Gustavo Carlo of the University of Missouri and colleagues examined data from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health given to a group of rural youths from junior high school to young adulthood.
Rural communities tend to be more spread out, making it difficult for adolescents to get transportation to participate in events and activities and rural communities often have less access to recreation centers, spaces for meetings or volunteers to run programs, 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 said in a statement.
"Many rural communities have suffered from the economic downturn and are unable to offer opportunities for youth activities. Financial stress can also affect the psychological health of parents making them less cognizant of how children spend their time."
Research shows that youth prevention programs are effective and economical, Carlo said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.