Blessed are the nerds for they shall inherit the earth…
If we all think for a moment, we all know them—the “queen bees and homecoming kings” who sadly slip off their pedestals by their mid-twenties. “What happened to so-and-so?” is probably the most frequently asked question at class reunions. Everyone wants to know since they were cool, good looking and popular. But they’re not present for the five-year or ten-year reunion. Do those voted “most likely to succeed” really succeed?
“Cool Kids Lose, Though It May Take A Few Years” is the headline of one article summarizing research published in the June 11 issue of Child Development. A NY Times article is entitled “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23.”
At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store. …
Whatever happened to them?
“The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,” said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development, that followed these risk-taking, socially precocious cool kids for a decade. In high school, their social status often plummeted, the study showed, and they began struggling in many ways.
It was their early rush into what Dr. Allen calls pseudomature behavior that set them up for trouble. Now in their early 20s, many of them have had difficulties with intimate relationships, alcohol and marijuana, and even criminal activity. “They are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent,’ ” Dr. Allen said. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”
Pseudomature behavior was found to be the key predictor of the life trajectories of the “cool kids.”
A constellation of three popularity-seeking behaviors characterized pseudomaturity, Dr. Allen and his colleagues found. These young teenagers sought out friends who were physically attractive; their romances were more numerous, emotionally intense and sexually exploring than those of their peers; and they dabbled in minor delinquency — skipping school, sneaking into movies, vandalism.
As they turned 23, the study found that when compared to their socially slower-moving middle-school peers, they had a 45 percent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use and a 40 percent higher level of actual use of those substances. They also had a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior, from theft to assaults.
Many attributed failed adult romantic relationships to social status: they believed that their lack of cachet was the reason their partners had broken up with them. Those early attempts to act older than they were seemed to have left them socially stunted. When their peers were asked how well these young adults got along with others, the former cool kids’ ratings were 24 percent lower than the average young adult.
The researchers grappled with why this cluster of behaviors set young teenagers on a downward spiral. Dr. Allen suggested that while they were chasing popularity, they were missing a critical developmental period. At the same time, other young teenagers were learning about soldering same-gender friendships while engaged in drama-free activities like watching a movie at home together on a Friday night, eating ice cream. Parents should support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t “popular,” he said.
“To be truly mature as an early adolescent means you’re able to be a good, loyal friend, supportive, hardworking and responsible,” Dr. Allen said. “But that doesn’t get a lot of airplay on Monday morning in a ninth-grade homeroom.” …
Sources & resources:
“Cool Kids Lose, Though It May Take A Few Years” is available here.
“Cool at 13, Adrift at 23” can be found here.
“What’s Wrong With Being Cool” was published by Psychology Today.
“What Ever Happened to the “Cool” Kids?” was published in the July 11, 2014 issue of Child Development.