Spending time with my grandchildren also means spending some time with the Disney Channel, which is one of their favorite channels on television. If they are going to watch television, we figure it is a better option than most channels in the lineup.
It’s surprising how many movies tend to follow the story line of “Mean Girls,” the 2004 movie when Lindsay Lohan was still relevant as an actress: A youth, usually a girl, wants to fit in with the popular clique and she does anything to get in, but by the end of the movie she realizes how vain and shallow the clique is and finds the best thing she can do is be true to herself.
In “Mean Girls,” Lohan, as Cady, was secretly a math nerd, and as a result of her misbehavior, she was forced to join the Mathletes in a competition, where everything comes together for her as she embraces her smart self while the movie winds down to a satisfying conclusion.
Three years later, nerds took on a bigger role in popular culture as the first episode of “The Big Bang Theory” aired. As adults, the people in this show who were picked on as kids don’t quite rule the world, but they do show another side of a clique that never gained much appreciation before, even among adults.
The series is now one of the most popular shows on television. Some argue that the show still makes fun of nerds, but the humor is more complex, making these very smart people interesting and inspiring as we laugh with them, even if at times, the laughing is at them.
Of course, this is all fictional — portrayals by Hollywood that don’t have to relate to real life. They just have to get viewers, right?
A recent study by researchers at the University of Virginia found that kids who were considered “cool” in middle school had that sentiment decline as they aged. In fact, they found that these kids were more likely to develop problems with relationships and drugs as they hit adulthood.
The study determined that teens who prioritized hanging out with attractive people, having romantic relationships and participating in rebellious activity were seen as popular in middle school. The researchers also found that by the time they reached the age of 22, the once-popular teens were perceived as less competent and more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol.
The study followed 184 teens over a 10-year period, beginning at the age of 13. Researchers collected information from the teens, their peers and parents.
Study co-author Joseph P. Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, told CBS News they chose to start at the age of 13 to catch the teens at the beginning of their adolescence.
What they found was that the kids considered cool in the eighth grade had already peaked by the time they reached high school. For these teens, being popular was their highest goal, he told CBS.
The researchers identified this “pseudomature” behavior of the teens predicted long-term difficulties in close relationships, as well as significant behavior with alcohol and substance use as well as elevated levels of criminal behavior.
Most adults, although not all of them, know that there is more to life than being popular. We’ve learned that lesson through observing life after school. Lohan’s real life provides a classic example as she followed the lead of the popular Plastics rather than competent Cady to self-destruct in a very public way.
Now scholarly research backs up those observations.
Youth don’t have that hindsight, so the facts of life in this instance may be a hard sell. It’s nice to see that Disney and other entertainment companies are giving a long-range view of the consequences of the coolness factor.
Of course, it's still a bit tricky for adults since we don’t want them to believe everything they see on the screen, but in this case, we can only hope the kids are paying attention. Despite the short-term consequences, aspiring to be a nerd is a better bet for long-term success than seeking out the cool kids.