The Cool Kids in School Are Losers in the Real World: Study

High school hero, real-life zero. Cool in school, then a fool. You’ve probably heard several catchy idioms pertaining to the oldest story in the book: The cool kids who peak in school turn out to be, well, not so cool in real life. And—good news for anyone who has less-than-fond memories of their teenage years—a new study officially confirms that idea.

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“The fast-track kids didn’t turn out OK,” Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia told the New York Times, which published a story this week—“Cool at 13, Adrift at 23”—that we can all probably relate to in some way.

Allen is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the Journal of Child Development, that followed a group of risk-taking, popular, “cool kids” for a decade, starting in middle school. The study found that in high school, their social status often waned, and they began struggling in various ways.

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According to Allen, problems arose due to these kids’ early rush into what he calls pseudomature behavior—think drinking, sex, looking and acting older than their age—and now many are in their early 20s and are facing issues with relationships, substance abuse, even criminal activity. They’re also, according to the Times, desperately trying to hang on to the things that made them so beloved in school, which simply doesn’t translate as a young adult with new priorities.

“They are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent,’” Allen said. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”

The findings of the study not only are fascinating—head to the Times right now to read the whole thing—but they certainly offer a glimmer of hope to teens today who are lacking in so-called social status.

Not to mention, it might make the rest of us functioning young adults feel a little better about not being invited to Jason’s party in eighth grade.