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.
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.)