Boy Damaged

Were you one of the cool kids? If not then don’t worry, you’re probably the better off for it.

This is the conclusion of a fascinating study featured by Jan Hoffman in the New York Times:

“At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store.

“They were cool. They were good-looking. They were so not you.

“Whatever happened to them?”

Nothing good appears to be the answer:

“‘The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,’ said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development, that followed these risk-taking, socially precocious cool kids for a decade. In high school, their social status often plummeted, the study showed, and they began struggling in many ways.”

There are various warning signs that a troubled adolescent may turn out to be troublesome adult, but the dark side of ‘coolness’ appears to be one of the most alarming:

“B. Bradford Brown, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who writes about adolescent peer relationships and was not involved in the study, said it offered a trove of data. The finding that most surprised him, he said, was that “pseudomature” behavior was an even stronger predictor of problems with alcohol and drugs than levels of drug use in early adolescence.”

We should, of course, not be surprised that children who make such a show of turning their backs on childhood are not in a good place. But perhaps we should also ask questions about popular culture and why it is so keen to sell images of coolness and rebellion to the young. Especially creepy is that quintessential American genre, the high school drama – in which teenagers are often portrayed by actors in their twenties or thirties.

When advertisers use images of impossibly thin models to promote their products to women, there are complaints; but the promotion of unattainable maturity to teenagers is also deeply suspect.

Last week a report for the Children’s Society found that British children were among the most unhappy of the fifteen countries surveyed – less happy, in fact, than those in much poorer nations. As discussed before on the Deep End, the cause is sometimes identified as excessive pressure to perform well academically. However, the survey work shows that British kids spent the least amount of time doing homework and attending after school classes.

Instead, and as reported by the BBC, the worst problem is a different kind of pressure – the pressure to fit in and look ‘right’:

“…levels of unhappiness at schools in England grew as children got older – 61% of 10-year-olds said they enjoyed school but the figure fell to 43% by the age of 12.

“English children were the most likely of all the countries surveyed to say that they had been left out by other children in their class at least once in the last month, the survey found.

“More than a third (38%) aged between 10 and 12 reported being physically bullied in the previous month.

“English girls ranked second lowest for happiness with their body confidence, self-confidence and appearance…”

So much for ‘Cool Britannia’.

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