4 Unexpected Benefits of Being An Unpopular Kid In High School

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Kayla Heisler
Kayla Heisler1.16k
May 24, 2024 at 1:40PM UTC

While wanting to fit in with the cool crowd is a common plot found in many high school movies (and in many actual lived high school experiences), a study has revealed that being on the outside of the in-crowd may payoff in the long run. The longitudinal study sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health followed 184 participants from ages 13 to 23.

Researchers administered confidential surveys to participants to ascertain their ‘cool levels’ by measuring factors such as minor deviant behavior, precocious romantic behavior, valuing of popularity, sociometric popularity, and alcohol and marijuana use between the ages of 13 and 15. The results found that those who received higher ratings ended up suffering adverse effects in adulthood. Not too surprisingly, behaviors that make people cool as teens and behaviors that make people cool (or even functional) adults are very different.

The study found early adolescent pseudomature behavior predicted long‐term difficulties in close relationships, as well as significant problems with alcohol and substance use, and elevated levels of criminal behavior. Here are four reasons why being uncool in high school is actually way better than being popular:

1. You're more likely to chase success

The impulsivity and carelessness of a cool teen can translate into straight-up irresponsibility as an adult. Even ten years after the end of high school, adults who were popular during their teen years were more focused on superficial areas of life such as physical appearance and social status than those who weren't popular. Being rewarded for excelling in shallow areas conditioned cool kids to continue to strive for maximum success in areas that become less significant as people mature. Meanwhile, uncool kids were rewarded for life successes they achieved, such as earning high grades, participating in clubs, or winning debates. This compelled them to adapt a strong work ethic that is valued in the post-high school world.

2. You value important relationships over superficial ones

Because social status continues to be a chief concern for former cool kids even years after graduation, the fixation on shallow sociality can cause relationship trouble. It’s a vicious cycle: former cool kids recognize social status as being the deciding factor regarding the creation or dissolution of romantic relationships. But because they attach so much meaning to being with someone else of a high social rating, they end up seeking partners who are also more likely to end relationships due to status concerns. This resulted in a series of failed, unfullfilling relationships for former cool kids. On the other hand, uncool kids base their relationships on more real factors, such as compatability. Sounds like a win. 

3. You're less likely to face substance abuse problems

Being cool as a teen gives you a higher chance of developing substance abuse problems and criminal activities as an adult. This makes sense since being popular in high school can depend on pushing the envelope and being "edgy." The older you get, the further you have to push to stay "cool." 
“It appears that while so-called ‘cool’ teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool [over time],” Professor Joseph P. Allen, one of the study’s authors, said. “They became involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed.”

4. You learn to be resilient

If you thought your teen years sucked, having to deal in the 'real world' may feel like a welcome change. Sure, paying bills and scheduling your own appointments isn't exactly a picnic. But if you spent four years of high school being worshipped and having your worth reiterated every day, the sting of reality hits a little harder.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.

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