Kids and Religion

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Washington, DC – Do children behave better if they go to church regularly? Are teens less likely to drink or take drugs if they are involved with their church communities? More than 60 percent of all American high school seniors agree that religion is “pretty” or “very” important to them and nearly half attend religious services at least once a month. But does that translate into less risky behaviors among those teens?

Child Trends examines these questions and others in its latest Research Brief,Religious Involvement and Children’s Well-Being: What Research Tells Us (And What it Doesn’t).

The results of this comprehensive review are presented in two companion products: a research brief, Educating America’s Youth: What Makes a Difference, and a Web-based What Works that summarizes key research and evaluation findings. The What Works table is a point-and-click resource for the web. It presents information on specific programs and approaches (such as smaller class sizes, academic tracking, mentoring programs, and youth employment programs) and gives users the option to access short, readable summaries or to delve deeply into the research studies.

While available research on this topic is largely limited to Christianity and Judaism, it nevertheless shows:

  • Involvement with a religious institution is associated with lower adolescent drug and alcohol use and delays in sexual activity.

  • There is a connection between younger teens’ religious participation and more altruistic attitudes and behaviors, presumably reflecting both religious teachings and opportunities for participation in religious-related service activities.

  • Parents’ religious beliefs and practices were associated with risk-taking among teens, even when other influences were controlled.
  • A connection was found between parental religious participation and lower levels of child behavior problems and with higher levels of adolescent social responsibility.
  • Religious institutions may play a role in providing physical and emotional support to individuals and groups in need and exerting social controls over adherents’ behavior, particularly in neighborhoods where other sources of social support, opportunity and control have broken down.

“This research shows that there is a connection between teens’ and parents’ religious beliefs and participation and lower levels of risk-taking behaviors among adolescents,” said Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., president and senior scholar at Child Trends. “However, more and more rigorous research needs to be done on the impact of religious activity on child development, including research on young children, on all religious faiths and on spirituality in general.”

The brief is available online at:

Child Trends, founded in 1979, is an independent, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.