I did my best to rip this paper a new one. I really did. For whatever reason, the first article “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23” (Hoffman, 2014) rubbed me the wrong way, and I was ready to completely dismiss the original article, “What Ever Happened to the ‘Cool’ Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior” (Allen et al., 2014) when I read it. Maybe I just don’t like the predeterministic idea that who you are at 13 guides who you will likely be at 23. Or, maybe, I’m just biased toward thinking that these types of studies actually have a predeterminist component to them, rather than just being an interesting insight into human behavior (I know, the first paper mentions people who defy the trends, but by that point in the article, my hackles were already raised). After reading (and combing through the paper for statistical validity), however, I did find the paper and its conclusions to be mostly very sound. Anyway, here’s what I came up with.
Really, the biggest complaint I can take up with this article is how quickly they seem to dismiss the role that family income plays in this whole equation. While the authors do mention that there was no moderating effect of family income (i.e., students from wealthy families display the same correlative trends as students from poor families), I see a discrepant piece of data not discussed anywhere else in the text. Family income, which had a significant effect on popularity of the students (see Table 2), introduces an entirely new explanatory variable for popularity. For instance, perhaps students become more perceptive of markers of income differences (e.g., quality of clothing, speech patterns) as they age, and make conscious or unconscious friendship choices based on these markers. What I’m trying to say here is that maybe the issue isn’t quite as simple as the authors make it out to be. Human brains are complex.
That said, if we do accept their conclusions, the results pose an interesting problem for educators: how can we try to reverse this trend? How can we ensure that we set up all students for success, regardless of prejudices we may have against students who appear headed toward “delinquency?” As a high school teacher, I see students who are usually past the initial observation point of this study (the 13-15 range). Do I simply write these students off as a “lost cause” because a study showed that’s how they’ll probably end up? I think it is our responsibility to be aware of this issue and make a strong, concerted effort to head these students off, so that they can enjoy the same benefits of acceptance coming from well-developed, healthy relationships that their peers will enjoy in later years. Maybe the outliers in this study (those who defied the trend and grew out of their risky behaviors) had someone in their lives who intervened at this critical developmental point. Maybe that person was a teacher.