According to a new study, children raised in a religious environment are more likely to grow up to be happy and well-adjusted adults.
The study, conducted by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was published last week in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Titled “Associations of Religious Upbringing With Subsequent Health and Well-Being From Adolescence to Young Adulthood: An Outcome-Wide Analysis,” the study’s results indicate that both children and adults who engaged in regular religious or spiritual practices were at a lower risk of developing mental health issues and substance abuse problems during their lives.
Roughly 5,000 participants engaged in the study, which followed children for a time period of between eight and 14 years. Researchers looked at the frequency with which children and teens attend church services with their parents, in addition to how often those same young people prayed and meditated on their own. As the children entered their 20s, researchers then evaluated their physical and mental health.
Children who’d reported attending church weekly with their parents were 18 percent more likely to report being happy once they reached their 20’s, versus kids who did not attend church regularly. The church-going children were also 30 percent more likely to volunteer, and 33 percent less likely to abuse drugs.
Engaging in private prayer and meditation practices also seemed to make a positive difference over time. Children who said they regularly prayed and/or meditated reported experiencing a higher level of satisfaction in life, with stronger emotional growth. They also proved less likely to engage in early, promiscuous sex and, therefore, had a lower rate of STD’s.
The study’s researchers controlled for a number of variables such as maternal health, socioeconomic status, and history of substance abuse or depressive symptoms.
According to the study’s author, Ying Chen, “These findings are important for both our understanding of health and our understanding of parenting practices. Many children are raised religiously, and our study shows that this can powerfully affect their health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”
The study’s senior author Tyler VanderWeele added, “While decisions about religion are not shaped principally by health, for adolescents who already hold religious beliefs, encouraging service attendance and private practices may be meaningful avenues to protect against some of the dangers of adolescence, including depression, substance abuse, and risk taking.”
“In addition, these practices may positively contribute to happiness, volunteering, a greater sense of mission and purpose, and to forgiveness,” he added.
The results of last week’s study confirm previous studies which have also linked adults’ religious involvement to “better health and well-being outcomes, including lower risk of premature death.”