If you want to protect your children from the dangers of drug addiction, get them involved in community volunteering, researchers say.
According to the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health, teenagers and young adults have the highest rates of substance abuse and dependence. By the time they reach 12th grade, nearly half of all teenagers have used drugs at least once.
However, a 2011 study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence reports that pro-social activities – i.e. donating to charity or volunteer service to the community – may act as protective factors against risky behaviors.
Teenagers without Involvement Are More At-Risk
When teenagers aren’t engaged in positive activities – or don’t have access to them – they are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs, and at an earlier age. It starts at the community level.
- Recreation centers
- Volunteers willing to organize and run programs
- Central meeting spaces
- Sufficient funding
- Neighborhood/community involvement
"Prosocial behaviors are good for society and communities, but also they are a marker of moral development…We now have evidence that these prosocial behaviors make adolescents less likely to break moral codes and engage in illegal activities.”
~Dr. Gustavo Carlo, Human Development and Family Studies Department, University of Missouri
How Community Involvement Impacts Teen Behavior
The University of Missouri study followed hundreds of teenagers over a seven-year period, from middle school to early adulthood. As a result, it showed that teens who volunteer become:
- Invested in their local community
- Engaged as productive citizens
- Accustomed to the idea of pro-socialness
In other words, making a positive contribution to society becomes habitual. Likewise, the thought of doing anything CONTRARY to societal values, such as drug use, underage drinking, or criminal activity, becomes unacceptable in their minds.
This earlier study supports more recent research in Iceland demonstrating that teens who are involved in positive organized activities and who feel empowered by their parents/schools are far less likely to abuse substances.
Of special relevance, when Iceland implemented community-level programs, they were a resounding success. For example, from 1998 to 2016, alcohol use among 15/16 year-olds dropped from 42% to just 5%, while marijuana use went from 17% to only 7%.
Compare that to American 10th-graders, of whom 20% drink and 14% smoke marijuana.
What Can Be Done to Support Teen Volunteering?
First, strongly encourage your teenager to get involved in some sort of community volunteer service, and do everything you can to support their chosen efforts. Possible activities include:
- Neighborhood clean-up
- Household chores or yardwork for senior citizens
- Tutoring/mentoring younger children
- Serving at a local food bank
- Coaching community sports teams
Second, get involved! If your community or neighborhood doesn’t have an abundance of volunteering opportunities, contact local schools, churches, and civic organizations to see what is needed.
As Professor Carlo said, “The emphasis on prevention is far less costly and likely more affected than treatment after the problem presents itself.”
Teensavers Treatment Centers in Orange County, California, transforms lives. Teensavers specializes in meeting the unique treatment needs that teenagers have as individuals, and can help your family find solutions to your problems.
If you are in crisis because of addictive or behavioral disorders, find your best options by contacting Teensavers today.
by Albert Fontenot