COLUMBIA, 12/23/11  (Beat Byte)  --  Adolescent teens who incorporate the Christmas spirit in their everyday lives by volunteering and helping others are less likely to abuse substances as young adults, claims a study from Gustavo Carlo, Millsap Professor of Diversity at Mizzou's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
Carlo surveyed rural youths from junior high school to young adulthood, finding that so-called "pro-social behaviors" such as helping a neighbor protect against risky behaviors.  
"Prosocial behaviors are good for society and communities, but also they are a marker of moral development," Carlo said. "Parents want their kids to be kind, selfless, considerate and respectful.  We now have evidence that these prosocial behaviors make adolescents less likely to break moral codes and engage in illegal activities like getting drunk and smoking marijuana." 

Carlo focused on rural youths because they may be more apt to use illicit substances earlier than youths in other areas.  Rural communities often have less access to recreation centers, meeting space, volunteers, and funding for volunteer activities.
"There is a tendency for youths to take part in risky behaviors if they are not engaged in positive, structured activities," Carlo said. "Many rural communities have suffered from the economic downturn and are unable to offer opportunities for youth activities."
On a wider scale, the study's finding may have important implications for teen prevention and intervention programs. "Research shows that prevention programs are more effective and economical," Carlo said. "If we can develop programs that foster prosocial behaviors, we know the programs will decrease the likelihood that adolescents will use substances in adulthood."   
Carlo's study was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

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