July 21, 2014 | 5 Comments »
Laura Anderson Kurk writes bittersweet stories for the YA crowd. Check out Glass Girl and Perfect Glass and look her up at Writing for Young Adults and Choose Now Ministries. Laura lives in College Station, Texas with her fine husband and two ginger-headed kids.
In what may be the best news ever for 99.9% of us, a new study published in Child Development proves what most had already figured out—“cool” kids are more likely to have problems later in life.
Remember when your mom told you that the kids who “peak” too young will find out that life goes downhill from high school? Turns out, science says she was right!
So three cheers for all of us who peaked after high school!
Researchers from the University of Virginia followed 184 teens, their peers, and their families for ten years, beginning when the teens turned thirteen. The kids all attended public school and the group was made of teens in suburban or urban areas in the southeastern United States from a variety of racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
Here’s what they found: the teens who were considered “cool” in seventh and eighth grades were those who acted “older” than their age, taking part in behaviors that mimic what older teens do. These kids who acted “older” in middle school were the ones who took part in delinquent behaviors in and out of school, became sexually active earlier than their peers, and valued “hanging out with attractive people” more than anything else. Sounds like Mean Girls, right?
But stay tuned … once these kids entered their older teen years and early twenties, they were pursuing ever more reckless behavior to stay “cool.” This meant they often became dependent on drugs and alcohol and other reckless activities that got them noticed. And, by the age of 22, the kids in the study who had been “cool” had “fallen from social grace.”
Their peers rated the “cool” kids as less competent at maintaining relationships at 22 than the ones who hadn’t been “cool” early on. They were also more likely to be criminals, drug addicts, and alcoholics.
All of this is common sense, right? And I think young adult authors get it better than anyone. It’s why YA shelves are populated with characters who are trying to find their way in a world of mean girls and rude guys. The underdogs are the characters we relate to so well!
Here are some of my favorites —
- Jonah in How to Say Goodbye in Robot – I love this book so much and am continually amazed that it hasn’t received the praise it’s due. In fact, it’s kind of the underdog book in a world of “cool” books. What a fantastic look at uncool kids and how they cope, or don’t cope. I am so in awe of Natalie Standiford’s writing.
- Finley and Russ in Boy21 – These two guys are incredible apart but even more remarkable when they’re together. Matthew Quick gets the mind of the outcast and gives it to us in pure, unadulterated goodness.
- Eleanor in Eleanor & Park – In Eleanor, Rowell created a character so awkward you almost have to look away, but ohmygoodness how I love her.
- Quentin in Paper Towns – Ah, Quentin, one of the best guys, right? Of course, Green is the master of awkward male leads that you can’t help but adore.
- Cullen in Where Things Come Back – John Corey Whaley is one of my favorite authors and Cullen is one of my favorite characters. Love his tender, uncomfortable ways.
I notice my list is light on female characters. Is this because female leads are whitewashed in ways male characters aren’t or do I just have an affinity for male characters?
Now it’s your turn. Who are your favorite “uncool” YA characters who remind you that “cool” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?