Posted: 1:14 am Friday, June 27th, 2014

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

By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

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?

9 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Cool kids?  Does not seem like my definition, or that of the kids i know, who are cool.  

April-01
April-01

As a middle school teacher in a small town, I have years of anecdotal evidence on this. Part of the issue is that the definition of "cool" changes as kids get older and many of the ones who were extremely social and "popular" in middle school do not have the right skills to adapt. The social skills that mattered in middle school and even into high school are not always helpful in later life. The ones that do matter have to be backed up with intelligence, ambition, education, and character. That is a tall order to fill. 


I think many of the kids who have it easy socially in middle school become discouraged when it is not easy any more. The petri dish of middle school is very different from the adult world.

AtlantaMom
AtlantaMom

One of the few things I agreed with  Neal Boortz about.  He preached that "popular" was a concept that disappeared the day you graduated from HS.

MomtoKTB
MomtoKTB

Interesting study.  As an adult, I've found that adults continue to act according to their developmental age when they "peaked" - which is why the mean girl syndrome (as an example) continues onto the cul-de-sac, PTA, booster club and offices, and is taught to the next generation.  If our kids are comfortable with being who they are despite misguided public opinion, they will do well.

Vanilla212
Vanilla212

If kids are "cool" in middle school, they learn bad social habits that follow them into adult life. If kids are "uncool," those years are miserable and lonely for them. Either way, I think part of the problem is that we allow and sometimes even encourage middle school kids to become way too peer-dependent. Spending time with friends is normal and healthy, but we let them believe their happiness and well-being depends entirely on the fickle opinions of a bunch of other twelve-year-olds. that's NOT healthy.

middle school can be such an amazing age of learning and growth, if we help them take the time to focus kids' attention on worthwhile things. Instead of letting them obsess over their budding social lives 24/7, maybe we should insist that our kids put down their iPhones for a while every day and do other things: ride a bike, play a sport, read a book, take up a new hobby, spend time with grandparents, volunteer, help around the house, or even (gasp!) do something fun with their family. It will still be an awkward age for most kids, but they will feel a lot more confident and secure if their sense of self-worth is based on something other than middle school social drama.

RealKat
RealKat

This sounds like an interesting study to read up on. I don't know if it is a nerd vs jock situation, or simply who has better social skills. Continuous praise for one's abilities - whether academic or sports - leads to kids continuing to need praise as they mature. I think respect and tolerance go a long way.

motherjanegoose1
motherjanegoose1

Sadly, this is a neighbors son. He went through some really rough patches. He now lives at home with his adorable 4 year old daughter. He is really trying to turn his life around and I try to encourage him. He us pulling it together too. Another neighbor's son was a nerd. He was also the valedictorian. He has accomplished amazing things. Interesting to watch how 30 or so kids (on our block and grew up together) move into adulthood. All doing different things for sure.

Rory_Bellows
Rory_Bellows

OK, we get it. Your kids are not the cool kids in school. I doubt this will matter when they are older. 


Stop smothering them