Everyone looked up to the cool guy in middle school: he wore the intriguing sunglasses that made him look mysterious. He made the torn up shoes he wore look cool. Every guy wanted to be him and every girl wanted to be with him.
Yet chances are that the cool middle schoolers who were once popular and admired saw their flame burn out before they even reached high school.
“I looked up to these people,” junior Veronica Leon said. “My parent’s rules made it limited on what I could do and I was jealous they had more freedom.”
Studies have shown that those who develop earlier than others, both physically and socially, can find themselves adrift as young adults.
“The cool teens are yearning for involvement, love and attention from their parents by self-destructing,” psychology teacher Lupita Macedo said.
Studies have shown that latch-key children, or those who return to empty homes after school, are often at risk for behavior problems.
“A lot of the risk-taking behavior from teenagers is caused by having too much unobserved free time and not having positive activities,” school psychiatrist Jennifer Shirron said.
While chasing popularity, teens miss out on an important development period and do not find out who they are as a person until much later in life — usually after developing destructive habits.
In his article “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23” Jan Hoffman cites research that shows the development effects of blooming too soon.
“It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens,” said Joseph P. Allen, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, in Hoffman’s article. “So they become involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed. These previously cool teens appeared less competent — socially and otherwise — than their less cool peers by the time they reached young adulthood.”
While everyone else in middle school is finding out who they are and what they like, the cool teens are struggling to stay ahead of their peers by engaging in more risky behavior, such as drug use or sexual experimentation.
“These teens don’t have a concept on who they are as a person and they have to find themselves after the popularity and attention stop,” Shirron said.
While maintaining their popularity, the cool teens can often fall behind in their classes and some eventually drop out, making them unemployed and underskilled. Some, however, get through high school and make it in the real world.
“I know a lot of these kind of people,” senior Maurice Spiller said. “Some eventually grow up and become successful later in life but some of those people take too long to notice the damage they are doing to themselves.”
Middle school is a time of great transition and change for everyone — adding the pressure of being cool only makes the adjustment period more difficult.
As teens mature they realize no one cares if they look cool or if they meet another person’s standards. Eventually most teens realize that earning a high school diploma and being recognized for admirable qualities is the very definition of cool.