Decade-Long Study Shows Most “Cool” 13-Year-Olds Are Uncool by 23

Remember those “cool kids” back in junior high?

You know, the ones who dressed like they were in high school, had relationships that involved making out (or more), smoked cigarettes, skipped school, had been drunk before, and who had a “no new friends” policy before it became a catch phrase?

When they weren’t busy causing trouble, their MO was to intimidate the rest of the kids as much as they possibly could.

Well, as it turns out, their “coolness” wasn’t necessarily sustainable.


A new study published this month in the journal Child Development reveals that these so-called “fast-track” kids didn’t turn out quite as well as the rest of us. The study followed these badass kids for a decade after junior high and found that their social status quickly declined once they hit high school.

They subsequently began to struggle in more ways than one thanks to what Dr. Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia and the lead author, calls their pseudomature behavior. Such behavior is characterized by three popularity-seeking traits: they made friends with those who were physically attractive, had numerous romantic relationships (which were more intense and sexually exploratory than those of their peers), and dabbled in delinquency.

Now in their early 20s, the former cool kids were found to have challenges when it came to intimate relationships, alcohol and weed use, and even criminal activity. In short, according to Dr. Allen, “These kids are not socially competent,” he said. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”

In junior high, their rebel behavior earned them praise and admiration from their peers. But by high school, their peers had begun to mature in their own right and experiment with romance and mild rule breaking. That’s when the former cool kids’ popularity began to fade.

What makes this study interesting was that the behavior of the “cool kids” at 13-years-old was a stronger predictor of substance abuse than levels of drug use in early adolescence.

The research was conducted using a varied group of 184 subjects in Charlottesville, Va., which started at age 13 and continued into adulthood at 23. Compared to their socially slower-moving 13-year-old peers, by the time they hit 23, the cooler kids had a 45 per cent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use, and a 40 per cent higher level of actual use of those substances. When it came to adult criminal activity, the former cool kids had a 22 per cent greater rate of everything from theft to assaults.

The ‘cooler’ kids also had higher rates of failed adult relationships (but don’t we all have failed relationships in our early twenties?). The reason for the failed relationships is attributed to becoming socially stunted after their junior high attempts to act older than they were.

According to Dr. Allen, the overarching explanation for such ramifications is that the cool kids missed a crucial developmental period while they were occupied chasing popularity and causing trouble. The other kids, on the other hand, spend that time engaging in wholesome, PG activities like pizza with friends on Friday nights, watching movies, playing sports, and eating ice cream.

“To be truly mature as an early adolescent means you’re able to be a good, loyal friend, supportive, hardworking and responsible,” Dr. Allen said. “But that doesn’t get a lot of airplay on Monday morning in a ninth-grade homeroom.”

Another explanation offered by Dr. Allen is that the 13-year-old cool kids often hungout with older kids in high school who probably weren’t the best role models.

Of course, like any study, there were exceptions to the trend. Some of the cool 13-year-olds did indeed go on to become cool, functioning adults.

But, in general, it turns out being a late bloomer isn’t such a bad thing after all.