Are Rude Teens Seen As More Cool?


Have you ever noticed that the ‘cool clique’ in High School broke the most rules and were usually the most impolite to parents and teachers. Not only do I remember this from my own high school experience, but see it over and over again in the schools I work with.


Many of us think that powerful people are rude because they can get away with it—the cool kids can treat others badly because they are ‘cool.’ However, this might be a classic chicken and the egg problem. Are cool kids more rude because they can be, or does their rudeness make them cool?


Cool often goes hand in hand with power—the cool kids have power over trends, their followers and social norms at school. A fascinating study by ________actually examined which comes first—the rudeness or the cool factor? The study published in 2011 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science had some surprising findings.


First, researchers asked the participants to read a story about a visitor to an office who brazenly marched in and poured himself a cup of “employee only” coffee without permission.  They also had to read a story about a financial bookkeeper that deliberately broke accounting rules. Participants were then asked to grade the rule breakers as either more or less powerful compared to people who didn’t steal the coffee or break accounting laws.


Amazingly, people actually rated the rude characters as more powerful. This suggests that rudeness actually signifies power. In fact, the ruder someone acts, the more convinced participants become that he or she is powerful. This, of course, causes people to make even more allowances for that person’s impoliteness because it seems their power excuses them from not having to respect the same rules as others.


The researchers decided to do a follow-up experiment to further confirm the shocking findings. In this experiment, study participants watched a video of a man at a sidewalk café put his feet on the furniture, tap his cigarette butt on the ground and rudely order a food. They had another group of participants watch a video of the same man behaving politely. Again, the rude man got higher ‘power ratings,’ like “getting people to listen to what he says” than that polite man—although these were actually the same actor in the same setting, with the same order.


This experiment actually has some interesting implications for real life. Here are some ideas we can take away from this research study:


1. Don’t Let Rude Kids Trick You


Subconsciously we feel that violating social norms is a sign of power, even when this is not actually the case.  We must be hyper aware to not allow these subconscious feelings inform our behavior towards ‘the cool kids.’ When you see a student or teen do something rude, immediately re-align to make sure that you are not giving them further allowances. I have often noticed that even teachers do not correct or punish the cool kids. We have to be more aware of our subconscious perceptions and actions.


2. Don’t Use Rudeness As A Power Tactic


Just because being rude makes people see you as more powerful, does NOT mean you should be impolite to garner authority. Even if in the short-term people see you as more powerful, the long-term effects of rudeness and abuse of power can be extremely harmful. Discourteousness discourages productivity, teamwork and trust. Talk to your kids about this study and see if they notice it in their lives. Talk to them about the negative effects of rudeness.


3. Beware of Celebrities, Politicians and Famous People


We often give allowances to politicians or people in the public eye because they are seen as powerful. This is a negative concept to reinforce. We should hold politicians even more accountable and discourage rudeness as a power play.


You might find that just being aware of our subtle perception of rudeness and power will help you see others more clearly. I encourage readers to take note of their subconscious assumptions and challenge them with truth and honesty.


Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power: How Norm Violators Gain Power in the Eyes of Others Social Psychological and Personality Science 1948550611398416, January 26, 2011


  1. 4/13/12: Articles for Parents This Week | Radical Parenting - April 18, 2012

    […] Are Rude Teens Seen As More Cool? Decoding the connection between the “cool kids” and rudeness. […]

  2. Why Teens Think It’s Cool to be Rude | Teen Talk - April 25, 2012

    […] Adolescents can obviously pick-up on these perceptions from instances in their day-to-day life, at school, from celebrities, or media. How can we as adults correct the misconception that rudeness=power? Vanessa Van Patten, of the blog Radical Parenting gives a few suggestions: […]

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