Failure to Launch: the Risks of Growing Up the Popular Kid

Failure to Launch: the Risks of Growing Up the Popular Kid

For teenagers, being the queen (or king) bee at school sounds like the path to success, but there is a downside risk that needs to be managed with conscientious parenting. While we might think that being well-liked and followed by peers can be only a good thing for our kids, unchecked popularity can also lead to problems as an adult according to the attorney and addiction counselor Bill Messinger.

During adolescence, the status, power, and attention that comes with popularity doesn’t always translate to good coping skills as a grown-up he explained in a recent blog post called “Teenage popularity: blessing or curse?” He cites an article in The New York Times about a study conducted by the University of Virginia showing a correlation between precocious social behavior and struggle in adult life.

Perhaps the most enlightening finding mentioned in the article is that popular-kid behavior, or “pseudomaturity,” is a more reliable predictor of substance abuse problems later in life, than early drug use. Three typical popular-kid or pseudomature behaviors mentioned in the study are: seeking out physically attractive friends; having frequent, intense romantic encounters; and participating in minor forms of delinquency like vandalism and truancy.

High social status as an adolescent and affluence are often correlated, so you could say that children of affluent families are sometimes at higher risk of pseudomaturity. They are more likely to be beneficiaries of a rich, material life, and perhaps a more permissive culture at home. They are also more likely have the trappings of, and the access to, an adult life at an age when they might or might not be able to handle it. Those privileges can be constructive, but they can also be a corrupting force if not administered carefully.

It turns out that a childhood spent on the slow track and out of the spotlight might just lead to a happier life ahead.

Ben Johnson
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