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article imageCool kids struggle in their 20s, researchers found

By Ryan Hite     Jun 13, 2014 in Lifestyle
The people who were the "cool kids" in high school won't be so cool once they hit their early 20s, a new study indicates. The risk of alcohol and substance abuse increased for youth deemed popular and well-liked in school.
Parents, teachers, and after-school shows have tried to convince kids that being cool and popular isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Scientists are chiming in as well through a new study.
Dating, defying authority, and surrounding yourself with many good-looking friends may make you popular when you're 13, according to a study published on Wednesday. Kids who try to act cool in adolescence are likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol and have trouble managing friendships as they get older. Their popularity tends to wane by 22.
"We call it the high school reunion effect," says Joseph Allen, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. "The student who was popular and was running with the fast crowd isn't doing as great later on."
The researchers followed over 180 13-year-old children for a decade, interviewing the teens themselves, their parents, and their friends. By age 22, the "cool" group of kids had a 45 percent higher rate of problems related to alcohol and substance use than their "less-cool" peers in childhood, according to the study that appears in the journal called Child Development.
And although the queen bees and homecoming kings acted older than their age in middle school and high school, Allen tells the study that "by 22 they were seen by their peers as being less socially competent and less mature."
All the study participants attended urban and suburban public schools in the Southeastern United States and the researchers took into account any influence gender and family income might have on the results.
Part of the problem may have been that as these cool kids grew older, they felt the need to do increasingly extreme things to get attention, he says.
"But their friends, as they get more mature, are less and less impressed by those behaviors," he continued.
"What the media does, I think, is it portrays this fast life in very glamorous terms. It sets up an expectation that teens should be acting older," he added.
"The quiet, not-so-cool kids do well in the long term," he concludes. "I would say I was part of the not-so-cool kids."
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