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Teens Are Immortal - Just Ask Them

By Chuck Corbin


When I did my high school student teaching in 1960, I became fully aware that teens think that they are immortal. The school where I taught was in the Albuquerque inner city. When I did my student teaching, I was 19, so I had firsthand experience in being a teen. Many of my peers smoked and had other unhealthy habits, and my conversations with them started me thinking—these people think that these behaviors will affect others but not them! During my part-time work (working with teens at the YMCA during the school year) and my summer work (running playground programs, which included coaching youth baseball for Albuquerque Public Schools), I saw similar behavior.


Over the years as I have taught healthy lifestyles, I have engaged in conversations with both inner city and suburban teens. It was not uncommon to hear teens say, “that’s really not a problem for me” when discussing unhealthy behaviors. I recall discussing smoking with a very good football player in an inner city school. I suggested that smoking would cut his wind and make him less effective. His response? “I smoke, and I still can run faster than anyone on the team.” And he could. (This, of course, was before the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Tobacco Use, which did not come out until 1964.)


Later, during my time teaching healthy lifestyle behaviors, I encouraged frank discussions of student attitudes about healthy living. I recall one teen telling me that he was “like one of the cancer-resistant rats”; others might get cancer from smoking but he was certain he would not. When discussing the need to be active for good health, some teens have told me that I should “go tell old people—not us.” It is interesting that now I frequently speak to groups of older people who they tell me, “it’s too late for me, tell it to the kids.”


Over the years, at state HPERD conventions I have made 44 keynotes speeches that focus on helping teachers implement healthy lifestyle promotion programs in schools. I frequently discussed “teen immortality” in my talks. I have suggested that because teens often feel that they are immortal or invincible, we need to focus less on negative health consequences and focus more on factors that they see as important. Some examples are looking good, feeling good, and enjoying life. In my book Fitness for Life, coauthored by Guy Le Masurier, I feature these factors in addition to the important concepts and principles of physical activity and fitness.


There is sound evidence that physical education classes that focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle can be effective. Teaching the health benefits of physical activity and other healthy lifestyles is an overarching goal of physical education and physical literacy. But to capture the interest of teens, I think it is also important to focus on factors that are important to teens—looking good, feeling good, and enjoying life are good examples.


Chuck practices what he preaches.  After 45 years of teaching, researching, writing, and promoting regular healthy lifestyles, he walks, plays golf, does his own yard work, and does regular core and muscle fitness exercises. He enjoys playing his guitar as well as traveling with his wife of 56 years and being with his four granddaughters. Learn more about the books written by Chuck, including the Fitness for Life and Health for Life resources.