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10/29/17blog post

why high school popularity may not be good for adult friendships

Relationships give meaning to our lives, whether you are a toddler, teen, or older adult. However, it’s the quality of our friendships, not the quantity that matter according to recently published research in Child Development.    

Rachel Narr and her colleagues evaluated 169 diverse teens at age 15 and assessed them again ten years later. Teens who had close friendships in high school had better mental health in their twenties, as measured by their self-worth and levels of anxiety and depression. That relationship was not true for the popular kids, who were more likely to exhibit social anxiety in early adulthood.

Popularity in high school may make you feel good at the time, but it’s not related to long-term psychological health.

Friendships are all about emotional intimacy. We feel connected and safe, knowing we can be who we are and say what we think.  A friend knows and accepts us in our totality. We can be silly or serious, profound or dumb without fear of disapproval. We can speak freely and reveal our feelings without having to craft our words so as not to offend another.

Our relationships with others are one the most significant predictors of our overall happiness with our lives.

If friendships are that important, how can we encourage those relationships in our kids?

  1. Focus on moral development. The foundation of any relationship is trust, built upon honesty. Spend more time helping your child develop morally than you do focusing on whether her room is clean.  While talking about morality and values is important, your children learn more by watching what you do, not listening to what you say.
  2. Teach friendship skills. Children don’t naturally acquire close friends, as many of the skills needed for these relationships are difficult for youngsters. Friendships require compromise, communication, and problem-solving. These can be challenging skills for children to acquire.Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship.  This gives you an opportunity to use your child’s difficulties with a peer as an opportunity to help kids learn about resolving interpersonal problems.
  3.  Promote shared interests. Friendships are initially based upon having things in common, so encourage your child’s participation in clubs and sports.
  4.  Avoid toxic relationships. Peers have a significant influence on your child. In some instances, that impact can be very harmful. While you won’t be successful in micromanaging your child’s relationships, you can control them to some extent in early childhood.

When your child starts romantic relationships, talk about dating violence, alcohol usage, and healthy sexual activities. Have a frank discussion about physical violence, emotional abuse, and dominance. I recommend the one strike rule. Any instance of physical violence should result in a permanent termination of that relationship.

Gregory Ramey, PhD., Executive Director

psychology
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