‘Cool’ kids struggle as adults
A new study suggests that “uncool” kids are more normal than the cool ones. And the kids you were jealous of in school are likely to have had a tough time once they became young adults. In a long-term study published in the journal Child Development — titled, appropriately enough, What Ever Happened To The "Cool" Kids? — 184 Charlottesville, Virginia, kids were followed from age 13 to 23.
Long-term problems of being cool
Those who had engaged in what the researchers call pseudo-mature behaviours like minor delinquency or precocious romantic activity when they were young teenagers were more likely to have “long-term difficulties in close relationships, as well as significant problems with alcohol and substance use, and elevated levels of criminal behaviour.” It was a pretty strong association too: “Cool” kids, by the end of the 10-year period that researchers followed them, had 45 per cent more problems from drinking and smoking pot and used 40 per cent more of both substances. And they were 22 percent more likely to engage in criminal activity of all kinds, from minor problems to theft and assault.
Impressing their peers
Researchers theorise that it’s probably because those kids who are engaging in more adult behaviours — and maybe hanging out or partying with older kids — tend to be overly concerned with impressing their peers. And that keeps growing as they get older, but as their peers catch up with their formerly out-there behaviour, they tend to ramp up what they are doing, pushing to extremes that eventually alienate them from the very people they were trying to impress.
“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 Joseph P. Allen, lead author of the study, told the New York Times. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”
When the allure fades, and their peers head off to college and jobs, they are left behind in life, possibly leading to more self-destructive or criminal behaviour. About 20 per cent of the kids in the study fell into the cool-kid category. Looking at the long-term results, what were the tell-tale actions that they had in common? Three specific behaviours came to the fore: A focus on physical appearance in themselves (and befriending only those who shared that trait); minor deviance, and precocious romantic activity — even if that stopped way short of actual intercourse. Researchers wrote in their paper: “Each is distinct, yet each shares in common the potential to provide a veneer of maturity to the early adolescent seeking to enhance status with his or her peers.”