Just like your parents told you after that kid in homeroom made fun of your Yu-Gi-Oh binder, being cool in high school is very meaningless in the scheme of things — because we are all just insignificant specks in a vast and indifferent universe, but also because the "cool" kids tend to peak early. And now, at long last, scientists have the data to back the latter reason up.
According to a study published in Child Development this week, kids who act cool in the halcyon days of their youth are more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol and more difficulty managing friendships as they grow older. To arrive at this conclusion, researchers from the University of Virginia — who were probably nerds when they were teens, and just look at them now, thriving — followed 184 students for 10 years as they progressed from age 13 to 23.
The researchers looked for teens displaying "pseudo-mature behaviors," which is a catch-all term for "behaviors that seem to boost perceived popularity," including "displays of romantic behavior (like kissing or touching), deviant acts (like damaging their parent's property or sneaking into a movie theater without a ticket), or by associating themselves with more physically attractive friends." You know, basically all of the stuff that Michelle Pfeiffer sings about in the classic song "Cool Rider" from the seminal film Grease 2.
According to their findings, 13-year-olds who displayed such behaviors were more likely to be perceived as popular by their peers; as time passed, however, these antics tended to evolve into larger problems — by age 22, the "cool" group had a 45 percent higher rate of problems related to alcohol and substance use, and they were less competent at making lasting social bonds, negatively impacting their social standing and perception.
"We call it the high school reunion effect," the study's lead author Joseph Allen told NPR. "The student who was popular and was running with the fast crowd isn't doing as great later on." Part of the problem, he explains, is that kids who derive their social standing from extreme antics feel the need to get more and more extreme to get attention as they grow up. "But their friends, as they get more mature, are less and less impressed by those behaviors," he said.
So, sweet, sapling nerds of the world, remember: it's what's on the inside that counts in the long run. And, cool teens, never forget that lighting farts on fire for thrones of your delighted peers is hilarious.