“I Wish That I Could Be Like the Cool Kids.”

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Two teen girls being goofy.

The popular lyrics hit home for many of us. There probably isn’t a teen out there that at some point hasn’t wanted to be part of the cool crowd.  Just about everyone knows who the cool kids are and gossips about what they do.  Of course, what’s cool in your school may not be cool at a different school in another city or part of the country. 

For example, a few years back, one teen, Shelby Marie Raye, won a NIDA Addiction Science Award for her research on what makes kids cool.  In her school, sports were in. Honors classes were out. And drugs and alcohol were less cool the older teens got.

But if in 10 years you were to take a look back at the cool kids in your middle school— recent research suggests—they may not turn out like you’d expect.

Cool and Hot Become Not

The researchers studied a group of middle school students and checked in with them for 10 years to track their “coolness.”  What they found out at the start was that, for this group of 13 - 14 year olds, the “cool” kids: 

  • Acted older than their age (though their parents and peers did not think they were actually more mature)
  • Started dating in middle school
  • Experimented with drugs and alcohol
  • Got into trouble

A recipe for success?  Not so much.  As the “cool kids” entered high school, their popularity faded. By the time they were 22 or 23, their peers actually thought they were LESS cool. 

But more importantly, the formerly “cool” kids were more likely than the “uncool” kids to:

  • Have problems with drugs and alcohol
  • Be in trouble with the law
  • Have relationship problems

The traits that make you popular in middle school, it turns out, don’t work when you are a young adult.  

Shake It Off

Not that it makes it any easier when you feel like you’re the only one who’s not partying.  But—take heart in knowing that middle school cool only lasts as long as the latest smartphone.

Acting older or using drugs and alcohol may be tempting, but research shows they’re not the road to social success. Anyone who’s followed the lives of Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Timberlake, or Rosario Dawson knows that plenty of successful and influential people started out at far from the top of the social ladder. 

Tell us in the comments: Is coolness all it’s cracked up to be? 

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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