Look, being a teenager is hard. I know they get a bad rap, but it’s such a difficult age and period of social development to navigate. They’re not kids, but they’re not yet adults. One of the hardest parts of the teen years is the friend issues. It seems to be a constant tug-of-war between wanting to be popular, and wanting to find your people. And who are we kidding, that follows us into adulthood, too. But research suggests that teen friendships may have an impact on how happy and healthy you are as an adult. So it’s not all drama!
Teen friendships can predict everything from psychological health to better school performance. But it’s how those friendships shape us as adults that is really interesting.
Research published in the journal Child Development showed that teens around the age of 15 or 16 who had a close friend, rather than a large peer group of friends, reported higher levels of self-esteem and self-worth at the age of 25. Those teens also reported lower levels of social anxiety and depression into adulthood. It’s like I always tell my own kids: the key to friendship isn’t quantity, but quality.
One or two good, close friends is better than a large group of casual or less intense relationships.
Rachel K. Narr, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia, led the study on teen friendships. She wanted to explore the ways close friendships versus popularity impacted the teens as they grew into adults. The research team studied 169 participants over 10 years, between the ages of 15 – 25. The kids in the study were racially, socioeconomically, and ethnically diverse. They were interviewed at 15, 16, and 25 years old. The interviewers asked about their friendships, who their closest friends were, and also about anxiety, social acceptance, and depression.
The data showed that kids with close friends at 15 and 16 fared better at 25, reporting less depression and anxiety than those who reported being “popular” or part of a large social circle in their teen years.
Narr says that there may be a few reasons for this development. Friendships formed in adolescence come at a time when teens are forming their own identity, and building those first relationships outside of their family. Additionally, the skills teens develop while forming these friendships can become self-defining characteristics that follow them into adulthood.
It’s hard not to worry about your teens, and wonder if they’re on the right path with the friends they’ve chosen. But it’s comforting to hear that the one or two really good friends your kid has mean way more than the group of friends they might be in or out of.
(Image: iStock / santypan)