Remember the cool kids in middle school? The ones classmates admired and longed to befriend? The ones whose rejections sent many of us into a funk?
If you’re still not over it, take heart. Turns out, as adults, the popular kids tend to slip to the other end of the social spectrum.
In a study published in Child Development, researchers from the University of Virginia found that by the time they reach their early 20s, many popular seventh-and eighth-graders are often viewed as socially inept.
The researchers tracked 184 students from 13 to 23. As young teens, they were all in the popular crowd, judged by interviews with peers and the students themselves.
By high school, their social status slipped to average. And when they reached their early 20s, peers tended to view them as below-average in social maturity.
As one of the researchers explained in The New York Times, they kept trying to impress in a middle-school way, and it started to backfire.
“They are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent,’ ” said Joseph Allen, the study’s lead author.
The researchers said the cool kids gain popularity in part through “pseudomature” behavior such as making out, choosing friends based on physical appearance, and minor delinquency such as sneaking into movies without paying, and small thefts.
They noted that such behavior becomes more common in mid-to late adolescence and, at that age, it doesn’t seem to lead to as many problems later.
The cool middle schoolers, however, didn’t just lose social status over time, but tended to have more trouble in relationships, and more problems with drugs and alcohol, and were more likely to end up in trouble with the law.
So who does the best in the long run? Not the very socially inept, according to a post about the study in Education Week. Very-socially-awkward middle schoolers also reportedly have trouble making friends as adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, the best place to be is in the middle.