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The Kids Are Alright

The Kids Are Alright

When Peter Townsend sang The Kids Are Alright in 1965, he was correct in assuming they were basically okay, but clueless about how kids are when it comes to figuring out what their peers are up to. A study reveals that jocks, burnouts, brainiacs, independents and the “popular” crowd all act about the same -- they just think they’re distinctly different and that kids in other groups (and their own) are doing more potentially harmful activities than they are.

In the study, researchers asked kids how often members of groups other than theirs had sex, drank, smoked cigarettes, used drugs, studied and broke the law (shoplifting for example). They then asked kids in each group for an honest report on their own activities.

All kids overestimated what was going on. For example, everyone (including fellow jocks) thought jocks were drinking and having sex more often and that the burnouts were doing more drugs and breaking the law more, than any of them really were. In truth everyone studies more (except the brainiacs, who study less) than assumed, does fewer drugs, has less sex and acts less rebelliously than classmates think. Jocks and popular kids reported levels of sexual and illegal activities that were about the same as the burnout and brainy groups.

Understanding this -- and the fact that teens tend to emulate what they think others do -- lets parents talk about resisting peer pressure, and gives them a chance to help kids negotiate the perils of the teen years more successfully.

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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