In which the cool don't rule (after school)

Finally, a real scientific study has proved true what we’ve secretly known all along: that being cool in high school does not make you cool in later life. 

Published last week in journal Child Development, the 10-year study on students from the age of 13 up to 23 looked at “pseudomature behaviours” – acting older than one’s age in a variety of romantic, social and delinquent ways. Findings showed that while the rebellious kids were more likely to be popular among peers at 13, all that behind-the-bike-sheds kudos declined over time and actually ended up having an inverse effect, with formerly ‘cool’ teens struggling to make friends by the time they reached their early 20s. 

It’s the kind of news that makes you want to rush back in time and tell your former awkward young self that it’ll all be ok. “Hey Lauren,” I’d whisper to 13-year-old me as she turned down an invitation to drink Bacardi Breezers in a park to spend an evening working on her poetry journal. “It’s fine, those are not your people. Give it a few years and you’ll have legal access to all the sugary booze you could not want; but also legitimately great friends to not drink it with.”

Then 13-year-old Lauren would smile a big, gap-toothed smile (like all the coolest people, I didn’t finish losing my milk teeth until well into adolescence) and we would high-five before I faded into the sunset. It would make a brilliant film. You’d go and see it, wouldn’t you, because chances are you weren’t a cool kid either.

If I’m honest, I’ve never trusted people who were popular at school. Without a good dose of pubescent humiliation, how would you discover who your real friends were? How would you give one of those humble interviews when you’re a wildly successful adult, talking about how the bullies ultimately made you a stronger person? Of course it would be heaps better if there were no bullies at all - but then maybe that would make us ALL popular kids, doomed to failed relationships as soon as we hit our twenties.

And while there’s a genuine argument for encouraging children to stay children for as long as possible, plenty of us non-populars were precocious in our own ways too. In fact I’d say much of my own teenage behaviour was so pseudomature that it skipped right past the drinking and fumbling stages and left me about 38 inside, wryly observing the world from the edge of the party and refusing to engage with anything I deemed a ‘teenage cliché’. Among the clichés I rejected: were recreational drinking, under-18 discos, owning a mobile phone before 2003, and talking to boys. Any boys.

It’s possible, thinking back on it now, that all of this painful cynicism was a much greater effort on the part of coolness than it would have been just to go and sit in the park with the others. So maybe we should cut the popular kids some slack –they probably care far less about it than the rest of us do

In which the nitwits win again



I’ll admit, it isn’t always easy to think of ideas for this column. “No!” you’re probably gasping. “They always seem so insightful and thoroughly-researched! What about the time you spent 500 words trying to convince us that Christmas didn’t start early enough?” 

But it’s true – 11 years of filling this space means that I regularly need to have a little head-scratch for a topic that a) I haven’t written about before and forgotten (this happens), or b) isn’t too tedious, irrelevant or unappealing to the Worthing palate. 

Sometimes, however, there are things that just beg to be written about. The ones it would be rude NOT to bring to wider attention. And speaking of a little head-scratch, today I have stumbled across a Buzzfeed article titled: Are Selfies Really Causing The Spread Of Head Lice In Teens? JACKPOT. 

It’s an article that has everything. Buzzfeed! Selfies! Nostalgia! Spurious health claims! It could really only manage to be more zeitgeisty if it had a gif of a dogue in Pharrell Williams’ massive hat halfway down the page (Radio 4’s Today programme covered the dogue meme last week, so you have no excuse), and all the more wonderful for sounding exactly like something off Brass Eye, were it still going in 2014. 

Marcy McQuillan, owner of premier California grooming establishment Nitless Noggins (Are ya proud, mom?), claims that “she has seen an alarming 50% increase in cases of headlice among high school kids since 2012”, and attributes the epidemic to all those pouty photos they’re taking with their heads touching. 

As someone whose family spent a half of the 90s trapped in a merry-go-round of nit maintenance – just as one child banished them, the next would bring them home – I can’t even read the word ‘headlice’ without itching. 

But there’s something funny about this most Dickensian of afflictions too. Headlice are a great leveller. Those little critters don’t discriminate. Even the beautiful, popular people can get headlice, which if we were of a ‘UKIP-py’ persuasion we might even see as a sort of biblical comeuppance for being so darn beautiful and popular. But of course that’s ridiculous, as, it turns out, further down the report, is the idea of selfies spreading nits in the first place. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but selfies are now being blamed for everything. They’ve risen rapidly up the ranks of youth culture evil to a point where they’re now probably responsible for half the world’s ills, occupying the same pedestal of frowny concern that Happy Slapping did eight years ago. 

They’re making us narcissists, or at least giving the narcissists a new lake to fall into. They’re making average Joes and Josephines behave like celebrities, which will probably lead to an influx of debauched dancing, hammer-licking and people wearing Pharrell’s massive hat. Though that last one, to be fair, might do something to incubate the headlice. 

When I was 12 and in possession of a Kodak disposable, my friends and I once used up a whole roll of film posing like catalogue models (La Redoute at best) and then stuck them all into an album and wrote “because I’m worth it” underneath the best ones. At least today’s kids know to space out the selfies with a few strategic shots of sunsets, or doughnuts. 

And at least the selfies we’re talking about here are actually ‘ussies’, with more than one person in them. When you think about it, that’s really just the same affection humans have shown to each other for centuries – but captured on camera with a flattering filter over the top and a portion of arm in the bottom corner. 

Come back to me when solo selfies are giving us all debilitating neck problems and eye strain from all the high-angled action. Then we might have enough frowny concern to scratch out the trend for good