Popularity isn't all that it's cracked up to be, especially in middle school. Many a parent has consoled a child who is farther down the social ladder that, in time, they would be happier and more successful than those popular kids who seem to run the school. And now, a new study out backs the up with data.
A new study entitled "What Ever Happened to the 'Cool' Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior" published in the journal Child Development earlier this month addresses the issue of what happens to 13 year-olds who seem to grow up faster than others. (You can find the abstract of the study here.)
Researchers' studied those evidencing pseudomature behavior, which includes activity ranging from minor delinquency such as skipping class to precocious romantic involvement to a focus on physical appearance in choosing friends.
They found that "fast-moving middle-schoolers" were, in fact, popular as tweens and early teens, but that their popularity faded as high school went on.
In the end, researcher concluded that those cool and popular middle schoolers were not so cool as young adults. Turns out, those "cool" kids who showed early adolescent pseudomature behavior had long-term difficulties in close relationships.
At age 23, those early maturers in the study had higher rates of alcohol and marijuana use, higher rates of problems resulting from the usage of those substances. The subjects the researchers followed also had a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior.
In middle school, the maturity rates vary dramatically. I spent this weekend worrying that my tween seems younger than many of her peers. Reading this article made me feel a bit better about that fact.
In a New York Times article about the study, Cool at 13, Adrift at 23, Dr. Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and lead researcher on the study, suggested that "while they were chasing popularity, [the cool, advanced middle schoolers] were missing a critical developmental period. At the same time, other young teenagers were learning about soldering same-gender friendships while engaged in drama-free activities like watching a movie at home together on a Friday night, eating ice cream. Parents should support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t 'popular,' he said."
This can help parents in a few different ways:
- There's no need to worry about your child's long-term future if they aren't popular now;
- It's a reminder that kids mature at different rates, and maturing a bit more slowly is definitely not a bad thing; and
- This may be the closest we're going to get to a scientific opinion that eating ice cream with your friends is good for you.
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