Study: Cool kids in middle school; troubled in their 20s

Did you ever wonder what happened to the cool kids from middle school? Well according to a new study in the journal Child Development, they did not fare so well in their 20s and here is why.

From The New York Times:

“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.”

As fast-moving middle-schoolers, they were driven by a heightened longing to impress friends. Indeed their brazen behavior did earn them a blaze of popularity. But by high school, their peers had begun to mature, readying themselves to experiment with romance and even mild delinquency. The cool kids’ popularity faded.

B. Bradford Brown, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who writes about adolescent peer relationships and was not involved in the study, said it offered a trove of data. The finding that most surprised him, he said, was that “pseudomature” behavior was an even stronger predictor of problems with alcohol and drugs than levels of drug use in early adolescence. Research on teenagers usually tracks them only through adolescence, Dr. Brown added. But this study, following a diverse group of 184 subjects in Charlottesville, Va., starting at age 13, continued into adulthood at 23.”

(Details of how the study was conducted are in the original story. I can’t pull all those paragraphs.)

I think this is fascinating and sort of the theory that “nerds” in school like to tell themselves: Being smart will make you cool and popular later but not now. My son told me multiple times that his elementary school didn’t appreciate smart kids, only athletic kids. I keep telling him his time will come. My oldest daughter is very content being her own person. She likes comic books, superheroes, “Sherlock,’ Avril Lavigne, and fan fiction. She’s far more comfortable in her skin at 13 than I was at that age. I think that’s healthy.

So in your experience do you find this to be true? Did the cool middle school kids of your generation grow up to be cool? What about with your own kids and their friends? Does this theory of pseudomature behavior make sense to you?


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