Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Dateline: Chicago
Monday, June 29, 2009

Associated Press writer Lindsey Tanner writes about a disturbing trend embodied in a survey done by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

A surprising number of teenagers -- nearly 15 percent -- think they're going to die young, leading many to drug use, suicide attempts and other unsafe behavior, new research suggests.

For a long time, it seemed like teenagers thought they were ten-foot-tall and bulletproof. Now, that seems not to be the case.

To keep things succinct, I'll use the definition of "fatalism" that the survey does: A belief, between the ages of roughly 12 and 18 (the survey subjects were in the seventh up through the twelfth grade) who believes they will die before the age of 35. One who believes this could be said to be a "fatalist."

So how do the numbers break down? Well for starters, males have females beat in the raw numbers; 15% to 13% respectively are fatalists. Given the sample of over 20,00 young people, that could be a statistical blip.

Moving down the results, things get more interesting when the survey is broken down by race or ethnicity. Fully 30% of surveyed Native Americans were fatalist, followed by Blacks (26%) and Hispanics (21%). Asians/Pacific Islanders weighed in at 15% fatalist, and the Whites surveyed were 10%.

The numbers became more intriguing to me when broken down by certain cultural segments. 10% of kids surveyed who lived with both parents at the time of the survey were fatalists, and 18% of the kids surveyed who did not live with both parents were fatalist. Any way you look at it, that is a significant difference.

Also, 24% of those surveyed whose families received public aid were fatalists, as opposed to 13% of those surveyed whose families did not receive such aid.

The upshot of the article is that determining a teen's fatalism might be useful in a clinical sense.

The study suggests a new say doctors could detect kids likely to engage in unsafe behavior and potentially help prevent it, said Dr. Johnathan Klein, a University of Rochester adolescent health expert who was not involved in the research.

"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 said.

I think something's not quite passing the smell test for me here. For decades, particularly since the 1960's, we've been exposed to one liberal shibboleth after another about how certain groups are disadvantaged, and therefore need monetary help or affirmative action, ad nauseum. Conservatives fire back that these government interventions actually rob people of their basic human dignity by encouraging laziness and family breakdown.

So now it can be asked; If fatalism in teenagers is a reliable predictor of risky behavior as it seems to be, is fatalism the disease, or is it a symptom of something more sinisiter? While human dignity is universal, teen fatalism is clearly not. To turn our heads away from the obvious is an exercise in futility, now more than ever.

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