Good friendships do make for mentally healthier children. As a parent you were certain that this was true, but isn’t it nice to have a scientific paper to back you up?
This study was reported in the journal, Child Development. They surveyed almost 200 boys and girls aged 15 from ethnically diverse backgrounds and asked them questions about their friendships, popularity, etc. They cross checked their replies by asking the kids to rank the classmates they’d “most want to spend time with”; and, “least want to spend time with”. They reassessed these kids at age 16 and again at age 25, checking them for depression, social anxiety and analysing their feelings of self-worth.
What did they find?
As you might have expected, the kids who formed the “best” friendships (defined as a close friend with whom they could share and discuss important matters) when followed up at age 25 seemed to be the best adjusted and have the least amount of depressive symptoms. Contrast this with the kids who had the most popularity (that is the kids most of their peers wanted to be with). If these kids didn’t also have some good, close friends, they were more likely to have self esteem and depression problems when resurveyed in their 20s.
There are some key points to take away from this study. Close friendships support the child and affirm that they’re “okay”. Furthermore, the ability to develop and maintain these types of relationships bodes well for them to find a partner and maintain that companionship when they’re older. The type of superficial connections, which perhaps are even easier to achieve today because of Facebook and Twitter, do not build the skills that kids need to be able to stay mentally healthy.
So, as you have the talk with your kids about popularity and the friends they hang out with, remember it’s not the quantity of friends they make but the quality and effort put into a few good relationships that will be important for them. This is the concept that you should reinforce and also reassure them about. The teen years are tough enough. Perhaps knowing this will help your kids weather the inevitable storms.
Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.