A Brigham Young University study shows that forcing teenagers to attend church isn't a sure-fire way to keep them on the straight and narrow path.
Instead, young adults who have felt strong spiritual experiences in personal prayer or while reading the scriptures are more likely to avoid drugs and alcohol, said Brent L. Top and Bruce A. Chadwick, the study's authors.Top, director of the university's Center for Studies of the Family, and Chadwick, a religion instructor, will speak about the findings during a seminar Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Joseph Smith Building auditorium at BYU.
They also will discuss practical applications for parents to help teenagers mature and maintain values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the free seminar. No registration is needed, but seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
"It appears that the key to deterring delinquency and immoral behavior among LDS youth is not merely getting the youth into the church, but rather getting the church into the youth," the study reads.
With approval of regional church officials, from 1992 to 1996 some 4,000 surveys were sent to parents of high school students who participated in seminary, a daytime religion program of the LDS Church.
Three samples were drawn from the prospective seminary enrollment lists in three different geographical regions: the East Coast, the Pacific Northwest and Utah County.
Top said those areas were chosen because Utah County residents are listed nationally for their firm religious convictions, East Coast residents typically hold moderate religious attitudes and the Pacific Northwest has close to the lowest church-going populations in the country.
About 70 percent of the students completed and returned the questionnaire.
The students were asked about their families, if peer pressure affected their decisions to do drugs, smoke, drink or have premarital sex and how often the youth engaged in personal prayer, scripture reading, fasting and paying tithing.
Top and Chadwick found that location isn't everything when talking about maintaining values important to members of the LDS Church.
"Teens face substantial peer pressure regardless of whether they live in `the mission field' or the `heart of Mormondom,' " the study says. "Importantly, they can be strong in the gospel wherever they reside. `Zion' is truly more a spiritual condition than a geographical location."
However, young men and women in Utah experience less peer pressure to do drugs, smoke or have sex because most of their friends also are members of the LDS faith.
Still, about 11 percent of Utah County teenagers responded in the survey that they felt pressured to have sex. Some 15 percent said their peers had offered them marijuana.
In addition, about 20 percent of survey respondents, no matter their residence, said they had cursed at their parents, a third had shoplifted and a fourth had vandalized property. Nearly 10 percent said they had sexual in-ter-course.
Such statistics, however, are considerably lower than national figures.
The study also indicates parents play an indirect role in how teens react to peer pressure and how their friends are chosen. A firm tie to parents is strongly related to how strongly children embrace a religion.
Top and Chadwick found that more than 85 percent live in two-parent homes, and about 90 percent of the parents of the LDS teens in the test samples had been married or subsequently sealed in a sacred ceremony in an LDS temple.
"Parents should also assist their teenagers to develop the ability to resist pressures from friends and schoolmates to participate in immoral or delinquent activities," Top said. "The setting of family rules often gives teens boundaries within which to keep their behavior and an `excuse' to use with associates when `invited' to join in an inappropriate activity."
The study also encourages parents to reserve time to talk one-on-one with their teen children. A hug, an arm around the shoulder and kinds words will keep parents and teens connected, the researchers said.