If you weren't one of the popular kids in high school, you may count yourself lucky. As you can probably guess, it's the quality of your friendships and not the quantity of them that leads to better health in the long run. And since your high school years are pretty formative, having close friendships as a teen may aid your mental health, according to a new study.
For the study, a team of researchers at the University of Virginia followed a group of 169 adolescents from the time they were 15 to the time they were 25. Every year, the researchers asked the participants to answer questions examining their close friendships as well as their feelings of self-worth, anxiety, and symptoms of depression.
The participants who put emphasis on their close, intimate friendships tended to improve in emotional well-being, while those who prioritized popularity were more prone to social anxiety in young adulthood.
"Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience," study co-author Joseph Allen told HealthDay. "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."
It's important to keep in mind, though, that 169 people isn't that big of a sample size, and the study analyzed association rather than cause and effect. In other words, having a big circle of kind-of friends over a super close bunch doesn't necessarily cause more anxiety. Not only that, it's possible to have a larger circle of friends and a few people that you rely on for intimacy. But either way, it's a reminder of how important it can be to have a good group of people that you know you can count on.
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