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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Teen Beliefs About Premature Death

There was a very interesting article in Reuters Health in June that has stayed with me all summer, and I finally decided to share it with Teen Health 411 readers - in hopes that writing about it will help me quit thinking about it!

The data for this study came from more than 20,000 teens involved in the 1995 - 2002 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative school-based survey done with students in 7th through 12th grades.

The results from this disturbing study suggested that about 15% of teens believed they were likely to die prematurely, which predicted increased involvement in risky behavior and poor health outcomes during young adulthood. The question apparently asks if teens think there is at least a 50/50 chance that they will die before the age of 35, and the students who believed they would die prematurely were more likely to report illicit drug use, suicide attempts, fight-related injuries, police arrests, unsafe sexual activity, and a diagnosis of HIV at subsequent data collection points.

I guess I am not sure what to do with this information. On one hand, it suggests that all of the adults in teenagers' lives - parents, teachers, coaches, doctors, neighbors, and family members - should pay attention to what teens think about premature death, calling for more communication, which I am supportive of, but how exactly would this subject come up?

I do not think asking how long they expect to live is the answer, but instead I do believe that adults can focus more on staying connected with teens and promoting optimism and hope in youth. I do not believe this means not talking about youth in meetings, but actually spending time with those youth where they spend their time, teaching them skills, sharing a sense of accomplishment, and making a physical and meaningful connection with each of them. Every teen needs to have multiple adults they can talk to and spend time with, especially during times of stress or interpersonal conflict.

Listening to teens talk about their friends, their futures, and their insecurities is a window into their expected life course, and being present enough to hear comments reflecting a "why bother" attitude may be the key! Please listen to your teens and help them feel positive about themselves today!
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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