Too Cool (for Life after High School)

Too Cool for High SchoolWe all love watching movies where the mean, popular teen gets what’s coming to them at the end and the underdog gets carried off the football field/basketball court/etc. on the shoulders of peers (ah, Mean Girls). Is this real life or do the popular kids end up riding off into the sunset with the guarantee of success and happily ever after?

It should come as no surprise that what 13 year olds think is cool may differ from what 20-somethings think is cool. According to a study published in the June edition of Child Development, 13-year-olds who engaged in a set of behaviors deemed “pseudomature” were routinely described by peers as cool and popular. These behaviors include early romantic relationships, placing high value on attractiveness, and participating in minor rebellious acts, like shoplifting or sneaking in to a movie. But by the time they reached their 20s, the same people who at one time were atop the teenage social stratum were often characterized as socially incompetent and in unhappy relationships. Also concerning is that some of the pseudomature behaviors that were deemed as cool can lead to other long term consequences: early sexual activity is associated with increased rate of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and early substance use is associated with increased problem use later in life.

What is the lesson in this study? Adolescents (and some adults) place way too much value on social status. Luckily, you do not have to be forever defined by your teenage self. Teach your teen that there’s more to life than popularity. Encourage them to focus on hard work and close friendships that are not based on superficial qualities like reputation or looks. Talk with them about consequences of risk taking behavior. And maybe show them 13 Going on 30, Back to the Future, and Revenge of the Nerds.

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