Teens with Religious or Spiritual Upbringing May Be Protected from 'Big 3' Risks

Jim Liebelt

*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on

Teens raised in a religious or spiritual environment may be less likely to develop substance abuse, depression and risky sexual behaviors, a new study suggests.

Researchers who followed young people for more than a decade found that participation in weekly religious services or daily prayer or meditation was associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, according to the study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“The effects of religious upbringing, including both service attendance or prayer or meditation, are profoundly positive in protecting against substance abuse and depression, as well as contributing to higher levels of happiness and volunteering,” said study coauthor Tyler VanderWeele, the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University.

Prayer and meditation had a bigger impact than service attendance, VanderWeele noted. “That suggests prayer and meditation may play an important role in the life of an adolescent who is trying to make sense of the world,” he added.

The results are in line with the findings of a study published last month, which found that kids had a lower risk of suicide if religion or spirituality was important to their parents.

The kids who signed on for the study are the children of men and women who took part in the Nurse’s Health Study.

The researchers found that compared to others, teens who attended religious services regularly were:

  • 12 percent less likely to suffer from depression
  • 33 percent less likely to use illicit drugs
  • 18 percent more likely to report high levels of happiness
  • 87 percent more likely to have high levels of forgiveness

Teens who prayed or meditated frequently were:

  • 30 percent less likely to start having sex at a young age
  • 40 percent less likely to have an STD
  • 38 percent more likely to volunteer in their community
  • 47 percent more likely to have a sense of mission and purpose

The new findings were not surprising to Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital. “Multiple studies have shown that people who are involved with their faith find it comforting, which therefore helps with their mental health and wellbeing,” Saltz said.