For years, teachers, parents, and after school specials have tried to encourage kids that being “cool” might not be so cool at all, that aspiring to be the Queen Bee or Homecoming King is a wasteful endeavor.

Really though isn’t this just out-of-touch adults trying to make kids feel better about themselves because what teenager does not want to be cool? The cool kids seem so self-assured. They flaunt authority and take risks. Beautiful people surround them. Yet does popularity have a price?

A longitudinal study, published in the journal of Child Development, followed over 180 13-15 year olds into their 20’s. And guess what they found? The cool kids were at greater risk of alcohol and substance abuse, had more interpersonal and work difficulties, engaged in more criminal behavior, and were seen as less socially mature by early adulthood. Revenge of the nerds indeed…

So why might this be?

One thought is that as kids grow older, the cool kids have to continue to up the ante, so to speak, in order to remain cool, such as taking greater risks, which at some point becomes self-destructive.

Another thought is that the cool kids breeze through the trying period of adolescence without really experiencing any trying times. Whereas the kids, who struggle with belonging and self-esteem, develop frustration tolerance, resiliency, and interpersonal skills and they enter adulthood with a stronger and clearer sense of identity.

This does not mean that being cool in high school is all bad news or that it dooms one to a life of failure. Rather, I think it helps to shed light on the importance of helping teens, no matter their social status, to embrace their strengths and weaknesses, build empathy, learn problem solving and coping skills, and form their own unique identity.

“I try to explain to people that the only way to be cool is to be who you truly are, and the only way to live life is to do the things that you want to do and be the person that you want to be no matter who that is or what that is or how you have to do it. That’s the only way you can be genuinely happy.” – Tucker Max