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How To Scientifically Measure Whether Your Kid is Cool

This survey uses science to predict popularity.

Some kids come with charisma. We all remember that one classmate who, even in those awkward elementary school days, seemed to naturally exude it. But figuring out whether your kid is that kid or the kid that kid avoids isn’t easy. You’re too close to the issue and, let’s face it, too uncool by young kid standards to know. And asking won’t get it done. Socially incompetent kids not only don’t know that they aren’t well adjusted (though they might suspect as much), but they are unlikely to be honest with their parents about it. Fortunately, there’s a scientific solution.

But even the seemingly-subjective question of social competence is actually the sort of thing parents can measure from the comfort of home, thanks to cutting-edge psychological science. Meet the Social Competence Scale, which measures whether a child possesses the social, emotional, and intellectual skills necessary to succeed in interpersonal relationships. Although several versions of the scale exist, there’s a 12-item version that has been modified for parents to assess their own children, and validation studies have shown that it is particularly robust.

The Social Competence Scale For Parents

Answer the following questions with: “not at all”, “a little”, “moderately well”, “well”, or “very well”.  

  1. Your child can accept things not going his/her way
  2. Your child copes well with failure
  3. Your child thinks before acting
  4. Your child resolves problems with friends or brothers and sisters on his/her own
  5. Your child can calm down when excited or wound up
  6. Your child does what he or she is told to do
  7. Your child is very good at understanding other people’s feelings
  8. Your child controls his/her temper when there is a disagreement
  9. Your child shares things with others
  10. Your child is helpful to others
  11. Your child listens to others’ points of view
  12. Your child can give suggestions and opinions without being bossy.

How To Interpret The Results

The survey consists of two parts. Questions 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 evaluate your child’s prosocial and communication skills, while 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 evaluate your child’s emotional regulation skills. Together, the survey paints a picture of how well your child expresses himself or herself in social settings—and predicts whether your child is likely to be well-liked by his or her peers. Generally speaking, these sorts of survey scores are tallied by assigning points to each response. Give your child 0 points for each “not at all”, 1 point for “a little”, 2 points for “moderately well”, 3 points for “well”, and 4 points for “very well”. Forty-eight points suggests enviable social competence (or a father who is not particularly good at remaining objective about his child’s social graces).

We Scored Fewer Than 48 Points. Now What?

In extreme cases, lack of social competence can be a sign of autism spectrum disorder. Indeed, the earliest version of the Social Competence Scale was conceived to help diagnose children with autism. On a lighter note, researchers have used a modified version of the scale to answer pressing social questions such as why the “cool kids” in high school seem to be far less cool by the time they reach adulthood. One study of this phenomenon found that “by the age of 22, these ‘cool kids’ are rated as less socially competent than their peers.” This suggests that jocks may be cool in high school because their peers consider them socially competent. Their downfall comes when others realize that, outside of the schoolyard, those erstwhile popular kids are hardly prosocial.

That said, don’t panic if your child scored poorly on the Social Competence Survey. A low score is not a sign that he or she is autistic or unpopular—these surveys are meant to be taken in controlled settings under the guidance of experienced researchers, not in your living room. If you’re truly concerned, consider speaking to a pediatrician about improving your child’s social competence.