New Study: ‘Cool Kids’ Do Not End Up As Functioning Adults

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.

Nancy French — Nancy French is a three-time New York Times best-selling author and a longtime contributor to National Review Online.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More