DR. MITCH: Good Friendships Make For Mentally Healthier Kids

In your heart of hearts as a parent you knew 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 15-year-old boys and girls from an ethnically diverse background and asked them questions about their friendships, popularity etc. They cross checked their replies by asking the kids around them 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 close friends 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 people 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 20's.

There are a lot of 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 those types of relationships bode well for our ability to partner up later on in life with someone who will be our companion. The type of superficial connections which are even more "in-fashion" today because of Facebook and Twitter, are short-lived and do not build the mental tools that kids need to be able to survive and stay mentally healthy.

So, as you have the inevitable 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.