DO SPORTS KEEP KIDS UNDER CONTROL?

Focuses on a study which examined the association between sports participation and risks of substance and alcohol abuse in children. Differences in the results of the studies on children from rural and urban areas; Reason for the differences.

By W. Eric Martin, published on January 1, 2002 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

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.

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."