Study: Middle School Cool Kids on ‘Problematic Pathway’ by 23


Does being ‘cool’ in high school pay off? A study published in the journal Child Development reports that some kids who were considered “cool” in high school end up abusing alcohol and drugs, having trouble maintaining a healthy relationship, and having problems with the law.

Jessica Orwig writes for Business Insider that kids who were popular at 13, were invited to parties, had older friends, and had love lives are the very ones who did not land on their feet — at least that is what Joseph P. Allen found in his study.

There is scientific evidence that a behavior in some teens, which he has labeled “adolescent pseudomature behavior,” may be causing negative outcomes on future development. This means that teens who desire to look and feel older than they actually are have not reached the emotional and behavioral maturity that is necessary in adulthood. In order to seem cool, they engage in drinking alcohol, smoking, partying late, and having sex.

Teens can raise their social status level in school by indulging in these practices, but the “long-term implications of this early adolescent behavior” are not well-known. To find out about these implications, Allen and his team spent 10 years following the habits of 184 subjects (86 males and 98 females). The study began when they were all 13 and ended when they were 23. All the participants were from the same middle school and were representative of “suburban and urban populations in the Southeastern United States.”  The annual income of the average family was $40,000 to $59,999 with 58% Caucasian, 29% African-American, 8% mixed race or ethnicity, and 5% minority groups. These numbers were very close to the general national population.

The subjects were interviewed over the years to document their social status and researchers spoke with other students who knew these people best. When the study began, 20% of the participants were considered “cool”. Over the next two years, these “cool” kids’ social status declined significantly. When these same kids were 23, many were having problems with criminal behavior and alcohol and marijuana use at a dramatically higher level than other kids in the study who were identified as not “cool.”

According to the researchers:

“The findings support the proposition that early adolescent attempts to gain status via pseudomature behavior are not simply passing annoyances of this developmental stage, but rather may signal movement down a problematic pathway and away from progress toward real psychosocial competence.”

The study, What Ever Happenned to the “Cool” Kids? found, after following the subjects for 10 years, that 45% had more problems from drinking and smoking pot and used 40% more of both substances, writes Starre Vartan of Mother Nature Network.

Also, 22% were more likely to participate in criminal activity of all kinds from minor problems to theft and assault. Researchers say this could be because the kids who are hanging out or partying with older kids have a tendency to be too concerned with impressing their peers. When their friends catch up with their more mature behaviors, these kids feel they have to increase their behaviors, which finally alienates them from the very counterparts they have been 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.”

Three behaviors came to light from the study: a focus on physical appearance and befriending only others who shared the same trait; minor deviance; and precocious romantic activity, even absent sexual intercourse.

To put it in a different way, if you are acting cool, there is a chance that you might be the only one who thinks so.

08 5, 2015
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