Moms, Dads, and God
Why Families and Religion are Good for Children and Parents
Family North Carolina MagazineJuly/August 2009
by Brittany Farrell
The traditional intact family, headed by married biological parents, that worships weekly is the greatest generator of human goods and social benefits and is the core strength of the United States. It is a rejection of this foundational idea that has created the chaos in which our state and nation now find themselves.
The methodical degradation of the American family through no-fault divorce, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, civil unions, and most recently same-sex “marriage,” coupled with the increasing marginalization of active religious faith is poised to throw society into a whirlwind of chaos. This is why organizations like the North Carolina Family Policy Council continue to stand unyielding on the front lines of the battle to preserve, protect, and promote the traditional family.
The Family Research Council, a like-minded organization in Washington, D.C., recently launched the Mapping America Project to aid the increasingly critical debate over the importance of both the traditional family and faith in American life. Directed by Dr. Patrick Fagan, the purpose of the project is to examine “the relationships among family, marriage, religion, community, and America’s social problems as illustrated in the social science research data.”
Using data primarily from U.S. federal surveys especially the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Healththe Mapping America Project provides accessible concise data on the correlation of familial structure and religious attendance to school performance, dangerous behavior, and relationships in both children and adults. The data is clear. Children need a mother and a father. The family thrives when parents are married and actively engaging in a religious community.
School Related Success
According to the latest research by the Mapping America Project, students perform better in school when they have a stable traditional environment at home and participate in worship regularly. They are less likely to repeat a grade, less likely to be suspended or expelled from school, and more likely to earn higher grade point averages (GPAs) in math and English.
Repeating a Grade. Children ages six to 17 in stepfamilies and single-parent homes that worship less than once a month are more than five times as likely to have repeated a grade in school as their counterparts who live with both parents and worship at least monthly.
The impact of religious attendance holds true regardless of family structure. According to Mark Regnerus’ work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “youth church participation positively affects both education aspirations and achievement.” Mapping America found that over 20 percent of children who attend church less than once a month have repeated a grade, while half that many, only eight to 10 percent, of children who attend at least monthly have done so.
Suspension and Expulsion. According to Fagan, “students who spend more time in church are likely to spend more time in school.” While nearly 39 percent of students in grades seven to 12 who never worship have been suspended or expelled from school, fewer than 21 percent of their peers who worship one to four times a month have been suspended or expelled.
Grade Point Average (GPA). Students who attend frequent religious services have an average GPA three-tenths of a point higher at 2.9 than their peers who never attend religious services and earn a 2.6 GPA. Further research by Mark Regnerus and Glen Elder at the University of Texas at Austin found that “church attendance functions as a protective mechanism in high-risk communities … stimulating educational resilience in the lives of at-risk youth.”
Family structure and religious attendance have a tremendous impact on the degree to which they engage in harmful behavior. Adolescents from intact families who worship regularly are less likely to abuse alcohol, use hard drugs, engage in fighting or theft, or to run away. Adolescent girls from these same families have fewer sexual intercourse partners, an important factor in the contraction of sexually transmitted infections and chance of pregnancy.
Alcohol Abuse. According to Mapping America’s analysis of data from the Adolescent Health Survey, Waves I and II, children who live with both biological parents are up to 14 percent less likely than their counterparts in non-intact families to have gotten drunk in the past year. Children living with only one biological cohabitating parent or a stepparent are the most likely to have been drunk in the last year at 39 and 40 percent, respectively.
Similarly, religious attendance and alcohol abuse are strongly correlated. Adolescents who worship at least weekly are half as likely to have abused alcohol as the 39 percent of their peers who worship less than once a month and admit to drunkenness. When they worship at least monthly, less than a quarter of students abuse alcohol, regardless of family structure. Among adolescents who worship less than monthly or never, 33 percent from intact families and 41 percent from non-intact families have abused alcohol. Family structure has a larger impact on students’ likelihood of abusing alcohol when combined with infrequent religious attendance.
Hard Drug Use. Adolescents living with both biological parents are significantly less likely to use hard drugs than their counterparts who live in step-families, divorced families, or a cohabitating single parent home. Less than nine percent of students in grades seven to 12 living with cohabitating biological parents have used hard drugs and less than 11 percent of students living with married parents have used hard drugs. Compare this to nearly 19 percent of students living with a stepparent or one biological cohabitating parent, and 15 percent of students living with a divorced parent.
