When I was in junior high, I lived in in awe of the kids at school that seemed to know more about life than the rest of us.
There was the girl who wore a mini-skirt to school that was so short the principal sent her home — and her mother was indignant! (A mom who sides with her kid? Unimaginable.) There were the kids who knew how to slip out of school without detection and those who knew how to get into a rated-R movie without their parents — or the movie management — ever finding out. Of course, every movie, kids’ show, and book seems to celebrate the rule-breakers, the “cool,” the uninhibited.
However, a new study shows that what has always been described as normal adolescent behavior has long-term, real-life repercussions. Abby Phillip reports:
According to the study, which surveyed 184 seventh- and eighth-graders and then followed up with them 10 years later, the kids who were involved in minor delinquent behaviors or precocious romance and obsessed with physical appearance and social status were much worse off in adulthood than their less “cool” friends.
In Allen’s data, he found that at 22 or 23 years old, these kids had 45 percent higher rates of alcohol and drug problems and 22 percent higher rates of criminal behavior; their ratings of social competency — their ability to have normal and positive relationships with others — were 24 percent lower than their peers.
“We were surprised by it, because in general, being popular and being accepted by your peers is associated with good outcomes,” Allen said. “There’s a subgroup that kind of cheats — they’re trying to appear more mature than they are.
“These are behaviors that a lot of parents would think are typical adolescent behaviors but early on are really marker of significant risk,” he added.
Interestingly, the study didn’t include trouble makers who’d already committed major crimes at an early age. Rather, it focused on kids who flouted rules — the social strivers who might break small rules and who typically seem to have it all together. Apparently, that perceived advantage doesn’t last, because it’s hard to shake the heady feeling that popularity gives a kid. Once he or she gets into the patterns of rule-breaking, it’s hard to get out of that pattern to face normal, adult life.
“They look like they’re on the fast track to adulthood, but it ends up being a dead end,” said University of Virginia psychology professor Joseph Allen, who conducted the study.
As the mom of a middle school boy, this study is next on our summer-reading list.