Rural Teens and Risky Behavior

Teenagers who do not stay involved with extracurricular activities, such as volunteering, are more likely to get into trouble with drugs and alcohol. It is well known that idle time is the devil’s hand maiden, especially for the younger age groups who are easily influenced by their peers. In rural communities across the country teenagers are often not given the opportunity to get involved with the kinds of organizations that are available within the city limits, often leading to the use of substances.

A new study which involved 531 rural teens who were surveyed in grades 10-12, and then again once they became adults, supports the idea that teenagers who volunteer are less likely to engage in risky behavior. They were asked about their time spent volunteering and helping others, as well as substance use. Rural teens who frequently volunteer and help others are less likely to engage in substance use in young adulthood than those who do not.

“There is a tendency for youths to take part in risky behaviors if they are not engaged in positive, structured activities,” lead researcher Gustavo Carlo of the University of Missouri said in a news release. “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.”

The research conducted by Carlo showed that the more programs that promote volunteering and helping others that are made available can decrease the chance that rural teenagers will use illicit substances in adulthood. Parents should always be encouraging their children to get involved, making good use of one’s free time is essential to staying out of trouble.

The findings appear in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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