If You Had A Friend Like This In School, You're Kind Of Winning At Life
Having a solid best friend in adolescence can help lead to better psychological health down the road.
Few of us are lucky enough to stay close with the friends we made as teenagers. Not only does life have a way of changing dramatically over time, people change too. But regardless of where you currently stand with your childhood BFF, it looks like teen friendships are way more important than we thought.
According to a new study published in the journal Child Development, cultivating close friendships in adolescence can lead to stronger psychological health, higher levels of self esteem, and lower levels of social anxiety and depression. And according to researchers, all of this goodness remains true even if you don’t stay tight with your teenage bestie as an adult.
The study—led by PhD candidate Rachel K. Narr, at the University of Virginia—tracked 169 adolescents over the course of 10 years, from age 15 to 25. Study participants were racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse, and all of them were asked detailed questions about their friendships and respective levels of popularity. Interviewers also asked study participants about anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth, and symptoms of depression.
After all of that, researchers triangulated the teens’ responses to ensure that best friends agreed on actually being best friends and participants who claimed popularity were, in fact, popular.
Interestingly, researchers discovered that the kids who had developed close friendships in their teens were mentally healthier at 25 than those kids who reported having broader friendship groups during their teenage years.
And while there doesn’t appear to be just one reason for this mental health disparity, Narr believes learning how to develop close, extra-familial bonds during adolescence (even while being popular) is what allows us to develop healthy friendships and trusting romantic relationships as adults.
After all, the friends we make as teens are often the first people we actively choose to be around. As far as the popularity bit goes, Narr points out that what makes someone popular at 16 probably won’t make them popular at 25. As Narr told Quartz, “Being the kid who is drinking or having sex at 25 is not special or unique.” No, no it is not.
In the end, Narr’s study discovered that teens aged 15 and 16 who had a best friend—rather than a broader friendship group with less intense relationships—reported lower levels of depression and higher levels of self-worth at 25 compared with their peers who were more popular as teens.
So basically, if you were that kid in high school who brought books to parties but held standing lunch dates with your best friend, then you kind of won at being a teenager.
Of course, this doesn’t mean all you popular folks are doomed to a life of mental health problems, either. It just means that having a best friend just helps you see your value. So if you were lucky enough to have had a solid BFF as a teen, now you have one more thing to thank them for.
Words: Elizabeth Enochs
Photos: Daria Kobayashi Ritch