Why Teens Think It’s Cool to be Rude

Have you ever observed your teen being rude to a peer or another adult, and wondered, “Where did they learn that behavior?” Does being “rude” equal being “cool?” This theory was tested by a study performed in 2011 by scientists from the University of Amsterdam. Breaking the Rules to Rise to Power: How Norm Violators Gain Power in the Eyes of Others first published January 26, 2011 in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that  rudeness is equated with power and because of this perception individuals make allowances for those that exhibit rude behavior.

In the first part of the study, 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.

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.

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:

  • When you see a 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 that act rude. We have to be more aware of our subconscious perceptions and actions.
  • Be aware of your own impoliteness towards others. Dis-courteousness 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.
  • Don’t reinforce or give allowances to politicians or people in the public eye that are rude to others. This is a negative concept to reinforce. We should hold politicians even more accountable and discourage rudeness as a power play.
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2 Responses to “Why Teens Think It’s Cool to be Rude”

  1. I would say it’s a decent article, however it is very biased. The fact that this is based on a stereotype on Teenagers is near offensive since there is so much forgotten. It is not that we believe it is ‘cool’ it is due to a whole bunch of psychological factors such as dependence of specific parts of the brain. I am a teenager, and I study this as a course in my final year of highschool. There is too much personal bias in this article laced into third person.

    • Celeste,
      Thanks so much for your feedback on the article! We definitely like getting the perspective of teens. If you have any recommendations for other articles or studies to post, please let us know!
      Adolescent Counseling Services

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