Optimism vs. Pessimism in Teenagers - Their Sources

Optimism vs. Pessimism in Teenagers:
Their Sources

by John A. Speyrer

"Patterns of behavior that are permanently repeated throughout life are very often
the blind repetition of experiences made at birth."
-- Dr. Ludwig Janus in The Enduring Effects of Prenatal Experience

An article which originally appeared in the July, 2009, issue of Pediatrics, was reviewed in HealthDay News and headlined:

15 Percent of U.S. Teens Think They'll Die Young
Link between risky behavior and pessimistic outlook surprises experts

Engaging in risky behavior does set some teenagers apart from others. but such a finding should not surprise experts. Because of youth some kids may feel invincible, but not those who have dark pessimism. Instead, they forecast for themselves the worse outcomes including an early death - even before 35. They almost seem to want to fulfill their outlook by engaging in all sorts of risky behavior. Of course some who are pessimistic are terrified of engaging in risky behavior. The article was not about this last subset.

The search for origins of pessimism, fatalism, hopelessness and gloom in young people is an important quest, and the study by pediatrician, Iris Borowsky, surveyed over twenty thousand teenage children. It's not that 15% of teens who believe that they will die young probably encourages them to take undue risk taking behavior, such as fast driving, higher rate of suicide attempts etc. And its not that they think they are invulnerable to harm which makes them engage in risky behavior. Rather, many of them takes chances simply "because they feel hopeless and helpless and figure that not much is at stake."

The study's author feels the remedy to this serious problem is to "instill optimism and hope." She believes that positive exchanges which can occur at home and at school can make a difference. But telling a child you love her counts little if you didn't want the child in the first place. She knows the truth. The best way to instill optimism in a child is for the person, much earlier than adolescence, to have had experiences which were not imbued with failure.

A telling truth is that their earlier failures pushed their fatalism into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They have a tendency for "repetition compulsion" - to unconsciously set up their past traumatic experiences once again, but this time to try for a better outcome. It's like they want to master their conclusion about themselves - like whistling in a dark alley to dispel fear.

The study showed that teens who thought they would die early were seven times more likely than optimistic teens to be subsequently diagnosed with AIDS. They attempted suicide more frequency and also engaged in fisticuffs with sometimes resultant serious injuries. They also probably gave birth to more illegitimate babies and dropped out of school earlier than the more optimistic student teens.

A little less than 15% of the 20,000 plus students studied believed that they only had a 50-50 chance of living to be 35. The breakdown by race was as follows: White, 10%; Asian, 15%; Hispanic, 26%; African American 26%; and Native American, 29%. So without a doubt race was a factor in their pessimistic feelings, although race itself was not a cause. It only points to environmental factors.

The best way to provide optimism in teenagers is to ensure that they had few hurtful events in early life which would shield them for concluding that life sucks. If their early life was successful than they will be optimistic and probably remain optimistic throughout their lives.

Freya Sonenstein, professor at John Hopkins, feels that the study results were not surprising. She feels intervention programs with high risk kids will help. "But you also have to dig down a little deeper and look at the structural situation that makes kids lose optimism in the first place."

How about digging a lot deeper? It not about wealth; it's about a lack of love and about how they were birthed into the world. The present hospital birthing practices don't give the birthing fetus an experience of success, but it often gives him an imprint that in death he will find relief from suffering. That's the recipe for suicide. With that life changing experience, optimism takes the back seat. Regardless of race, how could it be otherwise?

Studying these pessimistic teens will reveal that they could not have come to any other conclusion other that their life will be brutish and short. We learn by experience. Who can be optimistic about the future when the first experience one has upon coming into the world was one of failure and then that the feelings originating during one's unfortunately traumatic birth were re-enforced by a sometimes much less than enthusiastic welcome? It makes all of the subsequent failures seem a natural part of their world and ensures their continually "missing the mark" because that's just how life was (and is), for them. Furthermore, the repetition compulsion behavior about which Freud wrote is real and further solidifies the effects of earlier traumas.

Only with compulsory birth control and a change in birthing practices can we approach the ideal of children being born into happy families who want them and who then will look forward to the future. An unplanned child is an accident, and accidents, by definition, are not wanted. Unfortunately, Adolph Hitler gave eugenics a bad name, but elements of the concept could and should be reexamined. Aspects of cultural eugenics would hold promise for happy families producing contented and optimistic children.

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