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Teens Predict Their Own Downward Spirals

For teens, having low expectations about living long, healthy lives turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Photo: JOE 3PO

For teens, having low expectations about living long, healthy lives turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. New research published in the journal PLoS One found that American teens who expect to die before the age of 35 usually wind up doing just that. If they do survive, they tend to engage in riskier behaviors than their more optimistic peers. Cynical teens partake in substance abuse and suicide attempts significantly more often than their more sober peers, which ultimately translates into a doubling or tripling of mortality rates in their young adulthood.

Researchers analyzed surveys collected from 19,000 adolescents. They found that one in seven participants in grades 7 to 12 gave themselves a 50-50 chance of survival to age 35. Over a decade later, the researchers sought out those same kids – now well into their 20s and 30s – and found that the low expectations of longevity translated into suicidal thoughts or attempts, heavy drinking, smoking, drug use or death.

“The association between early survival expectations and detrimental outcomes suggests that monitoring survival expectations may be useful for identifying at-risk youth,” the authors state in a press release.

The authors hope that identifying such at-risk youth will translate to better intervention efforts.

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