In a recent post I mentioned several incidents that seem to indicate that there’s an escalation in violent crime committed by teenagers and young adults, and how important it is for parents and teachers alike to learn to discern some of the behavioral changes that may mean a child is at risk.
But a fairly recent study shows that there may also be something driving risky and/or violent behavior in teens that seems counter-intuitive: fatalism.
Most of us tend to associate teenage impulsive and risky behavior with delusions of immortality and invincibility; that the it’ll-never-happen-to-me lack of reasoning leads them to believe such things as “I can text and drive [or drink and drive, or get in someone’s face when they piss me off, or jump off a cliff into a shallow stream, etc] because I won’t get into trouble like other people because I’m all that.”
But in an interview with WebMd, researcher and pediatrician Iris Borowsky of the University of Minnesota says recent research suggests the opposite is true: many kids who engage in risky behavior believe they’re going to die at a young age.
In the 2009 study, 20,000 middle and high school students were questioned 3 times within the seven year period of 1995-2002. Amazingly, 1 in 5 of the students believed they would die before the age of 20 (statistically, only 1 in 250 children will die before they’re 20). When analyzed further, researchers discovered that those same teens who believed they would die young were the ones most likely to engage in risky behavior such as having unprotected sex, becoming involved in gang related activity or drinking and driving.
Additionally, those who believed they would die young were 7 times more likely to become HIV positive over the course of the study.
In response to the survey results, Borowsky emphasized the importance of instilling a sense of hope and optimism in those who might otherwise be prone to fatalistic thoughts and mindsets.