The most well-liked seventh- and eight-graders are more likely to be well-adjusted — and to adopt risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking marijuana, and shoplifting, new study findings suggest.
The study also suggests, however, that well-liked students who are surrounded by friends who stay away from drinking and other dangerous behaviors are not more likely to engage in them, suggesting that a popular kid’s crowd has a big influence, the study’s lead author told Reuters Health.Parents of popular kids should “relax and enjoy it for about 10 seconds,” Dr. Joseph P. Allen of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville said in an interview. “Then get to work and try to understand, ‘okay, who is my kid popular with?’ Because that’s very important.”Well-liked kids are leaders, Allen explained, but they’re also “mini-politicians,” who often feel they need to follow the norms and opinions of their peers to stay on top. And for many kids, drinking, smoking marijuana and committing crimes are deemed adult behaviors, which make them feel grown-up, Allen said.To study the effects of popularity, Allen and his colleagues asked kids which students they liked most spending time with at school. The investigators then followed 185 of these well-liked 13- to 14-year-olds for one year.Allen and his team found that well-liked kids were more likely to be well-adjusted than their less popular peers, and have better relationships with their parents.Both groups of students were equally likely to try alcohol and marijuana at age 13. However, by one year later, 26 percent of popular students had experimented with alcohol and marijuana, relative to only 9 percent of less popular teens. Popular students were also more likely to report shoplifting and vandalism.However, students who were popular among a group of teenagers who did not support drinking and smoking marijuana were not at greater risk of those behaviors, the authors report in the journal Child Development.(Source: Child Development: Reuters Health: Alison McCook: May/June 2005.)