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Popular Teens Aren't Always Angels

More likely to engage in deviant behaviors like drug use, vandalism, study says

FRIDAY, May 20, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Popular teens may be more well-adjusted than those less popular, but they may also be more likely to use drugs and to engage in deviant behavior such as vandalism and shoplifting.

That's the finding of new research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and published in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development.

Researchers tracked 185 seventh- and eighth-grade students for a year and used a series of tests to evaluate the students' popularity, self-esteem, ability to develop close friendships, relationships with parents, behavioral problems and drug and alcohol use.

Overall, popular teens were more well-adjusted than less popular teens in a number of areas, including the overall social skills and their relationships with their parents. However, the popular teens also tended to show greater increases in drug use and delinquency over the year-long study.

The findings aren't really surprising, said lead researcher Joseph P. Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

"Popular adolescents are popular in part because they are carefully attuned to the norms of their peer group. As these norms increasingly come to support even minor levels of deviant behavior during adolescence, popular teens may be particularly susceptible," Allen said in a prepared statement.

He noted that most of the increases in deviant behavior by popular teens in the study were relatively minor and that popular teens didn't increase their levels of major criminal activities.

"As teens become more socialized into their peer groups, they gain social skills and popularity, but inevitably are influenced in ways that may not be to parents' liking," Allen said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has information about teen self esteem.

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development, news release, May 17, 2005,
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