The cool kids don't exactly win in the end: Teens who try to be cool by acting older than they are may be setting themselves up for future problems, according to a new study in the journal Child Development. Researchers followed 184 Southeastern teens from ethnically diverse backgrounds in public schools for 10 years starting when the teens were 13. The kids deemed popular by their peers tended to be in romantic relationships, engage in delinquent activities, and hang with the prettiest peers, but by 22 those kids were no longer at the top of the totem pole—and were also more likely to be involved in criminal activities and have serious problems with drugs and alcohol, reports Eureka Alert. They were also judged as being less competent in managing social relationships.
"We call it the high school reunion effect—the student who was popular and was running with the fast crowd isn't doing as great later on," the study's lead author tells NPR. The reason, he surmises, may be that as the cool kids aged, they felt they had to do increasingly extreme things to get noticed, while their peers, who were continuing to mature, were less impressed by those behaviors. The researchers stressed that this doesn't mean being cool at 13 is a "life sentence," but that teens who focus heavily on physical appearance and social hierarchies may be putting all their eggs in the short-term popularity basket instead of the longer-term happiness basket. (Click to read who researchers say is the most important person according to Wikipedia entries.)