August 19, 2015 —

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at how popular teens are perceived by their peers later in life.

For years, books, television and movies have used the stereotypical “cool kid” archetype over and over again. The cool kid wears the right clothes, has the right friends and drives the right car. They are admired by their peers and envied by those with lesser social status in the sometimes harsh worlds of middle and high school. However, what happens to the cool kid when he or she graduates?

A study published in the journal of Child Development found that a teen, once the envy of his or her peers in early adolescence, is significantly less popular later in life. The research followed 184 adolescents from Charlottesville, Virginia from age 13 until the time they were 23 and identified several trends among teens who were popular in their early teenager years. Specifically, the goal of the study was to examine how pseudomaturity affected the target group of popular adolescents (20% of the focus group) over this 10 year period. Pseudomature behaviors were categorized by three popularity seeking behaviors: 1) seeking friends who were physically attractive, 2) numerous and more intense romances and 3) minor delinquency.

Notably, these findings linked popularity to pseudomature behavior, which led to problems later in life. At 23, once popular teens suffered 45% more from problems related to alcohol and marijuana use and were 40% more likely to use those substances than their less popular middle school peers. Other high-risk behaviors, like criminal activity, were 22% more likely among these adults. Additionally, as their popularity faded, these former cool kids had a hard time adjusting in adult relationships, often attributing failed relationships to their lack of social status. The study suggested that such unsuccessful romantic relationships were, in part, due to the developmental period these once popular teens missed, while they were busy fast tracking their way to adulthood and engaging in high-risk behaviors.

To your teen, social status may be everything – cool clothes, cool friends, cool parties and more. The pressure to be cool is at an all-time high during adolescence. As a parent, remind teenagers of the importance in staying true to themselves during these confusing years. You have the ability to help them withstand the pressure to fit the “cool” stereotype by encouraging them to be true to themselves, enjoy their youth and participate in healthy, age-appropriate activities. Remind your teen that individuality and confidence can still be considered cool. Emphasize the benefits of pursuing genuine friendships rather than focusing on popularity because while popularity may fade, true friends can last a lifetime.

You can read more about the review of these studies here. What advice have you given your teen about popularity? Please share with us in the comments below!