Thanks to a new study that draws on the timeless mystique of the "cool kids," the rest of us can find solace in knowing that social dominance during adolescence is not a one-way ticket to a fabulous life.
The study was published in the journal Child Development and defined "cool kids" as engaging in what the researchers call pseudo-mature behavior: precocious romantic relationships, minor delinquency and making it a priority to have physically attractive friends.
Researchers followed the adventures of 184 teens from age 13 to 23, of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. All subjects attended public schools in the southeastern United States.
Researchers surveyed the cool kids' classmates and concluded that their admiration, while in full force in early adolescence, faded significantly by age 22.
By this time, their peers found the formerly cool kids less competent at managing relationships, and minor delinquency was likely to have progressed to more serious criminal behavior.
"It appears that while so-called cool teens' behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens," says Joseph P. Allen, Hugh P.
Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, who led the study. "So they became involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed."
The study concluded also that adolescents who engaged in pseudo-mature behavior during adolescence were likely to encounter long-term difficulties in managing close relationships, although the study did not follow them through marriage and divorce.
"These previously cool teens appeared less competent -- socially and otherwise -- than their less cool peers by the time they reached young adulthood."
Cool teens are widely idealized in the media and a bevy of movies and books portray teens seeking popularity and acceptance from their peers by trying to act older than their age.
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