According to a new study published in Pediatrics, 15% of teenagers anticipate an early death for themselves. This survey of 20,000 kids, may not be surprising looking at the rate of drug use, suicides, sexually transmitted diseases and rampant flus today, but it goes against the conventional understanding that young adults engage in risky behavior due to overconfidence and a notion of invulnerability.
As Dr. Iris Borowsky of the University of Minnesota puts it, teenagers are risky “because they feel hopeless and figure that not much is at stake.”
In the study, 15% of adolescents said they have a 50-50 or less chance of living till the age of 35, even though national statistics state that 96% of this generation will see their 35th birthdays.
More than the pessimism, what raises concern is that this belief in nihilism and fatalism can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. If kids believe they will die early, they are more likely to take bigger chances and thus put their life in more danger. The study reports that less hopeful teenagers were seven times more likely to be later diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. They were also more likely to be arrested, use drugs, be injured in fights, or try to commit suicide.
The optimism that was usually found in adolescence seems now to be replaced with cynicism and hopelessness. More so, as we move down the income ladder with kids from lower incomes and more violent households more likely to believe in their early death.
In an effort to figure out which came first, the researches concluded that “it went both ways.” The dangerous behaviour led to pessimistic attitudes and pessimistic attitudes led to dangerous behaviour.
The surveys were carried out in 1995, with students in grades 7 – 12, with follow up surveys in 1996 and 2001-2002. Ironically, by the time the survey ended 94 of the 20,594 participants had died.