Pro-life/pro-family advocates will be pleased to have some of their views confirmed by a prestigious, secular source.

The September 1997 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reporting on an extensive study, confirms the importance of the family in protecting adolescents against risky, unhealthy behavior.

The study examined four areas of concern, (emotional distress, involvement in violence, substance abuse and sexuality), as they relate to adolescent health and well-being. These were studies in the context of the family, the school and the individual.

Following is an outline of some of the findings. It will be no surprise to pro-lifers to learn that he study confirms the essential and irreplaceable role of the family in protecting adolescents against risky behavior.

More than 12,000 adolescents across the United States were surveyed. The results conclude that, “parent-family connectedness … was protective against every health risk behavior … With notable consistency across the domains of risk, the role of parents and family in shaping the health of adolescents is evident … The protective role that perceived parental expectations play regarding adolescents’ school attainment emerges as an important recurring correlate of health and healthy bevavior.”

The study confirms the significant role played by the family in delaying sexual activity, resulting in the reduced incidence of pregnancy among adolescents. Accordingly the study found that the key factors in protecting adolescents from indulging in unhealthy behavior include:

  • High levels of parent-family connectedness, i.e., the presence of parents at key times during the day (on waking, after school, at dinner and bedtime), shared activities and high parental expectations.
  • Parental disapproval of their adolescents being sexually active.
  • Parental disapproval of their adolescents using contraception.
  • Strong family ties were also protective in discouraging substance abuse, suicide, and physical and mental distress.

At an individual level, adolescents who reported having taken a pledge to remain a virgin were at significantly lower risk of early sexual activity, as were adolescents who ascribed importance to religion and prayer.

High levels of school connectedness were associated with a somewhat lower risk of substance abuse and involvement with violence. As well, higher levels of school connectedness, attending a parochial school and schools with high daily attendance, all emerged as more protective against early sexual activity.

Nevertheless, the study concludes that while much emphasis is placed on the role and policies of the school in affecting adolescent behavior, such policies appear to have only marginal impact.

These findings should be a source of genuine encouragement to families struggling to protect their teenage children from dangerous behavior

There should also be a call to action for society at large, about the importance and need to strengthen the family because of its integral relationship to the well-being of children and therefore society as a whole.

(Pat Soenen is head of Manitoba Life League in Winnipeg).