Study: Popular tweens face higher risk of crime, substance abuse as adults

Zoe Sagalow, special to WTOP.com

WASHINGTON – Remember the cool kids back in middle school? Well, they might not have stayed so cool once they got to their 20s, according to the results of a new study by a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.

Professor Joseph Allen found that once these “cool” teens reached age 22, they experienced 45 percent higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, 22 percent higher rates of criminal behavior, and were reported by their peers to be less competent.

In his study, Allen interviewed 184 seventh and eighth graders and then followed up with them 10 years later. He asked them about their own behavior with regard to common activities that middle schoolers do when they’re trying to be “cool” such as starting to date, spending time with peers they perceive to be good-looking, going to parties and even getting into minor trouble.

In his study, Allen described the “cool” kids as pseudomature. It may seem as though these teens are growing up faster than their peers, but Allen said that based on the results of his study, “They really seem like they’re on more of a dead-end path.”

Allen said that his research team was surprised by the results of their study.

“The behaviors that these young people were engaging in are behaviors that are not typically very severe or serious,” he said.

Allen said that these behaviors wouldn’t normally be considered unusual — but his study showed that they predicted detrimental outcomes for the children a decade later.

Take-aways for parents

“The first message, if your kids are in this


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