Are Popular Kids at School More Successful Later in Life?

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Mandy has been working in the mental health field for more than eight years and has worked with a diverse group of clients. These range ...Read More

Whilst there is no definitive answer to this question, I am going to lay out the variables that need to be considered on this subject. Is it true that popular kids at school go on to be successful later in life?

Firstly, from my own experience this isn’t true. I was not one of the popular kids at school and I believe that I have made a success of my life. Definitely more so than people would have predicted had they judged me as a teenager at school. There were a few reasons for this.


1) I had a miserable home life where I was criticized and belittled regularly. While this pushed me to make more effort to have friends (in order to escape from home), my home environment did little for my confidence. It filled me with a hunger to do well and to prove myself but I lacked the confidence to make this a reality at school. I was downtrodden and only began flourishing once I was away from the clutches of my parents.

2) I was very shy. It was only in my late teens that I began to come out of my shell. Boys started to notice me when I was about 15 years old and it made me look at myself differently. Before then, I had never considered my appearance but now that I was being noticed, it made me more aware of how physical appearance could be used in a positive way. That certainly helped with my confidence.

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School is a time of intense peer pressure and extreme conformity. Being popular certainly shows that a teenager is aware of social dynamics and is adept as using these dynamics but it is not a certain indicator of success later in life.

Here is why:

1) Hormones and body development/maturity

During teenage years, kids are developing at very different paces. Generally the popular kids are the ones that are interested in the opposite sex. Kids who aren’t at that stage start to get left behind in the popularity stakes. By the time High School has ended, most kids have caught up but during the main years of high school there are many varying growth phases and hormonal changes taking place. Biology has a lot of control over the shape of outcomes at this stage whereas this reduces in adulthood and everyone is more on a level playing field.

I was intensely shy when I was a teenager and I was very unsure of myself. I caught up though and have forged a life I am very proud of. Despite a difficult start, I have managed to swing it around. I go on Facebook and chat to old friends and have been surprised to find that the popular kids aren’t better off than I am.

In fact, some of the popular girls had children early and have ended up single mums. Some of the guys that were popular have ended up in dead end jobs. I love the song by Bruce Springsteen called “Glory Days”, he sings about this exact topic.

2) Environment

When you’re at school there aren’t the usual life pressures to deal with. Okay, you can have grumpy parents who moan at you a lot but you don’t have to worry about keeping a roof over your head (not if you behave yourself) or where the next meal is coming from. The stress of life is very different when you no longer have Mummy and Daddy telling you what to do and how to do it. Some kids thrive at school but when it comes to standing on their own two feet and dealing with real life they don’t know how. University is a huge shock because they have always been monitored and pushed and out in the real world, self discipline is required.

3) Conformity

If you are different you don’t fit in at school. School encourages a ‘one size fits all’ approach. If you aren’t mainstream enough, you get left behind at this stage. Good examples of successful people who didn’t make an impression at school: Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham..the list goes on. If you are dyslexic, you’re immediately at a disadvantage, if you are shy you’re screwed…it’s bit of a dog eat dog set up in some schools. One of the main reasons teenagers end up seeing me for counselling is due to bullying. It is rife and only getting worse.

When you leave school, conformity works against you. Now it’s time to stand out and have an opinion and many kids just aren’t able to adapt. This is when the kids who know themselves and have balanced opinions about the world come into their own. The popular kids are just the kids that thrive in a school environment where there is ‘group’ mentality, you know how to play the game and often have no backbone and are willing to backstab and be two faced in order to fit in with the popular group. Yuck!

There are some wonderful kids that are popular and well rounded and hats off to them. They do exist but I would say they are in the minority. Talk to any group of popular kids at school and you will find lot of nastiness and one-upmanship..the pecking order exists and it isn’t in place due to co-operation and team work. It’s in place due to aggressive behaviour and opportunistic tendencies. I guess if they can use these skills and turn them into positive collaborative attitudes, they may well succeed…

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