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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: Do "Cool" Teens Turn Into "Cool" Adults?

Thought for the Day: Did you want to be a "cool" kid when you were 13 - 15 years old? Did you envy the kids who were seen as popular, more mature and a bit rebellious? You remember them, the kids who would sneak into a movie or commit other minor acts of rebellion to impress their peers and wanted to be popular and physically attractive more than anything else. If you were't in the "in crowd," do you ever wonder how the "cool" kids turned out? Today's trivia question addresses what happens to "cool" young teenagers as they mature. Here's the question:

Young teenagers (aged 13 to 15) who are "cool; " i.e., want to be popular and try to impress their peers by acting older than their years, 
       a) tend to be popular in their early teens       
       b) remain cool throughout adolescence
       c) do well in early adulthood
       d) lose popularity later in adolescence
       e) are at risk for alcohol and drug problems, more serious criminal activity, and problems in 
           romantic relationships in their 20's
       f) a), b) & c)

       g) a), d) & e)

What do you think the answer is? Read on to see...
The answer is g). Although the "cool" precocious 13 -15 year olds tend to be popular at first, their popularity wanes later in adolescence. By their twenties, the "cool" kids are not only less popular, but they also are at risk for alcohol and drug problems, more serious criminal activity and social problems in romantic relationships.

The findings come from a longitudinal study by Allen JP, Schad MM, Oudekerk B, & Chango J (2014), What Ever Happened to the "Cool" Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudo-mature Behavior recently published in Child Development PMID:24919537. They interviewed 184 subjects (98 girls) and their friends at age 13, with follow up interviews at 14 -15 and again when they were 21 - 23 years old.

In some ways, the study is a bit misleading. Perhaps these kids were not really "cool" at 13. In hindsight, they may have been starting on a slippery slope and putting emphasis on the wrong traits and values to aspire to attain. What leads to popularity in the freshman year of high school, shifts as teenagers mature and develop.

The study raises questions for parents and educators alike. Often, we assume that adolescence is a turbulent time with hormones raging and rebellion is seen as a passing phase. I am not sure if the study investigated the precocious promiscuity enough to know if it is the most worrisome part of the "cool" image. My feeling is that at 13 -14 years of age, no adolescent is ready for full blown intimacy. The downward spiral may be due to this more than the rebelliousness. If they are experimenting with intimate relations, which often end abruptly the damage to these kids self worth may lead to worse and worse behavior. 

What are your thoughts? How should parents and schools intervene? Should they intervene?

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