Picture of Dr. Linda Algazi, Ph.D

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June 29, 2014

It must be true… I read it in the newspaper:

Thirteen-year-old middle school “stars,” who dabble in stuff that most parents don’t approve of, fall off the popularity wagon in fairly short order. You know who they are.. the ones who at thirteen, only hang with attractive people, have many “romances,” … engage in more sexual exploration than others and are often at least mildly delinquent.

Duh. Anyone who has ever survived Junior High School knew this all along.

This all makes me think about Marilyn. I don’t know what happened to her, but once, a long time ago, I wrote that I hoped she had pimples. She wasn’t exactly an overt bully, but at thirteen, she managed to occupy my thoughts too much of the time. I think I was jealous about how she seemed to get away with things I would never think to do.

I’ve since forgiven her. I hope that she never really had pimples. I like to think about myself now, as a nicer person. Besides, life has been kind to me, in spite of her shenanigans.

The new study I just read about came from the University of Virginia. It followed a bunch of “fast track” kids from the time they were thirteen until their twenty-third birthdays. Not all of them screwed up, but a large percentage turned out “not so OK.”

Turns out, their early popularity didn’t even serve them well in high school. The semi-bad things they did, which caused others to think they were totally “cool,” didn’t cut it any more. So, when they escalated their naughtiness to get attention, it didn’t work. The other kids, into their own explorations by now, were no longer impressed.

As they reached adulthood, those who were early “stars” had gotten into more trouble with the law, drugs and alcohol than the “slower developers.” Their ability to get along with others, when judged by their peers, left something to be desired.

Why things didn’t turn out as well for them, as for others, may have to do with the idea that the “slower” kids had the advantage, after all. They were more likely to have spent their early adolescence developing real and drama-free friendships, which served as a precursor to more permanent love-bondings.

So what’s the take-away from all this?

We’d do well to chill a bit and not worry quite so much when our own kids are having a socially difficult time. They need parental support to be “good, loyal, supportive, hardworking and responsible,” even when that sounds boring.

Thirteen year olds are old enough to understand that doing your own thing, while sticking to your own values, can also be “cool” … “cooler”.

The researchers also suggested that the early so-called  “stars,” are really ill equipped to “take charge of junior high school social rules” and may start hanging out with older “fallen stars”, instead,  who may not be such a great influence.

A great big love-challenge for parents.


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