Living for Today

Researchers at Georgia State University recently conducted a study focusing on why young people engage in high-risk behaviors even when the behavior is detrimental or dangerous.

To say that the student wasn’t motivated to change his behavior would be an understatement. He’d already learned that the class was hard work and he was going to have to deal with a low grade no matter what. So if he was already failing, why would he want to work even harder? He had made up his mind to listen to the teacher for the 5 required minutes, and then go back to the rest of his day.

This attitude was the focus of study for researchers at Georgia State University, who were interested in why young people engage in high-risk behaviors even when the behavior is detrimental or dangerous. What they found in interviewing juvenile offenders is that young people may be more likely to engage in violent or criminal behavior when they believe they will die young.

In other words, young people who are involved in violent crimes really don’t think they have anything to lose by engaging in activities that are dangerous and unlawful. They expect to eventually get caught or killed. In the meantime, they reap whatever reward they can today from a harsh world in which tomorrow may not come.

As the press release points out, this has tremendous implications for public policy — it insinuates that it is useless to counter youth violence with a bigger stick, which is part of our more recent debate regarding what to do about inner-city violence among young people.

If you’d like to read more about the study, it is published in the current issue of Criminology.

Not 4 months ago, I sat in on a conference in which a teacher informed a failing high school student that he was going to have to take the class again during the summer if he didn’t really put work into the last few weeks of the semester. Despite the teacher’s best efforts to impart the gravity of the situation, the only thing she managed to generate from the student’s side of the table was some intermittent head nodding and one, long mental yawn.