DO SPORTS KEEP KIDS UNDER CONTROL?

RECREATION

The basketball court or baseball diamond that's a haven for urban youth may breed drug use in rural kids.

In a survey of 445 inner-city seventh graders, researchers found that only 8 percent of 13-year-old boys who had participated in a team sport the previous year reported marijuana use, compared with 27 percent of those who had not played sports. Alcohol and inhalant use by boys, and all drug use by girls, was not affected by sports participation.

"Sport involvement forestalls early experimentation with pot by 13-year-old boys," says James McHale, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Clark University in Boston. But an examination of sports in rural areas yields very different results. A survey of 4,300 African-American high-school girls who live in cities with a population of fewer than 10,000 found that those active in sports report higher levels of substance and alcohol abuse and higher levels of delinquency. Both studies were presented at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting.

Study author Matthew Taylor, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin in Lacrosse, thinks the girls' behavior may result from the very nature of small towns. "Where an urban adolescent views sports as a way to escape the social ills of the community, the rural one may see sports more as something to do, given a scarcity of recreational activities," he explains.

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McHale agrees. "Sports keep urban kids away from dealers and drug-using peers," says McHale. "For rural kids, sports may be the only connection to teenagers who run against the wind."

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