiosity of a teen’s parents, family and peers has a positive association with the age of first sexual intercourse.
Generally, teens whose parents have strong religious beliefs and attend services frequently, who participate frequently in religious activities with their families and who have a high percentage of religiously active peers tend to start sexual activity later than teens who have few, if any, religious influences.
The association is less clear, however, between religion and contraceptive use. Boys in homes with a high frequency (two to seven times a week) of family religious activities, such as praying or reading scripture, were less likely to use contraceptives at first sexual intercourse. So were boys who had peer groups composed at least 75 percent of religious friends.
For girls, contraceptive use was least common among those whose parents never attend religious services and those who attend more than once a week. It was more common for girls who parents attended “less than once a month” and “once a week.”
The finding suggests that while some teens with strong religious influences might be less likely to have sex at younger ages, they might also be less likely to use contraceptives if and when they do engage in sexual intercourse.
“These findings … may reflect greater perceived barriers or embarrassment associated with obtaining contraception … in more religious families,” said Elizabeth Terry-Humen, a research associate at Child Trends.
The study used survey data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) from 1997 through 2002. Directed by the U.S. Department of Labor, NLSY is a nationally representative sample of nearly 9,000 adolescents born between 1980 and 1984.
Building on previous studies that have shown a link between positive parent-teen relationships, delayed teen sex and better contraceptive use, the researchers also examined the nature of the residential mother’s relationship with her teen within the context of family religiosity.
They found that teens whose mothers scored high on the relationship measure and whose parents scored high on religiosity were the least likely to have sex (defined here as intercourse) before age 18, while those whose parents scored low on both measures were most likely to have had early sex.
When it came to contraceptive use, however, teens whose parents rated low on religiosity but whose mothers rated high on the relationship measure were the most likely to have used contraception at first sexual intercourse.
The researchers hypothesize that parental religiosity may appear as a protective factor because it denotes a particular parenting style that includes a higher level of monitoring and awareness and increases opportunities for teens to interact with religious peers.
“If the teens are hanging out with friends who are also attending the same religious services, then it’s very likely that the parents may be in better touch with who these teens are, who they’re hanging out with,” Terry-Humen said.
“What we suspect is that the measures of religious activities indicate more closely knit families: [that] the families are more cohesive or … engage in more activities together.”
Building Active Citizens: The Role of Social Institutions in Teen Volunteering
Corporation for National and Community Service, et al.
Available at www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/05_1130_LSA_YHA_study.pdf.
An estimated 15.5 million youth volunteered more than 1.3 billion hours of service during 2004, according to this survey of nearly 2,000 12- to 18-year-olds conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the U.S. Census Bureau and the nonprofit research group Independent Sector.
“There had not been a national youth volunteering study in about 10 years,” said Robert T. Grimm Jr., director of research and policy development for CNCS. “Our main objective was to fill that gap.”
What they found surprised them.
The survey showed that while teens serve fewer hours per year on average than adults (29 versus 52), and serve less regularly, their rate of service is far above that of adults: Fifty-five percent of all 12- to 18-year-olds volunteered in 2004, compared with only 29 percent of all adults.
“It was higher than we expected,” Grimm said.
What was behind that rate? Both this study and the Child Trends report seem to suggest that the beliefs of families, coupled with the support of social institutions, are key factors.
Youth who had at least one volunteering parent were three times as likely to volunteer on a regular basis than were youth from families that don’t volunteer. Having siblings, grandparents, aunts or uncles who volunteer also positively influenced the volunteering habits of teens.
“It does demonstrate the salience of family and adult role models, and how innovative programs that get youth and adults engaged together can have some very valuable benefits,” Grimm said.
The study also suggests that “institutional variables … are key to explaining volunteering behavior among youth,” even after controlling for such demographic factors as race, gender, age, income and other family characteristics.
Nearly two-thirds of youth who volunteered did so most often with one of three types of institutions: religious congregations, schools, and youth leadership organizations such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, 4-H and the National Honor Society. Nearly three-quarters of volunteering youth served with one or more of those three organizations.
More than 60 percent of the youth surveyed said they attended religious services in 2004, and nearly half said they attended services at least once a week. Of the youth who attended weekly, 64 percent volunteered, compared with 53 percent of those who attended infrequently and 41 percent who did not attend religious services.
Although many youths said they volunteered as part of a school activity, only 5 percent said they had volunteered solely to fulfill a school requirement.
“People are motivated by a variety of reasons to volunteer, but institutions that promote opportunity and allow youth to mold that opportunity and be engaged … are more likely to produce more volunteering,” Grimm said.
“It’s clear that getting parents and youth together, getting them both involved, has a lot of benefits to it.”