Close High School Friendships Have Longterm Mental Health Benefits

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A decade long study, published in the journal Child Development, showed the types of peer relationships teens have during high school influence their mental and emotional well-being in young adulthood.

“High school students with higher-quality best friendships tended to improve in several aspects of mental health over time, while teens who were popular among their peers during high school may be more prone to social anxiety later in life,” said researcher Rachel K. Narr, Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia.

The investigators followed 169 culturally diverse adolescents from age 15 to 25. The participants were assessed annually for symptoms of depression, and anxiety, and about friendships, self-worth, and social acceptance. The participants’ close friends were interviewed as well.

High-quality friendships were defined as relationships that included intimate exchanges and had a degree of attachment and support. Popularity was defined as the number of same-grade peers who ranked the participant as a person they would choose to spend time with.

Analysis of the data collected indicated teens who gave priority to close friendships at age 15 had less social anxiety, better self-worth, and fewer depressive symptoms at age 25 than their peers. In contrast, teens who were considered popular experienced more psycho-social problems in young adulthood.

The data also revealed a low correlation between having close adolescent friendships, and being highly sought after by peers. This suggests high-quality friendships and popularity are owed to different personal attributes.

Overall, the study suggests intimate, supportive friendships in adolescence benefit mental health by fostering a positive sense of self-worth, and setting up expectations for supportive future experiences.

“As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority,” says researcher Joseph Allen, a Hugh P. Kelly Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

 
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