Risky Behavior More Likely In Teens Who Believe They'll Die Young

Why do teenagers do drugs, have unsafe sex, or engage in other dangerous behaviors? Not necessarily because they think they're invulnerable: researchers report a link between teens' risky behavior and self-predictions that they'll die before the age of 35.

University of Minnesota Medical School researchers analyzed data from a national survey of more than 20,000 students in grades 7 through 12 during three separate years, reports EurekAlert. In the survey's first year, nearly 15 percent of the teens said they thought they had a 50/50 chance of living to age 35. Those who were already fighting, using drugs, having unsafe sex, or who had attempted suicide were more likely to say in later interviews that they'd die young. The reverse was also true: Teens who hadn't engaged in such behaviors but said they would die young in the first interview were more likely to have started by the second and third interviews.

"While conventional wisdom says that teens engage in risky behaviors because they feel invulnerable to harm, this study suggests that in some cases, teens take risks because they overestimate their vulnerability, specifically their risk of dying," said Dr. Iris Borowsky, who worked on the study. "These youth may take risks because they feel hopeless and figure that not much is at stake."

Twenty-five percent of the survey participants living in households that receive public assistance said they would die young. Race was also a factor in their responses, as only 10 percent of Caucasian teens said they'd die young, but 29 percent of American-Indian, 26 percent of African-American, 21 percent of Hispanic, and 15 percent of Asian respondents said they thought they might not see 35.

There was no link between the students thinking they'd die young and the number who did die over the course of six years of research, but the more fatalistic teens were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS by the end of the study.

Dr. Jonathan Klein, a University of Rochester adolescent health expert who did not work on the report, says the study suggests doctors should be screening teens to find out if they believe they may die early. "Asking about this sense of fatalism is probably a pretty important component of one of the ways we can figure out who those kids at greater risk are," he explains.

Teens Who Believe They'll Die Young Are More Likely To Engage In Risky Behavior, University Of Minnesota Research Finds [EurekAlert]
Surprising Number Of Teens Think They'll Die Young [Associated Press]