Teens who don’t have thousands of Instagram followers and aren’t considered popular but have at least one close friend could have a better shot at adult happiness.
That’s what researchers at the University of Virginia discovered after followed nearly 170 youths for a decade: Starting when they were 15 year old and as they aged to 25.
The young volunteers answered questions yearly about their friendships and how they were doing in terms of anxiety, social acceptance, self-worth and symptoms of depression.
Close friends of the volunteers also were interviewed to make sure they agreed on being best friends, and those who said they were popular were verified as being considered popular.
“Our research found the quality of friendships during adolescence may directly predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health,” study leader Rachel K. Narr said in a news release from the Society for Research in Children Development.
High-quality friendships, rather than the quantity of friendships, among peers was what mattered in aspects of long-term mental health, Narr added.
High quality of close friendships were defined as those in which friends shared a degree of attachment that included support that allowed for “intimate exchanges.”
The study didn’t show any short-term benefits to these close friendships. They showed up later in life. The study found that:
- Teens with close relationships at age 15 were less socially anxious, had elevated self-esteem and fewer symptoms of depression by age 25 than other study volunteers.
- Teens who were more popular among their peers experienced higher levels of social anxiety.
Focus on close connections
Joseph Allen, study co-author and University of Virginia professor of psychology, added about the research:
“Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. 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.”
More about the study:
- It was published in the Aug. 22 edition of Child Development.
- It only looked at an association between friendships and mental health, not cause and effect.
- About 60 percent of the youths in the study were white, 29 percent were black.
- Their median family incomes ranged from $40,000 to $60,000.