Behavioural science experts Gary Hopkins and Duane McBride say that in helping others our children help themselves.
You have to agree, it would be wonderful if we could identify a strategy that would ensure our kids grow up protected from engaging in high-risk behaviours.
With a substantial proportion of youth across the world engaging in high-risk behaviours such as substance abuse, violence, and engaging in sexual activity at a young age, it’s essential that we address and work to correct this problem for their sake.
While communities everywhere struggle with this, there is a solution. Amazingly, it is found not in modern textbooks but in the teachings of Jesus. As the Creator of humankind, He knows the solution.
Jesus didn’t just give subtle, broad suggestions on how we should behave. He gave a direct description of what we need to do embedded in this description of true Christian living: “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ "
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ "
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ ” (Matthew 25:34–40).
In this passage, Jesus reveals that His people (the “righteous”) 'serve' others by meeting their needs, as if we were meeting the needs of Christ Himself. Responding to Jesus’ assurance that He has a kingdom prepared for us, He calls us to show caring compassion and give assistance to people in need.
But this instruction from Jesus isn’t just about how we should behave, it also provides us with the key for protecting our kids from high-risk behaviours. And in a word, it’s this: Service.
This isn’t just about financially supporting projects that aid others. We are called to serve others together with our youth.
Service activities may be defined as the assistance we give for the benefit of those living in our local community. God’s imperative is to feed, clothe and protect those in need. We can safely expand on this to say that we should support, visit, aid, help and comfort others who are in a position of need for any reason.
But what is the connection between service and high-risk behaviours?
Our research, confirmed by others, overwhelmingly shows that when young people get involved in service, it changes their lives. As a result of service, youth are much more likely to engage in healthy, pro-social behaviours.
In the Harvard Education Letter, Senator John Glenn, chairman of the National Commission on Service Learning, identified the fact that more than 80 per cent of schools with active service-learning programs (service that is part of the school curriculum) report that the majority of participating students improve their exam and test results, that drop-out rates declined and that the percentage going on to university increased.
Moreover, in an article “Effective approaches in reducing adolescent unprotected sex, pregnancy and childbearing” in the Journal of Sex Research, researcher Douglas Kirby reported that service-learning programs among youth are also effective in reducing adolescent pregnancy and early childbearing.
So by following Jesus’ Matthew 25 directive, whether religious or not, youth in our world benefit directly.
Over the past year, we have been examining the relationships between community service and substance use, something that is rarely explored or reported on. Following is a sample of what we’ve found.
- According to researchers Peter Scales and Peter Benson in Indicators of Positive Youth Development: Prosocial Orientation and Community Service, community service by youth was related to less problem alcohol use, use of illicit drugs, use of tobacco, gambling, anti-social behaviour, violence, school problems and sexual behaviour risk.
- In examining data collected as a part of state studies on youth risk behaviours supported by the Centers for Disease Control in the US, we consistently found that students who engaged in one or more hours of community service each week were less likely to have ever tried cigarettes, been involved in binge drinking or used marijuana in the previous 30 days (or entire life), used cocaine in previous 30 days (or entire life), ever had sexual intercourse in their life, used a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription and they were less likely to have received D’s or F’s in the preceding 12 months. These findings are profound and show the potential benefit of working with youngsters to engage in helping activities for other people. And they apply not only to Christian youth but to youth in general.
- In studies conducted at Andrews University, a Christian institution in the US, there was a consistent inverse correlation between engaging in community service and substance use. Students who engaged in community service at least 10 hours per week were half as likely to drink alcohol as students who did not engage in service. Students consistently reported that community service made them realise the needs of others and they found fulfilment in meeting those needs, moving them beyond a self focus.
A very special benefit that emerges from service is the development of relationships. Being helpful to others allows one the opportunity to develop a relationship with those being served.
Our research has demonstrated that excellent relationships lead to effective communication and positive behaviours. Forming a great relationship enhances the believability of what one has to say and the impact of what one says, making it easier for you to communicate with your child. A study we conducted among Caribbean adolescents confirmed this link between relationships, effective communication and risk reduction. When parents had an excellent relationship with their children, and when these same parents talked plainly and transparently with their kids about sex and drugs, their children were at lower risk for engaging in high-risk behaviours, compared to youth who did not rate their relationship with their parents as excellent.
When Jesus gave His advice some 2000 years ago, He gave us a wonderful strategy on how we can raise well-adjusted children who are less prone to making risky lifestyle choices. And now we have research to prove it. (As if we needed it.)
How To Get Young People Involved In Service
Discuss and Plan
Have local leaders discuss service programs with youth—get them involved in looking for opportunities and developing their own program. this way, they own it. You might try it as a family unit with your own children. identify ways they can get involved in service, how they might fund raise and how the family can help
Go with them to perform the service. Simply sending immature young people out alone to serve isn’t a good strategy. According to a study published in The Journal of Primary Prevention, it may even lead to the high-risk behaviour you’re hoping to avoid. experiencing the service with your children also gives an opportunity for developing a more trusting relationship, as we know from research that when kids have a trusting relationship with a key adult, there is a lower risk of them getting involved in dangerous behaviours
After an episode of service is over, reflect on the activity. talk about the experience. give your child an opportunity to think about what they’ve learned and the impact serving had on them.