Speed Reads

the perils of popularity

Study shows that being cool in middle school can lead to trouble in adulthood

It might have been tough not being the coolest kid in middle school, but new research shows that teens who weren't part of the in crowd go on to have healthier lives once they hit adulthood.

A study published Thursday in the journal Child Development shares that teens who were so focused on being popular were often unable to develop the social skills needed for successful friendships and relationships later down the road, and some also had issues with substance abuse. In 1998, researchers began following almost 200 13-year-olds — 86 males and 98 females. Those who exhibited "pseudomature" behavior like sneaking into movies, shoplifting small items, and entering into early romantic relationships were seen as popular by their peers, but as they got older, they were viewed as less socially competent, and also had more substance abuse problems.

Joseph Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the lead author of the study, told the Los Angeles Times that by the age of 22, the "cool" kids had a 45 percent greater rate of substance abuse problems and a 22 percent greater rate of criminal behavior. "Teens are intimidated by these kids, and parents are intimidated because they think that these pseudomature kids are on the fast track," he said. "These kids are on the fast track, but it's really to a dead end."