Worried over your son or daughter is being too friendly with his or her mates? Take heart, having strong and intimate friendships during adolescence may help improve several aspects of mental health such as anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth and symptoms of depression, say researchers.
“Our research found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may directly predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health,” said lead author Rachel K. Narr, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Virginia.
“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,” Narr added.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, looked at a community sample of 169 adolescents over 10 years, from the time they were age 15 to when they were 25.
The youth were racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse, with 58% Caucasian, 29% African American and eight per cent of mixed race or ethnicity and with median family income $40,000 to $59,999.
Adolescents were assessed annually, answering questions about who their closest friends were, reporting on their friendships and participating in interviews and assessments exploring such feelings as anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth and symptoms of depression.
Researchers found that teens who prioritised close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety, an increased sense of self-worth and fewer symptoms of depression by the time they reached age 25 than their peers.
Neither having a strong friendship nor being more popular predicted short-term changes in mental health, the researchers noted. The researchers suggested that this may be because positive experiences with friends help bolster positive feelings about oneself during a stage of life when personal identity is being developed.
Also, close friendships may set adolescents on a trajectory to expect and therefore encourage supportive experiences in the future.