Close teen friendships improve adult mental health

August 29, 2017 |

Adolescents with close friendships in mid-adolescence had higher self-worth and lower anxiety and depressive symptoms in early adulthood, according to recent findings.

“Our research found that the quality of friendships during adolescence may directly predict aspects of long-term mental and emotional health,” Rachel K. Narr, PhD, of the University of Virginia, said in a press release. “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.”

To determine if close friendship strength and broader peer group desirability in adolescence predicted adult mental health, researchers analyzed longitudinal data for 169 adolescents from ages 15 to 25 years.

Mid-adolescence friendship strength predicted increases in self-worth and decreases in anxiety and depressive symptoms by early adulthood.

Conversely, affiliation preference by broader peer group predicted higher social anxiety by early adulthood.

These findings suggest that forming close friendships in mid-adolescence may protect against poorer mental health in adulthood.

“Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience,” study researcher Joseph P. Allen, PhD, of the University of Virginia, said in the press release. “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.” – by Amanda Oldt