A new study finds that rural teenagers who engage in prosocial behaviors — such as volunteering and helping others — are less likely to get drunk or use drugs as young adults.
Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity at the University of Missouri, examined data from surveys given to a group of rural youths from junior high school to young adulthood.
Carlo found that prosocial behaviors serve as protective factors against teens engaging in risky behaviors.
“Prosocial behaviors are good for society and communities, but also they are a marker of moral development,” Carlo said. “We now have evidence that these prosocial behaviors make adolescents less likely to break moral codes and engage in illegal activities like getting drunk and smoking marijuana.”
The study focused on rural youths because previous research indicates they may be more apt to use illicit substances earlier, putting them at risk for developing addiction problems as adults, the researcher notes.
Rural communities tend to be more spread out, making it difficult for adolescents to get transportation to events and activities. In addition, rural communities often have less access to recreation centers, spaces for meetings, volunteers to run programs, and funding for organized activities.
“There is a tendency for youths to take part in risky behaviors if they are not engaged in positive, structured activities,” Carlo said. “Many rural communities have suffered from the economic downturn and are unable to offer opportunities for youth activities. Financial stress can also affect the psychological health of parents, making them less cognizant of how children spend their time.”
Carlo says the research has important implications for substance use prevention and intervention programs aimed at teens.
“Research shows that prevention programs are more effective and economical,” Carlo said. “If we can develop programs that foster prosocial behaviors, we know the programs will decrease the likelihood that adolescents will use substances in adulthood.”
The study is published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
Source: University of Missouri