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Revenge of the Nerds, 10 Years in the Making

Middle school and high school students who are considered "cool'' often experience more problems as adults in comparison to the so-called "nerdy'' kids.

| BY Kent McDill

It is a dream sequence played out in dozens of movies and TV shows: the high school nerd who grows up to outperform the coolest kid in school.

As it turns out, that may be more reality than fiction.

The results of a study that took the nation by storm shows that those people who considered themselves among the “cool’’ kids in high school are more likely to suffer from drug abuse and addiction as young adults, and are also more likely to have been involved in some criminal activity.

The journal Child Development studied 200 13-year-olds from the Southeastern United States for 10 years. At the age of 13, they asked the children how much they valued their popularity, the importance to them of physical appearance, drug use, romantic encounters and minor crimes like shoplifting or sneaking into movies. These were the students who were labeled as “cool.”

The kids who exhibited this “cool’’ behavior in middle school and high school later reported an increase in social difficulties and legal conflicts.

According to the study, the “cool’’ kids had a 45 percent greater rate of substance abuse and a 22 percent greater rate of criminal records than those that did not score high in the “cool’’ rating as kids.

“Teens are intimidated by these kids, and parents are intimidated because they think that these pseudo-mature kids are on the fast track,’’ said study author Joseph Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “They are gaining the appearance of maturity, but they are not gaining actual maturity.”

Allen said the “pseudo-mature” behavior in the teen years was a better predictor of future drug abuse than actual drug use as a teen.

Allen said while some parents want their teens to be socially active, those that choose to stay home may be better prepared for adult life when the time comes.

“There is this kind of quiet majority of adolescents out there that is much more functional at an older age,’’ Allen said.

Allen continues to study the participants with the intention of reporting on their lives in another 10 years.


About the Author

Kent McDill


Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.