Last night I was helping out at the Year 6 leaver's disco.
It was a really hot evening and there were 70 or so 11 year olds dancing in a church hall. You can imagine. These kids are just becoming acquainted with body odour, but have yet to discover underarm deodorant. The air was a soup of nascent hormones and pungent sweat.
I remember this lot when they started in reception at the age of four. Back then there was about 2 inches difference between the height of the tallest and the smallest. Now some of the girls tower about a foot over the boys, who are starting to stare up at them adoringly like puppy dogs.
(Quick aside: this lot had a blast, despite the only drink on offer being iced water. Isn't it funny how we'd be horrified at the idea of serving alcohol to eleven year olds, yet we think it's obligatory to serve it to adults? The same reasons that make it both unnecessary and dangerous for them are surely true of us?)
Predictably, the evening began with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, both sides pretending to have absolutely no interest in the other. They'd dance in their gangs, and then - from time to time - someone would break out and do some showy dance move - like a breakdance (boys) or the splits (girls) - resembling a cocky peacock flashing its plumage.
Amongst the girls it was easy to spot the hierarchies. There were the 'loners' on the edge of the action, looking rather uncomfortable, the 'middles' in their little groups, and the 'cool gang' who were by the far the showiest, and were quite quickly surrounded by the bravest of the boys.
#1 is not in the cool gang. This doesn't seem to bother her a jot. She thinks they're all 'rather pathetic'. But not as 'pathetic' as the 'wannabees' whose moniker says it all, really. Neither cool enough to be 'cool', nor cool enough to not care.
I was in the cool gang at school. Not, I hasten to add, because I was (or am) in any way 'cool'.
I can take an achingly fashionable item of clothing and make it look like supermarket own brand. I have two left feet and hands when it came to any sport, and I was far too clever.
But I made it into the gang by being funny and very mouthy. Plus my best friend oozed cool from every pore. She was (is) six foot tall in her bare feet, the best athlete in the school and, literally, stopped traffic.
So I confess to feeling a little miffed last night that #1 wasn't part of 'the gang', despite the fact that she had a blast with a group of her best friends who are all delightful.
I remembered the buzz of being at the top of the school tree, but then recalled the corresponding anxiety of the expectation that comes with that position.
This morning I looked up an article that I read last year in Time magazine (click here).
This piece is based on research by the University of Virginia which followed teens over a decade and found that people who tried to act “cool” in early adolescence were more likely to have problems in later life.
According the research, by the age of 22 the kids who were considered 'cool' at thirteen had fallen from social grace.
It states that their peers rated them as less competent when it came to managing social relationships than others. The formerly popular youngsters were also more likely to become alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals.
“It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behaviour might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviours to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens,” says Joseph P. Allen, a professor of psychology at UVA who led the study. “So they became involved in more serious criminal behaviour and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed.”
And, to an extent, that was me. I remember forcing myself at a horribly young age to like smoking, even when it made me feel sick and dizzy. Likewise I spent years mixing alcohol with something more palatable, like lime or blackcurrant juice, so that I could bear drinking it. Needless to say, drinking and smoking were entry level requirements for the 'cool gang'.
The conclusion from this research is that the best thing we can teach our teens is not to care what other people think. And, as adults we know that not caring is the true definition of cool.
So I thought back to last night, and #1 happy in her group of friends, ignoring the shenanigans of the cool kids, and thought good for you, sweetheart. Keep it up!
Love to all of you, the new cool gang!
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