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It's a great old photo. The boy -- elated and wide-eyed, arms outstretched -- seems to be flying through the air, his cape flapping in the wind behind him. He's an invincible superhero, impervious to risk.

The photo is captivating. The problem is, as the boy grew up, he actually believed he was invincible, just like most adolescent boys. They're more likely than girls to think they're immune to risk, when they actually have greater risks.

Boys aren't alone in thinking this. Their parents believe it too and even reinforce this belief.

The fact is, boys are far more likely than girls to get sick or injured. Each day in the U.S., 18 boys under age 15 die, three times the number of girls. And tragically, nearly all these deaths are violent; the result of injury, suicide or homicide.

Despite these facts, studies show parents think boys are less vulnerable to risk than girls, and show this misperception is based on gender stereotypes.


So, parents are less concerned about the safety of their sons than their daughters. In fact, they're more likely to encourage risky activities in their sons which are further reinforced by TV, movies and video games that research shows also teach boys they're invincible.

It's not surprising then these boys grow into men who think they're invulnerable and less likely than women to die from the leading killers, when they're actually more likely to die from them.

When we think we're invulnerable, we don't take precautions. And that's exactly what happens with men and boys. We're less likely than women or girls to do things like use sun protection, drive safely, take needed medicines, wear a safety belt, drink in moderation, or see a doctor.  We also don't watch what we eat. So we're more overweight, putting us at greater risk for heart disease and diabetes.

So, the next time you want to dismiss some risky or unhealthy behavior with, "boys will be boys," think again. Remember, you're not invincible. And the man or boy you care about is not as immune to risk as you might like to believe.

With a Perspective, I'm Dr. Will Courtenay.