Is your middle school son or daughter not exactly cool? Are they going through an awkward phase complete with bad hair, “unique” clothing style and a near-total absence of social graces? Maybe you even have a card-carrying nerd on your hands?
If so, you’ve got cause for some major celebration, according to a new study from The University of Virginia. An article called “Cool at 13; Adrift at 23,” published in this week’s NY Times highlights emerging research on the impact of early-maturing tweens; kids who in middle school are already seeking out attractive friends, have numerous, often sexual, romances and “dabble in minor delinquency” (described as skipping school, sneaking into movies and vandalism).
Unlike other studies that have tracked certain tween and teen behaviors, this one tracks subjects into their 20s and the results are pretty stunning:
“As they turned 23, the study found that when compared to their socially slower-moving middle-school peers, they had a 45 percent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use and a 40 percent higher level of actual use of those substances. They also had a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior, from theft to assaults.”
The question remains, why do fast-tracked early tweens and young teens fare so badly in adulthood? One theory suggests that by neurologically skipping those awkward years and focusing on being cool or popular ironically arrests the brain at that stage of development. Other ideas are also considered in the fascinating article.
Give it a read and remember: You might want to back off on hoping you’ll have a popular kid.