As religious attendance decreases, the risk of students using hard drugs steadily increases. Less than eight percent of students who worship at least weekly have used hard drugs. This is less than half the percentage of those students who worship less than monthly. As Fagan points out, frequent “religious worship is repeatedly and powerfully protective” in attempts to combat adolescent drug use.
Violent Behavior. Married biological parents provide the best environment to decrease the chance of adolescents engaging in violent behavior. According to the same Adolescent Health Survey, adolescents raised by married parents are eight to 13 percent less likely to have ever been in a fight than adolescents raised in cohabitating or single parent homes.
Religious attendance has a similarly strong effect on adolescent propensity to fighting, especially among adolescents from non-intact families. Among these adolescents, 34 percent of those who worship often have fought compared to more than 43 percent of those who rarely worship. The data confirms Fagan’s assertion that “the intact married family that worships regularly is the most effective peacekeeping force.”
Theft. Another behavior strongly affected by family structure and religious attendance is theft. More than 23 percent of adolescents from non-intact families that worship less than once a month admit to stealing while less than half that number, 12 percent of those adolescents from intact families who worship more than once a month admit to stealing.
Running Away. Adolescents who live with their married biological parents are clearly the least likely to run away at just over 6 percent. Compare this to 12 percent of adolescents in step-families, 11 percent of adolescents living with a cohabitating biological parent and between 10 and 11 percent of those in single parent homes.
Sexual Activity. Adolescent girls living in an intact married family have almost half (0.71) the average number of sexual partners of girls from homes with step (1.39) or divorced (1.29) parents. A 1997 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that “girls living apart from their biological fathers due to out-of-wedlock births or divorce are most likely to become sexually active.” Additional research from the National Center for Health Statistics has found that 43 percent of girls living with both parents have ever had sex, compared to 64 percent of girls living without a parent.
The frequency of religious attendance results in a clear inverse correlation with the number of sexual intercourse partners for adolescent girls, according to Mapping America. The average number of partners for girls who attend less than monthly (1.41) and never (1.55) are more than twice the average for girls who worship at least weekly (0.61).
It behooves parents to preserve the traditional intact family structure with married biological parents raising children in a family that worships frequently. It is not only good for their children’s current and future lifestyle and choices, but also good for parents’ frames of mind.
Stress. Parents who live in frequently worshipping intact families report the lowest levels of parenting stress. While their mean stress score is less than 49, parents in non-intact families that rarely or never worship report a score of 52, a full three points higher. As Dr. Nicholas Zill with the Mapping America Project points out, “the evidence suggests an intact family that worships frequently provides an effective protective combination against the effects of stress, parenting or otherwise.”
Parent-Child Relationship. Families who worship at least weekly have the highest quality parent-child relationships. Using data from the National Survey of Children’s Health, Mapping America found that children who attend religious services less than weekly score one to two points lower on the positive parental relationship scale. The score difference is small, but has been corroborated to be statistically significant by additional research at national and international research universities.
Marital Happiness. Adults who grew up with both biological parents and frequented religious services as adolescents experience higher levels of marital happiness. 65 percent of them report being “very happily married” as compared to 54 percent of those adults who rarely worshiped and grew up without both biological parents. Those who worshiped often, but lived in a non-intact family and those who rarely or never worshiped but lived with both biological parents both reported being “very happily married” at 59 percent. The home experience of adolescents will certainly impact their future relationships.
Mom, Dad, and God
Thus far, the released surveys of the Mapping America Project clearly demonstrate that there are three important factors in the successful raising of adolescentsmom, dad, and God. Children can categorically be expected to thrive in school, make wiser decisions, and maintain better relationships, when they are raised by their own parents who engage the family in an active faith life.
Considering the enormous time and effort spent debating the causes, problems, and solutions surrounding unwise adolescent behavior like alcohol abuse, poor school performance, fighting, and illegal activities including theft and drug use, policy makers should take a moment to consider a natural and fundamental answerencourage the preservation of traditional families and religious communities. The traditional family is the ancient bedrock of society for a reasonit works. It is the best environment for both children and adults to thrive. It keeps them safe. It keeps them healthy. It best prepares them to continue and contribute to society.
Brittany Farrell is a research associate for the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
“Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians oner the Past 13 Years,” <http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/21-transformation/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years>.
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How does Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project define “truth”? <>.
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